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Report

Forging a common path: A European approach to the integration of refugees and asylum-seekers

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The European Union (EU) is at a unique turning point at which it is vital to invest in the integration of people who have sought protection here. While their integration is key to wider societal cohesion and fostering an environment that is more welcoming to all, this group faces specific challenges and barriers to integration stemming from the changing nature of global displacement, structural issues in member states exacerbated by high volumes of arrivals in 2015 - 2016, and certain aspects of asylum policy at the EU and national levels. These issues are widespread, persistent and likely to be exacerbated if not addressed immediately and with a long-term, structured approach.

Humanitarian organisations, particularly those like the IRC which has experience in working with displaced persons across the arc of the crisis – from the moment of displacement to their local integration or resettlement to a third country – have a unique contribution to make in supporting the integration of refugees and asylum-seekers in Europe, in both policy and practice. Our global experience shows that continuous support is needed to address acute needs as well as to enable people to thrive and regain control of their lives as soon as possible after displacement, and that successful integration is to the benefit of receiving societies as well as people seeking protection.

This report argues that the EU has a key role in putting this into practice, and that the implementation of the European Commission’s Action Plan on Integration coming to an end in June 2018, ongoing discussions about the restructuring of EU funding for integration and a new Commission in 2019 create an ideal moment to reflect on the shape and extent of future EU action on integration.

After providing an overview of the current situation of refugees and asylum-seekers in the EU in Section II, the report aims to contribute to this process by highlighting good practices and suggesting some fundamental considerations informed by the IRC’s many decades of experience in supporting the integration of people seeking protection internationally, in the U.S. and in Europe.

Section III argues that despite limits to its legislative competence, the EU has a key role to play in shaping a European integration policy that should support actors delivering policy and services at the local and national levels, including through a strategic approach to EU funding. Section IV sets out five fundamental principles that should underpin a common approach to integration by these actors. These principles, informed by humanitarian practice, stipulate that: integration support that enables full participation in society should be context-specific, build upon strong and varied local partnerships, be rooted in local communities, be strength-based and client-focused, as well as sensitive to the needs of specific groups.

We conclude that, at a time where populist voices in member states dominate the debate on migration and displacement, the EU can provide principled leadership that clearly communicates the benefits of successful and early integration to all members of European society and promotes an understanding of integration as a pathway, rather than an ensemble of emergency measures.

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