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Integration of migrants and refugees: benefits for all parties involved

Resolution 2502 (2023)

Parliamentary Assembly
Assembly debate on 21 June 2023 (17th sitting) (see Doc. 15785, report of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, rapporteur: Mr Domagoj Hajduković). Text adopted by the Assembly on 21 June 2023 (17th sitting).
1. The Parliamentary Assembly is alarmed by the fact that migration into Europe in the last decade has triggered numerous negative reactions, fuelled by a public discourse that induces fear and resentment towards people arriving from other countries. The term “integration” refers to a dynamic process of mutual adaptation, in which both migrants and host societies bear responsibilities for its fulfilment. Integration is a long-term investment in human capital. The aim is inclusion, or inclusive participation from both sides, which implies that all members of society have the opportunity to participate in social, cultural and political life, thus encouraging a sense of togetherness.
2. The process of integration may demand special enabling measures to develop the capacity of immigrants to achieve the same social and economic outcomes as native populations, while taking into account their needs, such as the need to help them improve their language proficiency in one of the host country’s official languages. The Assembly notes that host countries benefit from the successful integration of migrants and refugees. Successful integration benefits the whole society, maximising the advantages for all parties involved in this process. Although the State has to invest money in integration, when migrants arrive and for a few years after, their macroeconomic impact becomes positive when they are permanent residents, are integrated into the labour market and pay taxes. Migrants and refugees increase the working-age population; they arrive with skills and therefore contribute to human capital development and technological progress. Furthermore, local communities can benefit greatly from the cultural richness of diversity, migrant persons’ commitment to working hard to build a future for themselves and their families and a new social contract that clarifies the rights and responsibilities of all actors in society.
3. Integration programmes can only have positive outcomes if they are well prepared and implemented in co-operation with all the relevant stakeholders. To increase the benefits for all the parties involved in the process of integrating refugees and migrants, integration policies should be designed in a way that takes into account the needs of all key actors. This means that democratic processes allowing for the consultation of relevant stakeholders should be in place. In addition, States should pursue an evidence-based approach to inclusion planning, through expanding the collection and analysis of socio-economic data, building on existing tools and programmes of national and sub-national authorities. Through this they will obtain a detailed overview of refugees’ and migrants’ profiles and the practical, legal and administrative barriers impeding the full enjoyment of their economic and social rights.
4. It is important to engage in effective consultations with stakeholders in national judicial, legislative and human rights bodies, academia and civil society actors, including migrants’ organisations, in the development, adoption, implementation and review of integration measures. The experiences of migrants and refugees should be taken into account in devising future integration policies and programmes. Civil society and non-governmental organisations play a crucial role in the integration of migrants and refugees. The long-term and independent funding of civil society organisations is therefore particularly important for the successful integration of migrants and refugees.
5. The Assembly calls upon the Council of Europe member States to take positive measures to enhance the integration of migrants and refugees aiming at their full inclusion in the host society. Integration can be achieved, in practice, by a wide variety of methods. The exchange of best practices at local, national and European levels needs to be facilitated. The following approaches can be promoted.
5.1 Establish a new social contract: public authorities, when confronted with major changes in society, are often prompted to make significant changes. Such changes may need to be better prepared. The integration of migrants and refugees may benefit from a new social contract which sets out the rights and responsibilities of all parties involved in the integration process. Acceptance of this new social contract depends on the existence of democratic practices that build social support. Highlighting the rights and responsibilities for the newly arrived populations provides clarification from the start and builds trust and respectful co-operation between local communities and the beneficiaries of resettlement programmes. As regards the integration of refugees, member States should base their actions on the goals stipulated in the United Nations global compacts for migrants and refugees, as underscored in Assembly Resolution 2379 (2021) “Role of parliaments in implementing the United Nations global compacts for migrants and refugees” and Resolution 2408 (2021) “70th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention: the Council of Europe and the international protection of refugees”.
