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The refugee crisis remains high on the agenda for the EU and will continue to be a key issue for public social services in 2017. Research by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) shows Europe can do more in 2017 to protect migrants.

In 2015 and 2016 over 2.3 million asylum seekers arrived in the EU. It is expected that about 1.3 million of those will be granted refugee status. Despite a reduction in the number of migrants arriving to Greece through Turkey, the number of migrants travelling across the Central Mediterranean route remains high. Therefore, addressing the challenge of accommodating and integrating migrants will continue to be a significant task for public social service providers in 2017.

The Current Issues

The January update on the situation of migrants’ rights produced by the FRA showed that some progress has been made in improving reception conditions for migrants, but with the onset of winter, the situation for many has become desperate. In the transit zones on the Hungarian-Serbian border for example, many are sick and are struggling to cope with freezing temperatures whilst reception and identification centres on the Greek Islands are operating at twice their capacity.

The FRA report pointed to a number of examples across Europe illustrating progress. One described how Germany has recruited coordinators for accommodation facilities to promote the implementation of minimum protection standards at the local level. The identification of vulnerable persons such as single women, pregnant women and children in reception facilities has improved as a result.

The FRA report also highlights how countries and localities are managing migrant children who are reaching adulthood. There appears to be a lack of an organised process for approaching this transition across the cases examined by the FRA, and it is a concern that the specific needs of young persons may not be met. For example, the Swedish Migration Agency recommends that staff re-register children as adults when “it is obvious that is the case”. This arbitrary assessment can affect the security of a young person.

The subject of unaccompanied children reaching adulthood will be an important topic of ESN’s 2017 Autumn seminar: ‘Social inclusion programmes for unaccompanied children and their transition to adulthood’.  The seminar will provide an opportunity to review European support mechanisms and the responses provided by local social services across Europe to address young migrants’ social inclusion.

As part of the Investing in Children project, ESN has produced a video series on unaccompanied children in Europe that presents the perspectives of professionals and service users on integrating and caring for unaccompanied children. On top of this, ESN’s paper ‘The impact of the refugee crisis on local public social services in Europe’ provides more in-depth analysis on the crisis.

EU Response

Addressing the refugee crisis is a priority of the EU, as indicated by recent statements such as the Malta Declaration and the Joint Declaration by EU leaders.

This political intent has been supported through funding. The EU 2017 budget committed almost €6 billion to address the pressure of migration, an 11.3% increase on 2016. Extra funding has been allocated in areas where the challenges are particularly acute. Since 2015, Greece has received €356.8 million from Home Affairs Funds such as the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). These funds aim to support efforts to improve reception capacities, ensure asylum procedures are in line with EU standards, integrate migrants at local and regional levels and increase the effectiveness of return programmes.

The FRA report illustrates that challenges persist in 2017. Managing the transition of unaccompanied children to adulthood is a developing issue for public social services and one that ESN will be addressing later this year. However, there are signs of opportunity and sources for optimism. The UN Refugee Agency has described how the arrival of Syrian refugees to Golzow, a small village in Germany, has saved a famous German school from closure and breathed new life into a shrinking village. This example highlights that despite the challenges, the arrival of refugees and migrants can rejuvenate and benefit local communities.