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The road to refugee integration: where are we now?

Ami Saji, Refugee Policy Intern

This is the first in a series of blogs about social integration and refugees in the UK and Europe.

The past few years have been marked by an influx of refugees fleeing their homes due to conflict and persecution. These individuals, their lives uprooted, seek refuge in a new country with the hopes of rebuilding their lives. While countries bordering these areas of conflict and civil unrest continue to host the majority of these refugees, European countries have seen an increase in asylum applications. Some have even welcomed refugees into their country by committing to an enhanced resettlement scheme.

Refugees who have found a new place to call home have achieved a significant milestone. However, their journey doesn’t stop there, as they face a new set of challenges that come with integration.  Many European countries, recognising that welcoming refugees extends beyond granting them the right to remain, have brought the topic of integration to the forefront of political discourse. In 2016, the EU released a series of reports , which highlight the importance and value of investing in integration services and provide general recommendations to improve the integration of refugees and migrants.

In the UK, where the Wonder Foundation is based, social integration is a topic of interest too. With the national government tasked with developing a post-Brexit immigration programme, they have launched an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to specifically examine the social integration component of immigration. This APPG has so far released an interim report, which provides a broad agenda of how the UK immigration system can better promote social integration of current and future immigrants. While this report recognises the multi-faceted nature of social integration, it barely covers different types and combinations of barriers immigrants face.

This point matters immensely when discussing the social integration outcomes for refugees, as they face particularly pronounced and complex barriers. With negativity dominating discussions about refugees, their relatively poor integration outcomes are wrongly attributed to their unwillingness or lack of interest. In fact this is more often caused by insufficient support provided by the current immigration system. What is needed is a new strategy that organises the right people, provides appropriate resources, and coordinates necessary services, so the experience can be better for everyone involved in social integration.

As the UK and European countries continue to develop their social integration strategies, they should reflect on what drives diverse outcomes for refugees in different countries. Moreover, in recognising that integration is a two-way approach, refugees and their new neighbours can better work together to build and nurture a sense of belonging and inclusion.