March 25, 2009

Briefing from Steve Schwager, Executive Vice President and CEO, JDC

Throughout our history, Jews have often lived as desert nomads, immigrants, refugees—always searching for a place to call home. But the creation of the modern State of Israel finally provided the perennial Jewish wanderer with a permanent home. At the same time, Israel’s 60 years of experience in integrating and absorbing immigrants offers important lessons to other countries in the fields of immigrant integration and migration. Irv and I want to inform you about the unique ways in which JDC-Israel is sharing decades of Israeli experience and know-how with governments and organizations across the globe dealing with the myriad challenges in assisting migrant groups.

The Center for International Migration and Integration (CIMI)
In 1999, JDC established CIMI as a program that draws on JDC-Israel’s professional experience in developing innovative programs in areas that assist a wide range of vulnerable populations. CIMI also works with partners in Israel and internationally, including MASHAV (the Government of Israel’s foreign aid branch through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

CIMI is dedicated to the development and application of effective policies and practices around the world in three areas of migration: 1) Immigrant Integration; 2) Homeland-Diaspora Partnerships; and 3) Temporary and Forced Migration. These goals are achieved through training and consultations for policymakers and practitioners, while also supporting project development.

Israel’s experience is both unique and universal. As one participant in the CIMI/Mashav Professional Exchange for Latino Leaders (March 2008) stated:

"It was affirming and challenging to witness the universality of the migration story. It was wonderful to see the many dedicated individuals who assist people coming to a new country through their struggle to learn the language, find a job, and adapt. And, unfortunately, the underlying tensions that emerge when new immigrants arrive, in this case between ‘veteran’ Israelis and new immigrants, appear to be universal as well.”

So while Israel shares its expertise in migration issues with the rest of the world, CIMI also brings international experience back to Israel to help address the country’s own new migration challenges.

Leveraging the Expertise of JDC-Israel and CIMI
While Israel’s raison d’être is to assist its own Jewish immigrants, its geographic position and growing status as a developed country have made it a destination country for many other migrant groups as well. The Government of Israel, therefore, has turned to JDC-Israel and CIMI for assistance in addressing the complex contemporary challenges these migration flows bring; we, in turn, have responded by providing policy consultation and innovative programs for these most vulnerable of migrants. The challenges, of course, are numerous: how to assist the Sudanese, Eritrean, and other asylum seekers crossing the border from Egypt; what to do for the children of foreign workers; or how to assist women who are victims of trafficking to obtain dignified employment alternatives when they return to their countries of origin.

This project represents the first comprehensive migration management capacity building program ever implemented in Israel, combining the relative strengths of CIMI in Israel, international expertise of the UNHCR and IOM, and local partners in Israel, which include government ministries—the Ministry of the Interior (with the newly established Immigration Authority), the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs—as well as local non-government organizations.

As one of the European Union's (EU) efforts in its struggles with migration challenges, it recently provided funding to CIMI to hold a film festival in Israel focusing on the issues facing both Israel and Europe. The festival, entitled "People on the Move: Migration Cinema in Israel and the European Union,” was held on September 9-10, 2008. Over 2,000 participants viewed films and listened to panel discussions that explored issues related to immigrant experiences and multi-cultural societies as they are presented on film. Partnering with JDC and CIMI on this initiative were the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Gesher Multicultural Film Fund. The event brought together immigrants from the FSU, Ethiopia, Latin America, professionals from the migration field, and filmmakers. Sharing experiences both visually and verbally created a new understanding of immigrant experiences in Israel and the countries within the European Union; participation of guests from England and Ireland set the stage for future collaboration. As a follow-up to this cultural exchange, CIMI will organize a study-visit to Israel later this year for Integration officials from all the 27 European Union Member States.

CIMI experts also had a serious impact at the international policy level at the International Conference on Serbian Diaspora and Homeland Development held in Belgrade in November 2008. The Conference was part of a comprehensive Diaspora Program, and CIMI was contracted by the United Nations Development Program to provide technical assistance to the relatively new Serbian Ministry for Diaspora. The Conference led to the adoption of concrete recommendations that emulated Israeli programs; it encouraged the return of qualified migrants and the development of direct philanthropic relations between Serbian Diaspora communities in the US and local institutions such as Serbian universities. Noting that the Serbian Diaspora has tremendous potential to contribute to the country’s development, the Serbian Minister for Diaspora, Srđan Srećković, said that the recommendations adopted at the Conference will feed into the creation of Diaspora Legislation and a National Diaspora Strategy. He added that Israel’s knowledge and practice in this domain are of crucial importance to his country.

These examples of CIMI’s effectiveness demonstrate another venue in which Israel is shining as a “light onto the nations.” And these fruitful exchanges remind us that when countries work side by side, the potential to improve and transform the lives of all vulnerable immigrants is exponentially increased.

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