5.2 Support mentoring programmes and integration guides: mentoring programmes with the participation of “integration guides” are effective solutions that have improved the integration of migrants and refugees. Through these programmes, local mentors accompany and assist migrants and refugees when they first arrive in the host countries, support them in their cultural and social orientation, practice the language of the host country with them and help them with personal relationships and networking. It is important to raise employers’ awareness of refugees’ and migrants’ potential, which can be done, for example, through the networks of chambers of commerce. Public-private partnerships should be developed to support integration.
5.3 Develop nationwide interpretation services: another crucial factor for the successful integration of migrants and refugees is the availability of interpretation services during the entire process. The ability to understand and actively participate is especially important in the areas of health, justice and asylum, as well as in dealing with administrative issues determined at municipal level.
5.4 Enhance education – From language training to democratic citizenship and human rights education: language training is crucial for being able to live in a new country, including for access to employment. The better the training, the higher the likelihood that the person will become less dependent on support services and more autonomous in his or her daily life. Language training should take into account and cater for different education levels, fluency levels, time available (for example accelerated training), modalities (in person or remote) and care responsibilities. In addition, specific programmes designed to educate about societal developments in the host country, including programmes promoting democratic citizenship and human rights education, would benefit both the newly arrived people and host communities.
5.5 Improve recognition of skills obtained abroad: to ensure successful integration into the labour market and to enable migrants and refugees to participate, subsequently, in social security and pension systems, the recognition of qualifications and prior learning is of fundamental importance. Whether partial or full, recognition opens up further education or employment opportunities and allows refugees and migrants to make more efficient use of their knowledge, skills and competences. In that regard, member States should promote the implementation of the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees, an international project grounded in the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region (ETS No. 165, the “Lisbon Convention”). The passport can improve access to employment or provide an opportunity to continue education, helping refugees integrate into host societies.
5.6 Take into consideration the special needs of vulnerable groups: vulnerable groups such as women, (unaccompanied) children, elderly people, people with disabilities, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex (LGBTQI+) community, stateless people and others, need specific support in order to successfully integrate into the host country. Increasing the possibility for refugee and migrant children to attend kindergartens and other day-care facilities would allow women to continue their education and have access to employment. The involvement of healthcare professionals with a migrant background in elderly people’s homes and communal living facilities can help improve the integration of elderly migrants and refugees into the society and allow them to age with dignity. Empowering refugees and asylum seekers with disabilities and/or long-term illnesses would give them the confidence they need to assert their human rights.
5.7 Create spaces to bring migrants, refugees and the local community together: States should do their utmost to avoid building new retention camps. Such camps are contrary to the goal of integration and full inclusion of refugees and migrants in their host country. Even without camps, segregation of refugees and migrants in certain urban areas is detrimental to social progress. Encouraging members of refugees’ and migrants’ diaspora to meet, share their experiences and form mutual support networks can be beneficial in the short term, in terms of searching for local job opportunities, resilience and social networks, but it can also become problematic as it prevents certain groups of people from accessing the opportunities and services that would allow them to fully participate in the economic and social development of the host country. For integration to be successful, it is essential to create spaces in the public sphere that bring the local community, migrants and refugees together. This allows for the reduction of tensions and strengthening of social cohesion, thus building bridges between various groups in society.
5.8 Improve financial settings: there is a need for a person-centred approach to integration support and adaptation of national services to take into account specific needs and circumstances. Refugees and migrants require housing as well as support for other fundamental necessities, such as healthcare and access to education for their children. Significant upfront investment is needed to cover the costs of both immediate assistance for refugees and education. Funding is therefore an important tool for managing integration processes in a country and works as strong leverage for co-ordination in this area. More efficient and effective funding mechanisms should be designed and implemented based on dialogue between policy makers and the local authorities and other actors in charge of finding solutions (mayors, municipal authorities, local civil society organisations and service providers). Refugees’ and migrants’ financial inclusion should also be strengthened, including access to basic services such as bank accounts, through awareness raising and the provision of information, as well as support to refugee and migrant entrepreneurs through effective access to finance and business development services.
