Cooperatives helping immigrants and refugees

“According to the United Nations, the number of international migrants increased by 41% over the last 15 years, from 173 million in 2000 to 244 million in 2015 ; the UN also point out that the main reasons for migrating include conflict, poverty, inequality and lack of decent jobs, and that the distinction between countries of origin, transit and destination is becoming increasingly obsolete”.

6 avril 2016

These data appear in the Declaration on Migrants and Refugees recently adopted by CICOPA. The UNHCR estimates that the number of refugees reached about 15.1 million in mid-2015, up from 10.5 million in 2012, which represents an increase of 40% in only 3 years, the vast majority being hosted by low or middle income countries.

In this declaration, CICOPA states that it is “fully aware of the complex reality which migrants are facing around the world and that it is, at times, a difficult or perilous path”. It goes on to add that, as an organization which is active globally, it “strives to change this paradigm through the development and growth of industrial and service cooperatives, in compliance with the first cooperative principle according to which cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination”.

The topic of immigrants and refugees is of such high importance, both today and in the years to come, that we are dedicating a Special Dossier to it in this issue of Work Together. “Industrial and service cooperatives contribute to a decent and dignified life and to the social and economic integration of refugees and migrants in various parts of the world. They are also used as a tool by migrants and refugees themselves for developing entrepreneurship initiatives together with other members of the community, thus increasing autonomy, solidarity and human development, while at the same time contributing to a sustainable economy both globally and locally”.

This statement, which is included in the declaration, is based on concrete examples from around the world. For instance, the Italian federation of social cooperatives, Federsolidarietà, has recently launched a national charter to promote joint action between social cooperatives and the public administration in order to promote the effective inclusion of migrants and to avoid social crises and conflicts.

“Nor-Bum” is also one of thousands of other concrete examples ; it is a worker cooperative created in Argentina by seven construction workers from Bolivia in order to improve their employment prospects and economic situation. There are many more similar cases in this issue, such as the story of Opportunity Threads, a worker-owned cut-and-sew plant operated by 23 men and women, the majority of whom are first or second-generation immigrants from Guatemala.

Or “Subiendo al Sur”, a cooperative in Spain which is comprised mostly of immigrants from Peru, which has a restaurant, a store and a catering service in Madrid. This cooperative has weathered the crisis and continues to help both immigrants and their own countries whilst using fair trade products.

Finally, last but not least, cooperatives are working directly for and with refugees. As the CICOPA declaration affirms, “Europe in particular is facing the gravest migration and humanitarian crisis since World War II, bringing into light its own paradoxes and inabilities to apply its constituent values such as solidarity, respect for human dignity and liberty”.

Cooperatives like “Welcommon” (Welcome in common), a project created in part by the social cooperative Wind of Renewal, are providing quality housing as well as social inclusion, empowerment and refugee integration. This is also the case of the Camelot social cooperative in Italy, which is working on programs for the labor integration of migrants, including asylum seekers and refugees. In 2015 alone, this cooperative provided support to 541 adults and minors in different establishments.

These are only a few examples of a much longer list.

Organisation Internationale des Coopératives de Production
Industrielle, Artisanale et de Services

Secrétariat: C/O European Cooperative House - avenue Milcamps 105
1030 Bruxelles, Belgique
Tel: +32 2 543 1033, fax: +32 2 543 1037
E-mail: cicopa[at]

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