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Refugee Integration

Introducing the interviewees

On the 13th of November Room for Discussion is hosting an interview about the integration of refugees with Leo Lucassen and Eva Degler.

Mr. Lucassen is a professor of Global Labour and Migration History and director of the International Institute of Social History (IISH). His research focuses on global migration history, integration, migration systems, urban history, and others. Mr. Lucassen wants to stimulate interdisciplinary research on migration history and contribute to the public debate on migration.

Mrs. Degler studied sociology and political science, focusing on migration, minority rights, and citizenship discourses. Currently, she is migration policy analyst at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Mrs. Degler is working on how policy can render labor markets and education systems more inclusive for immigrants and their children.

Facts and Statistics

One key (legal) problem for states is how to define a refugee. While we all have an idea of what constitutes a refugee, a definition is needed to make states able to make agreements with each other on how to help persons that seek refuge, for example by laying out minimum standards for the treatment of refugees. The central treaty that sees to this, and other aspects of refugee protection is the “1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees”. The treaty defines a refugee as someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. Asylum seekers defined as people who “left their country of origin, have sought international protection, have applied to be recognized as a refugee and are awaiting a decision from the host government”.

In 2017, there were 22.5 million refugees worldwide, most of which were under 18 years of age. More than half of refugees come from three countries: Syria (5.5. million), Afghanistan (2.5 million), and South Sudan (1.4 million). 1.8 million refugees have arrived in the Europe Union since 2014, more than 1 million of them in 2015 alone. Close to 1 million of these refugees have requested asylum in different countries, with Germany being the primary destination.

Figure 1 from Mihaela Robila’s paper on “Refugees and Social Integration in Europe” illustrates the asylum applicants coming to the EU. The largest groups are coming from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. In 2016, the number of first-time asylum applicants in the EU from Syria was 27.8%, Afghanis accounted for 15%, and Iraqis for 11% of the total number of applicants.

Figure 1. Asylum Applicants in EuropeIn terms of countries of destinations (Eurostat, 2016)

In Europe, the largest groups are headed to Germany, Italy and France (see Figure 2). It is commonly said that more collaboration is needed so that the integration of refugees into different countries in the EU can be better coordinated.

Figure 2. Number of Asylum Applicants by Country of Destination (Eurostat, 2016)

Figures 3, 4, and 5 illustrate the top five destination countries for asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. In 2016, 85% of Syrian and Iraqi and 77% of Afghani asylums applied in Germany.

Figure 3. Top 5 Countries of Destination for Asylum Seekers from Syria (Eurostat, 2016)

Figure 4. Top 5 Countries of Destination for Asylum Seekers from Iraq (Eurostat, 2016)

Figure 5. Top 5 Countries of Destination for Asylum Seekers from Afghanistan (Eurostat, 2016)

Nowadays, fewer people applied for asylum relatively to the peak in 2015-2016. The UNHCR says that this year Spain has welcomed 9,500 migrants, Greece 12,000, and Italy 15,300. But the underlying factors of migration have not gone away; most observers believe it is only a matter of time before the number of arrivals rises again.

Refugees’ Social Integration

The level of integration and adaptation of refugees depends on a number of factors, including remigration experiences, the departure process, and the post-arrival experiences and environment.

Many refugees and asylum seekers have experienced severe pre-migration traumas, including mental and physical torture. The departure is also a complex endeavor, many times associated with life-threatening risks. Although arrival in a safe place provides initial relief, frustration sometimes develops as new problems emerge, such as family separation, language barriers, legal status, unemployment, homelessness, or lack of access to education and healthcare. The integration programs differ among the countries but all of them aim at making the integration process to the culture and work easier for refugees and immigrants.

Taking a more theoretical view, immigrant integration refers to the incorporation of new elements (immigrants) into an existing social system. Integration is described as a multi-dimensional concept, with structural and cultural aspects. Structural (socio-economic) aspects of integration refer to education and employment.  Social and cultural aspects refer to cultural adjustments, shared norms and social contacts of immigrants with natives. The structural and cultural dimensions of integration are strongly related; migrants with good social positions (a high education or a stable job) have more informal contact with society and therefore are more able to include themselves in the new society.

Integration Programs

Migrant integration is one of the key challenges currently faced by the EU Member States. The Stockholm Programme (2009) took a step further in the evaluation and monitoring of integration by identifying key indicators that serve to measure integration with. These indicators are:

Employment: employment rate, unemployment rate, activity rate;

Education: share of low achieving 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics, and science; the share of 30-35-year-olds with tertiary educational attainments; the share of early leavers from education and training;

Social inclusion: median net income; at risk of poverty rate; health status (good/ poor); property/non-property owners;

Active citizenship: share of immigrants acquiring citizenship; the share of immigrants holding long-term residency; the share of immigrants among elected representatives.

Refugees integration remains high on the current international political agenda. United Nations General Assembly adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (2016), which focuses on the international refugee regime and represents a commitment by the Member States to strengthen and enhance mechanisms to protect people on the move.

What are the most effective policies to make refugees well integrated, productive and profitable members of society in the most efficient way? What are the current policies within Europe? How to measure their success? And what is the future of these policies? These and more questions will be posed to Mr. Lucassen and Mrs. Degler during the Room for Discussion interview on Tuesday 13th November. The interview will take place in the E-hall at the Roeterseiland Campus (Universiteit van Amsterdam) at 13:00. Read our next article after the interview!

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