International Conference in The Hague, the Netherlands, November 12 – 13, 2018
In collaboration with the Dutch Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) and the Dutch Council for Refugees (DCR), ICMC facilitated a conference on refugee placement (dispersal) policies at the national and regional level, and local integration in small municipalities. Organised in the framework of the SHARE Integration project, which builds toward a network of (small-size) cities, towns and local actors committed to offering protection and welcome for resettled refugees in Europe, the conference brought together 55 representatives from NGOs, national governments, and regional and municipal authorities.
When refugees arrive to European countries by means of resettlement and other legal pathways, actors at all levels have the opportunity to plan and prepare for their arrival. European countries employ a variety of refugee placement or dispersal systems to determine where newly arrived refugees will be settled. Some of these allocate refugees across the national territory based on indicators such as population size, GDP and employment rates, while others negotiate placement on a ‘case by case' basis, often driven by the availability of appropriate housing.
Placement that is sensitive to the needs and potentials of both refugees and host communities can positively influence future pathways to integration and build the foundations for receiving refugees in the future. Over a dynamic 1.5-day programme of presentations and discussion, the SHARE Conference sought to explore such approaches to placement from around Europe.
During the first day of the conference, presenters involved in placement reflected on successful approaches to planning and coordination at the national, regional and local level, and on how effective placement can ensure positive outcomes for both refugees and the local communities that receive them. Participants heard examples of successful placement approaches from national, regional and local authorities and civil society organisations in The Netherlands, Finland, France and Sweden, and further explored placement and multilevel coordination in their national contexts in a series of interactive breakout discussions.
The second day of the conference began with Finnish, French, Swedish and British presenters highlighting the importance of regional coordination for placement. Presenters described how regional coordination can strengthen the capacity of smaller municipalities to receive refugees, identify and develop solutions for common local challenges, and achieve important economies of scale in commissioning and implementing services and support for integration across a regional territory. As Charlotte Cooke of Migration Yorkshire in the UK notes, 'our regional model gives us the flexibility to work with a number of local areas to find the suitable and sustainable placement options for refugees that fit the differing needs of both the refugees themselves and the communities that are receiving them'.
The conference also highlighted the important role of smaller municipalities in expanding efforts to receive refugees, and included amongst its participants representatives of such municipalities that since 2015 have significantly increased their role in hosting refugees. The Mayor of Landgraaf in The Netherlands, Raymond Vlecken, described how political leadership can mobilise community support for refugees, and emphasised the need for local authorities to maintain regular contact with local citizens so as to address their concerns and solve practical issues on the ground. Matthieu Tardis of the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI), partner in the SHARE Integration project, presented the preliminary findings of his research in support of the forthcoming SHARE publication on receiving refugees in smaller municipalities, saying 'smaller communities have challenges when compared to bigger cities, particularly around isolation and a lack of services, but can also offer several unique opportunities for resettled refugees. Strong social networks of local citizens mean refugees are more easily included in local life, and this provides a strong impetus for integration. Most importantly refugees feel safe, and have a real sense of belonging in and to their new communities.'
In contrast to often negative political discourses at national level, municipality representatives agreed that refugee arrivals have generated positive energy in their local communities, and that smaller municipalities can offer many opportunities for the refugees they receive. 'In the beginning, refugees may be a bit hesitant when they arrive in our municipality', said Djamal Hamaili, Integration Coordinator at the Swedish municipality of Valdemarsvik,'but after some time they notice that there can be many opportunities for them here. If they are prepared to invest the time to follow a training programme to work in areas such as agriculture or care assistance, then they can certainly find employment here. In Valdemarsvik you do not always need to have a nicely written CV - the most important thing is to be motivated and to make connections with the community around you'.
For more information on this conference, the forthcoming SHARE publication or the SHARE project, contact ICMC Europe Programme Manager, Magdalena Boehm at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Djamal Hamaili, Swedish municipality of Valdemarsvik (left)
Stynke Douma, Dutch municipality of Peel en Maas (right)