Seminar summary: French-Swedish exchange on the integration of refugees [fr]
The Embassy of France in Sweden and the think tank Global Utmaning co-hosted on May 11th a seminar on new perspectives on refugee integration in France and Sweden. The purpose was to foster dialogue and exchange of good practices between Swedish and French representatives of government, private sector, academia and civil society.
The Ambassador of France, Jacques Lapouge, emphasized the need to focus on long term integration. In 2016, France implemented new measures to host and integrate newly arrived more efficiently, including improved coordination between stakeholders and individualized integration plans to all newly arrived. Integration in France follows the Republican model, which is based on the equal treatment of individuals, rather than on groups or communities. The French agency responsible for immigration and integration (OFII) offers newcomers a contract of republican integration, including needs assessment, tailored trainings, language courses as well as civic trainings on republican institutions and values. In 2016, 106 260 newly arrived signed this contract, including 21 600 refugees. The Ambassador also highlighted the broad cooperation between the public sphere and the civil society.
Anders Kessling, State Secretary to the Minister for Employment and Integration, described the measures taken in Sweden in relation to the reception and integration of newly arrived, as well as measures implemented in the field of housing. When it comes to integration, Sweden compares well internationally but the government is aware that it will have to further address long term challenges. Unemployment hits newly arrived severely. The integration program launched in 2011 is currently at its peak (77 000 participants in 2017) and is showing results that can be further improved. Education, language training and labor market integration are considered key in the integration process and measures are being taken to improve the national action in these areas.
First round table
Charlotte Schneider, Project Manager for Refugees and Migrants, City of Paris, elaborated on the double responsibility that Paris assumes in relation to newly arrived immigrants; as a municipality, it is responsible for the integration of refugees, and as a department (local administrative level in France), it is in charge of the protection of “vulnerable” people, which includes newly arrived immigrants. The City of Paris also addresses emergency situations, such as finding short-term shelters for newly arrived. Moreover, the city is implementing an 18-step integration program that ranges from the provision of dignified conditions of refugee reception to activating various integration measures (language classes, professional training, labor market integration, incubation of business projects…). Paris can rely on a strong political will for social inclusion, a close proximity to the field, as well as an active civil society which the city supports financially. Approximately 1/3 of the 260 000 refugees who are currently in France have chosen to stay in Paris and its surrounding area.
Reflecting on the Telge Hovsjö experience in Södertälje (a municipal housing company which aim is to reduce segregation and to ensure residents’ influence in development processes), Patrik Derk, former CEO of the company, considers that the key to success in any integration initiative is to focus on the local level. The objective is to make people part of the local society and to make them feel proud of the area they live in.
Maureen Hoppers, Communications Director at Axfoundation, highlighted that the foundation’s Open the Door project aims at improving inclusion of foreign-born Swedes and newly arrived, by focusing on the talent recruitment perspective. Helping foreign-born Swedes and newly arrived to create networks does not only improve their access to educational and professional opportunities, but also allows the society to seize the new talent and experiences brought to Sweden.
All three participants agreed that integration starts by exploring new experiences outside of one’s own community, and that this should be done as early as possible. Charlotte Schneider provided examples of activities implemented in Paris, such as French language classes already during the asylum process and the platform https://jemengage.paris.fr/ that links Parisians and immigrants, including in informal ways (for instance movie-lovers going to the cinema together).
Second round table
Fredrik Jurdell, Deputy CEO of the City of Stockholm, highlighted the similarities between the current situation in Sweden and the situation during the Balkan wars in terms of integration challenges. Currently 50% of all asylum seekers in Sweden obtain asylum, and 10% of those choose to settle in Stockholm. Thus, between 2015 and 2017, the city welcomed 12,000 – 14,000 asylum seekers, including both those who arrange their own housing and those assigned to temporary accommodation. According to Jurdell, the real integration challenge starts now for Swedish municipalities, as asylum seekers are the responsibility of the state level until obtaining residence permit. In this context, Jurdell put forward that access to the labor market and education is the key and the necessary first step to long-term integration in the housing sector. However, while Stockholm has both a dynamic labor market and has been able to provide temporary housing, a major challenge in the years to come will be to improve social inclusion, which includes countering segregation both on the labor market and in the housing sector.
The French NGO Singa has brought a new approach to refugee integration through self-empowerment initiatives. Vincent Berne, Director of Singa, presented the organization’s network CALM (Comme à la Maison, or Welcome Home in English) that aims at removing social and cultural barriers to integration by connecting refugees with established Frenchmen for co-housing. Through this digital platform, refugees who seek temporary accommodation are matched with people offering their hospitality. CALM is an example of how the civil society and bottom-up initiatives allow refugees to increase their social and professional networks. Around 400 refugees have found housing through CALM since its start in June 2015. More about the project here (in French): http://calm.singa.fr/
While the importance of a bottom-up approach to integration has often been highlighted, Mo Sarraf, researcher at Uppsala University and urban planner at WSP, stressed the importance for decision makers to create favorable conditions for an active society, social integration and mobility in a city. The concept of social inclusion needs to be taken into account from the very beginning of an urban planning process, Sarraf stressed, so that the physical milieu allows and encourages easy mobility between neighborhoods and exchange between people.
• If the City of Paris were to send good practices to Sweden, it would be the active collaboration between municipalities and the civil society as well as the combination of a bottom-up and top-down approach to integration, according to Charlotte Schneider.
• For the City of Stockholm and according to Fredrik Jurdell, it would be the distribution scheme at the state level, which facilitates a shared responsibility of both refugee reception and integration of newly arrived between municipalities.