In light of the situation, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has produced a report on the topic: ‘Thematic focus: Impact of the asylum crisis on local communities’. The main findings of the report will be discussed here. For further information on this subject, refer to the European Social Network’s (ESN) paper: ‘The Impact of the Refugee Crisis on Local Public Social Services in Europe’.
One of the most pressing issues is providing appropriate accommodation. In Greece, local authorities are struggling to provide even basic infrastructure because of the sheer number of migrants. Human Rights Watch has reported that unaccompanied children in Greece are detained in police custodyand detention centres for prolonged periods, often in degrading and unsanitary conditions.
Supporting employment and education
Finding employment and school places are key steps for integrating migrants, although obstacles such as language barriers pose a problem. In fact, the European Commission’s Working Paper, ‘How are refugees faring on the labour market in Europe?’ argues that employment rates for refugees would be 10%-pts higher if their command of the host-country language was equal to that of natives.
With regards to education, the FRA report also illustrates effective examples. For instance, in Austria an introduction phase is offered where children receive language training and are accompanied by social workers and teaching staff for eight weeks. However, there are difficulties, too. For example, in Boden Municipality (Sweden) waiting periods for a school place can be 4 or 5 months due to staff and space shortages.
However, there have also been tensions with local people. The FRA report describes cases of hostility directed towards refugees. For example, people in Bicske (Hungary) frequently demand closure of the local refugee camp. Meanwhile, in Munich there have been two demonstrations and even arson attacks against refugee accommodation in the past six months.
Working with local communities
To minimise negative reactions from local people and to encourage the integration of refugees, some local governments have distributed information to communities. For example, in Boden a booklet titled ‘Dare to face your prejudices’ is continuously distributed to the local people. It describes the situation for asylum-seekers, the importance of integration and the economic benefits of immigration.
To overcome the challenges of language barriers, the City of Hafnarfjörður (Iceland) has been implementing an online translation service. Low-cost solutions like this could go a long way towards helping the integration of refugees.
Extra funding has been allocated to address the refugee crisis. The European Commission recently announced €115 million in emergency support to improve conditions for asylum-seekers in Greece. In Germany, the Government has approved plans for €20 billion to be spent by 2019 on integrating and housing refugees.
The FRA report highlights that the refugee crisis has led to serious issues with finding suitable accommodation for refugees. Providing support for their long-term integration into local communities is difficult given the lack of resources and personnel. However, to ease integration local authorities can embark on information campaigns while low-cost solutions and greater funding can ease the pressure on stretched service providers.