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Social support, healthcare, education and language: the role of local gover-ments in Slovakia

The role of local governments in the integration of forced migrants in Slovakia is embedded in a dual system of public administration. On the one hand, the framework of migration and integration policies is defined by the state administration and, on the other hand, autonomous regional and local self-governments are actively involved in elaboration and implementation of social policies at the local level.

The framework of self-government in Slovakia is organized within two dominant levels – the regional level, represented by eight Self-Governing Regions (regions) and the local level, rep-resented by municipalities (Bratislava and Košice are further divided in self-governing city dis-tricts). A municipality and a region are independent territorial and administrative units comprising persons who are permanently residing on their territory. Municipalities and regions, therefore, often overlook the needs of people who have only temporary residence (such as those with subsidiary protection). Local and regional self-governments also perform several tasks on behalf of the state administration. 

Responding to the lack of systematic regulation of the integration of foreigners, competences and elements of integration are spread among institutions on the central and local level and are regulated in various acts of law, for the most part, based on the provisions of legislation granting equal rights with nationals. In their contacts with local offices, refugees (and foreigners in general) emphasize the low availability of information for foreigners, as well as the language barrier, as the vast majority of information is provided at individual offices or websites in the Slovak language. Foreign lan-guage versions of information on the websites are geared towards tourists, not residents. The lack of professional capacities is another barrier: employees at various offices and departments of regional self-government have little (or no) experience in providing services to foreigners.

Experts point out that the biggest challenges foreigners face are in the following areas: social ser-vices and social support, healthcare, education and language. These policy fields are presented in brief below. 
Concerning social services and social support, municipalities and regions are competent in the estab-lishment and control of social dormitories, facilities for the elderly, care service and emergency housing facilities, temporary childcare facilities, etc., and providing basic social counselling.  Rec-ognized refugees may benefit from the social service under the same conditions, without discrimina-tion and at the same quality level, as is provided to Slovak citizens . Beneficiaries of international protection have also the right to material need benefits and allowances. They can also apply for a one-off benefit to cover part of the extraordinary expenses of members of the household who are provided with assistance in material need. The provision of this one-off benefit is decided by the municipality in which the members of the household have their residence. 

In the area of healthcare, municipalities exercise their competences in establishing outpatient de-partments, first aid stations, hospitals and medical centers of the first type and home nursing agen-cies. Regions establish hospitals of the second type, they manage such non-state healthcare as psy-chiatric hospitals and dental services. Both beneficiaries of subsidiary protection and persons who have been granted asylum are eligible for the provision of healthcare to the extent such health care is regularly covered under the public health care insurance, but only recognized refugees are public health insured like Slovak persons. In practice, two basic problems are encountered – the language and cultural barrier and the doctors ́ inability to report about healthcare procedures to insurance companies for persons with subsidiary protection and, thus, refusing to provide health care. In cases where specialized health care is denied, the self-governing region will specify a specialist doctor who is obliged to provide health care. 

Concerning education, municipalities play a considerable role. They establish pre-school and primary schools, school clubs, language schools and children’s leisure centers, and oversee the obligation to fulfil compulsory school attendance. Regions establish secondary schools, basic art schools, lan-guage schools (except for those next to grammar schools) and children’s leisure centers. Free educa-tion at the primary and secondary school level is granted to all children holding a residence permit. All foreigners with residence permits are granted education to the same extent as Slovak citizens. To remove language barriers in primary and secondary schools, basic and expanding state language courses are organized for foreign children. According to the findings of school inspections in 2020, the schools, however, are not prepared for teaching the children of foreigners. That is why the role of NGOs is crucial, especially in language courses.

A full report  “The role of local governments in the integration of refugees in the V4 countries” is available here