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Reception and integration of refugees: cities on the frontline

A challenge for housing providers

Brussels, 4 April 2016 | Published in Social

On 4 April 2016, Housing Europe participated in the Policy dialogue organized by the European Policy Centre (EPC) and EUROCITIES on the ‘Reception and integration of refugees: cities on the frontline’.

The current migration crisis is putting authorities at all levels under unprecedented pressure. The urgent need to find short-term solutions to the reception of refugees has overshadowed the far bigger long-term task of integrating refugees into the host societies. European cities, in particular, find themselves facing this two-fold challenge: providing for the immediate needs of refugees, whilst also having to organise the integration process. This makes cities an indispensable actor in the search for political and practical solutions and brings them to the forefront of the current debate.

The Policy Dialogue reviewed the role of cities in enabling and supporting the integration of refugees arriving in the EU. Thomas Fabian, Deputy Mayor of Leipzig presented the actions made so far in the city focusing on the housing sector. For 6-8 months, the municipality is responsible to provide housing with the support of social workers. Also, the city plans to build new homes in different areas –from the poor and middle-class to the rich neighbourhoods.

The city follows three principles:

  • be inclusive: special services at the start and then existing services should be accessible to all
  • provide help to people to help themselves: strengthen personal responsibility and self-reliance
  • React immediately to conflicts-with a clear position 
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The panel also presented the findings of the report recently published by EUROCITIES, “Social affairs refugee reception and integration in cities” and first-hand information about the situation on the ground in various European cities. The publication explains that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Cities work with their own housing stock, use mediators to private landlords, refurbish empty office buildings, and coordinator solidarity initiatives among residents willing to host refugees in their homes. Besides, finding suitable housing for unaccompanied minors has proven a real challenge, due in part to their vulnerability and specific needs.

Housing Europe Secretary General, Sorcha Edwards underlined in her intervention the need to increase the affordable housing stock in cities, highlighting the challenges that housing providers are facing, since they are the ones that are supposed to house all people in need. Additionally, Sorcha stressed that EU state aid rules make public support for housing difficult which is something that needs to change- echoing the "EU regulation" pillar of the Housing for All campaign.

Valeria Setti, Policy Officer at DG HOME of the European Commission gave the perspective of the EU institutions on this issue, explaining that since last year the different services of the Commission are working on an Action Plan which will be published in the coming weeks. Besides the existing solutions, the Plan will consist of new initiatives, for example funding opportunities, partnership tools, capacity building opportunities. The European Commission plans to broaden the dialogue between the National Contact Points (national Ministries) to open them up to other stakeholders as well.

The panel agreed on the fact that key to the long-term integration would be a mix of security (long-term housing), healthcare, language, education and employment.