5.9 Develop targeted housing policies: affordable and decent accommodation is a prerequisite for the successful integration of migrants, a smooth access to the job market and to basic services, such as healthcare and education. In addition, there is a need for targeted settlement policies that aim to distribute the migrant population in a fair and balanced way on the national territory, facilitate contact between the newly arrived and the local population and prevent the development of ghettos or parallel societies, thus reducing the likelihood of migrants being involved in illegal activities.
5.10 Invest in social cohesion: social impact bonds are a possible solution for efficient funding. These bonds offer funding to solve societal issues, support preventive measures and connect financial success with achieving quantified social outcomes. Partnerships can be built between private investors, public authorities and civil society organisations.
5.11 Match migrant skills with job opportunities: access to the labour market is key to integration and refugees’ and migrants’ economic contribution to the host nation. Integration policies should ideally take into account the unique profiles of immigrants and their chances of integrating into local communities. Newly arrived migrants can be advised of job opportunities in meetings with the State employment office after receiving their residence permit, where their placements are governed by agreements between municipalities and the central government.
5.12 Develop effective communication strategies: the public’s impression of the situation of immigrants may not match the facts. Integration policies must have a communication component that encourages a fair and fact-based approach while identifying and addressing the benefits and challenges that migration can have for the host nation. New media channels offer a variety of communication opportunities due to their ability to connect with audiences that traditional media do not reach. However, there are other difficulties, such as the spread of misleading information and unfavourable stereotypes.
5.13 Ensure respect for refugees’ and migrants’ dignity in the media: member States should take steps to encourage accurate and non-discriminatory portrayals of migrants and refugees and help the media gather and share accurate and non-discriminatory information about migration and the human rights implications of migrants’ and refugees’ integration, while avoiding messages that are stigmatising, xenophobic, racist, alarmist or inaccurate.
5.14 Fight against xenophobia and discrimination: specific programmes should be put in place for improving public knowledge about migration in the host society and addressing negative perceptions of migrants and refugees, with the aim of protecting them from xenophobia, violence and discrimination. States can undertake information campaigns in co-operation with civil society organisations, the media and other relevant actors to, inter alia, shed light on the situation of migrants and refugees and raise awareness of the risks and dangers of trafficking and transnational organised crime.
5.15 Develop welcoming programmes: various cities in Europe have welcoming programmes in place and related communication campaigns that make use of photos, posters, press releases and social media. The campaigns emphasise diversity as an advantage.
5.16 Enhance public health support for vulnerable refugees and migrants: availability of public health support is an important issue. Refugees, especially children, who have fled high intensity conflict areas, may need psychological support. While the protection of the health of migrants and refugees has so far been linked solely to the guarantee of basic physical care, it is essential to recognise that mental health and psychological support are equally essential. The document from the World Health Organization (WHO) entitled “Strategy and action plan for refugee and migrant health in the WHO European Region” (2016) places improving the mental health of refugees and migrants on the political agenda.
6. States should take measures at European level to promote integration of refugees and migrants based on the respect for the rights and dignity of every individual. The Assembly calls upon member States to take into consideration, when devising public policies for the integration of refugees and migrants, the recommendations put forward by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights in the issue paper “Time for Europe to get migrant integration right” (2016).
7. Bearing in mind the importance of exchanging best practice at the European level, the Assembly recommends enhancing international co-operation at local, national and European levels to promote integration of refugees and migrants.
8. Participation in programmes aimed at managing diverse societies, such as the Council of Europe’s Intercultural Cities programme, is highly recommended. This programme supports cities and regions in reviewing and adapting their policies through an intercultural lens and developing comprehensive intercultural strategies to manage diversity as an advantage for society as a whole.
9. The Assembly welcomes co-operation with the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe in the implementation by the Congress of the Cities4Cities initiative – a new platform launched to support Ukrainian local and regional authorities by connecting them with European cities.
10. Finally, the Assembly underscores the importance of enhancing reception capacity and integration facilities for refugees and migrants. Social projects responding to emergency situations can be financed with the support of financial instruments available through the Council of Europe Development Bank – a major instrument of solidarity policies in Europe.