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A short Discussion Note on Reception Services

27 April 2017

The theme of the 3rd Transnational Workshop in Thessaloniki 23-26 May 2017

The number of migrants is growing and migration flows are increasingly complex. The ongoing conflict in Syria, the instability in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya,Yemen Lebanon and other countries in the Middle East and different parts of Africa is very likely to force more and more people to seek asylum in Europe which could bring along even larger migration flows in the future.
In addition, the demographic and economic factors especially in Sub-Saharan African countries as well as high poverty and unemployment rates in the Western Balkans may further aggravate this challenge.
Also, the situation is deteriorating for the large number of refugees in many of the countries in the neighbouring areas of the conflict zones like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt where the lack of overall aid, education options and rising unemployment are pushing the refugees to continue their search for asylum in Europe. Furthermore, climate change suggests the need to prepare for significant refugee flows in the coming decades.
The rapid growth in inflows towards Europe, the large variety of routes, the diversity of countries of origin and underlying motives for displacement make the current refugee flow particularly complex to address. Asylum applications are growing in numbers and many of the countries that have been accepting refugees are beginning to implement more restrictive policies, which shift the pressure towards the southern borders of Europe.
In short, the new normal will be a continuous and growing pattern of migration. Given this context, then the need to provide accessible, appropriate and accountable reception services is a fundamental issue that many cities are having to face. Already, it is clear that in many instances reception services are far from adequate. Moreover, in many member states there is a growing use of detention centers as the first “reception service” that new arrivals encounter.
The EU Framework
The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) has made the EU competent to create a common asylum policy. According to article 78 TFEU, the EU shall develop a common policy on asylum, subsidiary and temporary protection for those in need of international protection. It is set out in paragraph two of this article, that the EU can create common standards concerning the conditions for reception for asylum seekers. Article 78 TFEU has served as the legal basis for many EU asylum policy directives.
In EU law, it is the Recast Reception Conditions Directive (2013/33/EU) which laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection. The Reception Conditions Directive aims at ensuring better as well as more harmonized standards of reception conditions throughout the Union. It ensures that applicants have access to housing, food, clothing, health care, education for minors and access to employment under certain conditions.
The current Reception Conditions Directive was adopted in 2013. It replaced Council Directive 2003/9/CE on minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers. The deadline for Member States to transpose the Directive into national law was 20 July 2015.
In addition to the above mentioned provisions, the Directive also provides particular attention to vulnerable persons, especially unaccompanied minors and victims of torture. Member States must, inter alia, conduct an individual assessment in order to identify the special reception needs of vulnerable persons and to ensure that vulnerable asylum seekers can access medical and psychological support.
Alongside this specific directive there are the EU Common Basic Principles for Immigrant Integration Policy and the vehicle for its implementation, the Common Agenda for Integration form the basis upon which migrant integration in the EU is formulated, and view integration as comprising the following:
  •  a two-way, dynamic process;
  • implying respect for EU values;
  • employment forms a key part of integration and is central to participation;
  • knowledge of the receiving society’s language, history, and institutions is integral to successful integration;
  • education, which is critical for active participation;
  • access to institutions, goods and services on the same basis as nationals is fundamental to integration; interaction between migrant/citizen;
  • practice of diverse cultures and religions to be safeguarded;
  • participation in the democratic process;
  • mainstreaming integration policies;
  • clear goals, indicators and evaluation mechanisms to adjust integration policy.
Barriers and challenges
A) General
In recent years, there has been a substantial increase in the number of migrants coming to Europe seeking protection, safer environments or just new opportunities for themselves and their families. Social service providers have been significantly impacted by this trend, as they are often at the forefront of co-ordinating support. Depending on the legal status and needs of different migrant groups, such support can range from short-term actions such as emergency accommodation, social and healthcare assistance and support with administrative needs to longer term services that include language learning, cultural integration, counselling and labour market integration.
In a context of fiscal consolidation which poses challenges for sustainable service provision and against a backdrop of rising xenophobia, often fuelled by political rhetoric, social service providers must find the best ways to deliver services to a diverse group of users – a group which continues to grow in size, experiences stigmatisation and trauma, and may often be highly skilled yet have a wide spectrum of needs.
Ensuring and safeguarding migrant’s access to social services is important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is integral to protecting the human rights of migrants and to enable them to lead their lives in dignity by providing pathways towards meaningful societal participation. Secondly, providing social services for the integration of migrants is an investment which pays off economically, contributing to economic growth and a wider tax base in receiving countries through a strengthening of Europe’s workforce. It also constitutes the most effective way to prevent future costs tied to inadequate integration in society. Service quality and accessibility are key to translating this logic into practice.
However, it needs to be recognised at the outset that the settlement and reception needs for refugees and asylum seekers are significant and complex. For example, prior to their arrival, refugees and asylum seekers may have experienced forced displacement, prolonged periods in refugee camps or marginalisation in urban settings, exposure to violence and abuse of human rights,loss and separation from family members, deprivation of cultural and religious institutions and practices, periods of extreme poverty, severe constraints on access to health, education, employment and income support, prolonged uncertainty about the future.
