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Refugee Integration Webinar: Linking NIEM results to the EU Action Plan

MPG Webinar “Europe’s patchwork of refugee integration policies: The EU Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion as an instrument to address deficiencies”

On 17th September 2021 Alexander Wolffhardt and Sinem Yilmaz from Migration Policy Group presented a policy brief on linking refugee integration results to the EU Action Plan. During the webinar some key takeaways from the policy brief were presented, followed by a discussion with the European Commission and NIEM partners from Italy, Lithuania, Romania and Sweden about the challenges and opportunities surrounding refugee integration in Europe. The webinar was an opportunity to learn about the refugee integration policies of selected NIEM countries and to discuss the added value of the EU Action Plan. 

Policy Brief
In the framework of the National Integration Evaluation Mechanism (NIEM) project, Migration Policy Group has drawn up a policy brief which links the 2019 NIEM results from 14 Member States with the EU Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion (2021-2027). Specifically, it explores to what extent integration policies for beneficiaries of international protection are in line with the principles, values, and objectives of the EU Action Plan.

Key implications of the policy brief:

●    Policymakers and refugee integration stakeholders can use NIEM data to identify areas where the EU Action Plan and its concrete goals can help to address policy gaps and needs;
●    NIEM can be used as a tool to assess the achievement of the Action Plan objectives in the coming years;
●  The brief also presents specific recommendations to the European Commission and Member States about how to foster the implementation of the Action Plan and/or make it more effective in their integration policies.

Linking NIEM with EU Action Plan 

The agenda of the webinar included the introduction and presentation of NIEM key results by Alexander Wolffhardt (MPG), the presentation of the EU Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion by the representative of European Commission, DG Home - Angelique Petrits, as well as the presentation of the policy brief on linking refugee integration results to the EU Action Plan by Sinem Yilmaz (MPG). After these presentations, a discussion on how the EU Action Plan can be used to improve the integration frameworks of Member States was led between NIEM Partners from Italy, Lithuania, Romania and Sweden.

The key trends observed within the NIEM research between 2017-2019 are as follows: 

1. Countries are getting better in ensuring access to rights and an adequate legal framework;

2. The widest gaps remain in the policies that support integration and multi-stakeholder collaborations;

3. Few changes  were introduced in relation to Implementation and Collaboration step. 

Looking at individual countries, only in few of them a visible overall improvement can be observed (Lithuania, France, Latvia, Slovenia), and the areas with the strongest positive dynamics include employment, health and education. Sectors with the highest number of countries deteriorating in are residency, housing and health.

While introducing the Action Plan on integration and inclusion 2021-27, Angelique Petrits from EC stressed that its scope is much larger than the policies regarding refugees, nevertheless it includes the areas covered by NIEM research. The main principles underpinning the Action Plan are: inclusion for all, mainstreaming gender and anti-discrimination priorities, support at all stages of the integration process, maximising EU added value through multi-stakeholder partnerships, targeted support where needed. EC can encourage Member States through providing toolkits, supporting mutual learning and exchanges, funding and strengthening existing tools, but there is obviously no possibility to enforce any legislation. 

Implementation of the actions is planned to happen through Horizontal Actions that is, building strong partnerships, reinforcing and developing  partnerships between national authorities, local and regional authorities, host communities, civil society and social and economic partners. Furthermore, at the end of 2020, the Migrant Expert Group has been set up by the EC - 24 experts of a migrant background and with knowledge and experience in migration, asylum and integration provide their advice on issues concerning new policies discussed. 

Key takeaways from discussion

The discussion was opened with a question on the policy framework situation and developments of housing and employment areas in four selected Member States. Ovidiu Voicu from the Center for Public Innovation in Romania highlighted the problem of the lack of accessibility of public housing system to BIPs. The majority of asylum seekers and early stage BIPs are hosted in residential centres which are affordable but hardly adequate as accommodation, especially for families and vulnerable people. After leaving the centre, people face further challenges on the housing market, such as discrimination by the landlords as well as the difficulties with securing appropriate resources as a result of the scarcity of employment and growth opportunities. Nevertheless, there are some improvements observed, in 2019 an important legislative change was introduced, aiming to offer allowances to some BIPs (those living in overpopulated residential centres) to cover rental expenses on free market, in 2021 the allowance rate has been increased in order to better reflect the actual rental costs. 

Prof. Ennio Codini from ISMU stressed that discrimination of asylums seekers and BIPs remains a significant problem on Italian private rental market, however it is possible to observe some improvements as these issues are brought up in public and cases are won in courts. Nevertheless, there are still no targeted measures introduced for BIPs in terms of housing policies. Ass. Prof. Sayaka Osanami Torngren from Malmo University raised similar concerns in regards to the challenges related to the scarcity of affordable housing and raising rents, followed by the challenges that BIPs have to face in order to enter the employment market, oftentimes leading to an increased level of homelessness that can be observed among BIPs. In the contrary to other national models though, the housing policies in Sweden are coordinated with other policy areas such as employment, education, healthcare and social services, especially after introducing the settlement law in 2016 according to which each municipality has to accept and accommodate a given number of BIPs and asylum seekers, resulting in reduced pressure on bigger and already more populated residential areas.

In Lithuania, as highlighted by dr Giedre Blazyte from Diversity Development Group following the first six months in the reception centres, BIPs and asylum seekers have to move to continue their integration in local municipalities. Similarly to other countries mentioned, the lack of financial capacities and the mistrust of landlords to rent apartments to refugees are the major challenges that they have to face. In regards to the housing support system, the financial help is offered to BIPs only during the integration period that takes only one year. Nevertheless, in 2020 there was a positive and substantial legislative change introduced in the employment policy area, as asylum seekers awaiting the decision on granting international protection can legally enter the labour market after six months since submitting the application.

Good Practices

In many parts of Sweden the newly arrived refugees and immigrants are offered the 100-hour civic education course, where the are provided with information on society, culture or healthcare of the host community. These information is available in different languages and often the information are provided through civic and health communicators, who often have migrant/refugee background and speak the language of the community, which makes it easier for BIPs to understand the information. The Swedish model is also founded on the multi-stakeholder partnerships that create a strong and wide-ranging web of support for asylum seekers and refugees. A similar type of inspiring practices are beginning to emerge in other EU countries as well, one example mentioned during the discussion was the Romanian initiative of “Local support teams”– a multi-stakeholder action, piloted by UNHCR, that since 2019 was included in the relevant legislation, unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the continuation of the initiative, however it is meant to be resumed when possible. 

The webinar was recorded and is now available to see on YouTube: