Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

Opinion

Integration of Syrian refugees in Europe needs scrutiny

  • Given that conflicts on average take 17 years to resolve and the war in Syria is far from coming to an end, the refugee issue cannot be considered to be a short-term phenomenon; but rather requires a complex long-term strategy (Photo: Jan Kuntra)

In 2015, when hundreds of thousands of Syrians fled on the arduous journey dreaming of reaching a safe and prosperous haven in Europe, many did not realise that this dream would in fact remain illusionary and unfulfilled.

After escaping war in their home country, they not only faced the risk of death in the Mediterranean but also came across walls erected against them in Hungary, 'forbidden cities' where refugees are not welcome in Germany while being greeted by 'Burn Them Alive!' slogans by xenophobic groups on the Greek island of Lesbos and similar far-right groups in other countries.

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On 7 May, a Syrian refugee was stabbed in an allegedly racially-motivated attack in Edinburgh, UK.

Although the UN recently launched an action plan on the integration of refugees in the job market, research shows that 80 percent of Syrian refugees in Europe remain unemployed.

According to the Economist, whereas it takes six years for the refugees' employment rates to exceed natives in the United States, it takes more than 15 years in Germany, which is the highest performer in terms of refugee labour force integration in Europe.

The EU Action Plan on the integration of third country nationals adopted in 2016 tries to address some of the challenges such as education, employment, pre-departure and pre-arrival measures and access to basic services yet much more is required in order to accelerate both the economic dimension and the cultural and social aspects of the multi-faceted integration process of Syrian refugees in Europe.

A recent report by the Brussels-based think European Foundation for Democracy highlights that the integration process of Syrian refugees would not be successful in the absence of long-term policies aimed at socio-economic and cultural integration.

The report cites several prominent examples in Europe on how to develop the integration process of refugees: the Netherlands' 'Get to Work Project' helping finding volunteer work for asylum seekers in reception centres, France's 'Action Emploie Refugies' bringing together employers and refugees, Belgium's 'Duo for Job', a mentoring system between experienced locals and newcomers looking for a job, Sweden's 'Hello Stranger!', organising outdoor trips and sports activities for refugees and their families, Denmark's municipalities recruiting refugees to serve as intercultural bridges among newcomers, Austria's 'Peer Youth', allowing immigrant youth to engage with peers from neighbourhoods.

Although these programs in different member states are commendable, important areas of concern, such as, reception centres, affordable housing and ghettoisation remain unaddressed by authorities, according to Yousef Wehbe from the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, Germany.

Furthermore, most refugee-related services are outsourced to the private sector and NGOs, which are not adequately monitored and evaluated.

In the absence of a clear mapping of actors operating with refugees, the refugees find it hard to find a platform to obtain information about their basic needs.

Reportedly, some organisations are trying to exploit the vulnerabilities of refugees, by indoctrinating them into radical ideologies.

Therefore, it is of crucial importance that the careful vetting of trainers, able to grasp the cultural background of refugees is developed.

Furthermore, when governments and EU institutions provide funding for projects related to refugees, they should scrutinise the NGOs and private players they are working with (and ensure that they do not identify with radical ideologies), and guarantee a proper evaluation system including on how they are funded in a fully transparent and accountable way.

In addition, a value-based training should be provided to refugees to help them to understand and accept the ways of life of local communities in order to adapt to them while keeping their own identity at the same time.

Compulsory language education should be put in place in order to help the integration process of refugees.

Last but not least, trauma therapy should be made mandatory for children and vulnerable groups of refugees.

No European country has the perfect formula for integration and it requires coordinated efforts both from the refugees themselves and from the host communities.

Given that conflicts on average take 17 years to resolve and the war in Syria is far from coming to an end, the refugee issue cannot be considered to be a short-term phenomenon; but rather requires a complex long-term strategy.

Considering the immense potential that refugees represent for the growth of our societies in the long-term and for our diversity, their integration should be taken seriously and appropriate measures shall be put in place in Europe.

Eli Hadzhieva is director of Dialogue for Europe, and a former parliamentary attache at the committee of foreign affairs and the committee of justice, civil liberties and home affairs of the European Parliament

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