It is cities that are faced with the challenge of meeting this complex needs. Cities located in arrival, transit and destination countries in Europe are finding themselves in an especially critical position with regards to the social, humanitarian and financial consequences of the refugee flow. Regardless of specific competences at different governance levels, it is typically up to municipalities to ensure that asylum seekers settle in well for the duration of their stay, however short or long it may be. This situation requires systematic and coordinated efforts at local level involving a range of stakeholders.
Local authorities are supposed to manage this temporary reception of asylum seekers in front-line and transit cities. They need to offer asylum seekers temporary accommodation until a decision has been taken about their status. Once the asylum seeker has received a status, either as a refugee or as a person receiving humanitarian protection, local authorities play a role in ensuring housing and starting with the integration processes of the beneficiary into the host society. In general, regional and local authorities do not only have to implement national policies, but often have to develop ad hoc measures. Achieving an inclusive and integrated approach tackling both the urgent and the medium-long term asylum seekers challenge requires governance in partnership. All levels of governments need to complement their respective strategy and action. This crisis, along with the current international instability calls for a change in addressing the way governments plan and implement actions and public services.
B) Specific
Health services: A number of research and studies have highlighted a number of barriers that migrants face in accessing health services:
  • Migrants experience legal, psycho-social and economic problems in accessing health care. Language barriers are an obvious problem, so too is the cost of health care where even very small co-payments for a migrant on a low income provides a significant barrier. Irregular migrants and asylum seekers waiting for their applications to be processed face legal barriers to care in many countries.
  • In addition the public health services are often not in a position to cater for the specific health problems of migrants and lack the sensitivity and skills needed to deliver health are successfully to people who may have significant differences in their concepts of health and differing attitudes towards illness, pain and death, as well as other ways of voicing symptoms, coping with illness and expressing expectations towards the physician.
  • Furthermore the complexity of the highly developed and differentiated health sector of Member States may further complicate this situation.
  • The organisation of disease prevention and health promotion for migrant populations is often inadequate. This is not only true for prenatal examinations, but also for vaccination programmes and other kinds of prevention and early detection, including screening. So far, prevention programmes have rarely used culture-sensitive approaches to reach the various migrant groups. 
Housing Services: Despite the differences in the housing stock across Europe, migrants often find themselves in a disadvantaged situation compared to the native-born population. As is evident from data collected by EWSI national experts in the 28 EU countries, migrants are generally vulnerable on the housing market, disproportionately dependent on private rentals, more likely to be uninformed of their rights and discriminated against. They also face greater obstacles to access public housing or housing benefits and are more likely to live in substandard and poorly connected accommodations, with less space available and at a higher rental cost burden than the national average.
Reception Centers: The large numbers of asylum seekers have created problems in the reception centres . Overcrowding is a major problem which also leads to violence in reception centres. There is not sufficient access to health care because the demand is too high. Overcrowding leads to a lack of privacy, lack of living space and a lack of sanitary facilities. This can create a dangerous situation for women and children. In addition, there is a lack of interpreters available, information is insufficiently provided and the asylum procedure is very lengthy. Another problem is that children cannot always go to school. Furthermore, cases of sexual violence against women and children have been reported. Civic engagement services
Civil society organizations and the support of local communities and non-governmental organizations, are important for an effective integration. Frequent interaction between immigrants and host country citizens is seen as a fundamental mechanism for opening societies for all immigrants but especially for refugees. By offering possibilities for participation in community activities like sports clubs or other recreational activities, host countries can convey its values. This is particularly important as public opinion towards refugees in many Member States is now more reluctant.
Conclusion and questions to consider
The service needs of migrants are diverse and often complex. An integrated approach to social services, coordinated around each user on a personal basis, is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of interventions. At the same time, an integrated approach can optimise service accessibility throughout the integration process, as changes in a person’s legal status might affect their eligibility for specific services. Finally, integration between service providers and other stakeholders like local authorities, employment services or local communities is key to strengthening cooperation between different actors pursuing a common goal. Ensuring coherence in service provision is integral to promoting a fast and sustainable integration process for migrants.
Considering partners local situation and in view of the next Transnational Workshop the following challenges will be addressed:
  • What specific qualifications and skills need to be promoted among staff working in social services for the integration of migrants?
  • How can service providers ensure meaningful user involvement in the design and delivery of services to ensure that they can effectively identify and meet migrant needs and promote higher quality of interventions?
  • How can cooperation between social service providers and other stakeholders (local and national authorities, employment services and other actors) be improved and promoted in order to boost the effectiveness of migrant integration?
  • How can social service providers (and other stakeholders) promote a higher up-take by national authorities of available EU funds for services which could support migrants? Also, how can access to such funds by service providers be further facilitated?
Some resources
Housing and Integration of Migrants in Europe.( Cities for Local Integration Policies report)
Haroon Saad
Lead Expert