Migrants and integration
The increasing number of migrants coming to Europe constitutes a critical challenge for all levels of government, calling for adapted and effective measures in Council of Europe member States. Local and regional authorities who, as the public authority closest to the population, are the first port of call in any emergency situation, have the responsibility to provide newly arrived migrants with access to key public services (housing, healthcare, education) without any discrimination.
The Congress published in 2019 "Human rights handbook for local and regional authorities". One of its three chapters aims to combat discrimination against refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and internally displaced persons. Examples presented include actions conducted by various local and regional authorities, councils and organisations. Some of the issues addressed in the Handbook are presented below. To view the whole content, download the Handbook in PDF format.
The right to seek asylum, meaning the right to protection from prosecution, is a concept that has existed since ancient times and is now enshrined in many major human rights conventions. Refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and internally displaced persons are four categories that are often used interchangeably. One thing they all have in common is that they left their places of habitual residence; however, each of the four legal categories implies a different status and corresponding rights, which is important to understand before developing policies.
- Refugees: a person who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to - or owing to fear - is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.
- Asylum seekers: a person who has applied for protection as refugees in a particular State but are yet waiting to receive a determination of their status.
- Migrants: any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a State away from his/her habitual place of residence, regardless of that person’s legal status, whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary, what the causes for the movement are or what the length of stay is.
- Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs): persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of, or in order to avoid, the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognised State border.
What are their rights? (p.31-32)
All foreigners –irrespective their status – obtain the same set of basic human rights as all citizens.
They have fundamental human rights and freedoms :
- right to life
- protection from torture
- inhumane or degrading treatment
- prohibition of slavery and forced labour
- freedom of expression and assembly
- right to demand asylum or respect for private and family life
They also have social and economic rights linked to life and dignity:
- right to adequate housing and shelter
- right to health, social and medical assistance
- right to social protection
- right to primary and secondary education
- right to employment
In addition to those rights, refugees and asylum seekers are entitled to further protection:
- Right to safe asylum
- Same rights and basic assistance as any other foreigner who is a legal residen
Whilst refugees are formally protected by international law if they seek safety in another country, IDPs are not for they have no clearly defined legal status. IDPs shall enjoy their rights as citizens of their countries but above all as human beings, including the:
- right to seek safety in another part of their country, to leave their country or to seek asylum in another country
- right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law
- right to healthcare, to education, to employment, to security, to liberty of movement
- right to be protected against forcible return to, or resettlement in, any place where their life, safety, liberty and/or health would be at risk
The effective integration into local community life and ensuring social cohesion is not easy, as newcomers often do not speak the local language, are not acquainted with the local culture or customs or lack political participation and understanding of national procedures. At the same time, an influx of new people can be challenging for the resident population and can generate misunderstandings and prejudices.
Providing adequate housing and access to wage earning employment constitute further issues that local and regional authorities must respond to at an early stage.
Safeguarding the rights of vulnerable people, including women, people with disabilities and unaccompanied minors also requires specific attention, as does providing access to education.
Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, hate speech or acts of violence.
Facilitating integration into your community: Integration is a multi-layered process. Understanding the language, culture or local administration but also facilitating direct encounters and exchanges among new and resident populations, creating means of participation for newcomers in the community or simply helping in completing the day-to-day tasks in a new environment are all fundamental for enabling successful coexistence. This section brings together several inspiring initiatives that contribute(d) to a better integration of newcomers at local and regional level, often spanning different sectors and thematic areas.
Providing adequate housing: Adequate housing is fundamental for newcomers to feel at home and integrate in the host society. At the same time, providing accommodation to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants can give rise to a lot of controversy in affected neighbourhoods and opposition or suspicion among locals. With limited resources often accompanying sudden influxes of new arrivals, finding permanent housing solutions can be challenging for towns and cities and often requires innovative initiatives. Providing dignified housing solutions corresponds not only to a core human right but is also key to preventing conflicts and fostering integration in the host society.
Enhancing integration in the labour market and economy: Entry into the labour market is key to successful long-term integration, as it gives refugees a sense of purpose in the new host society. Through employment, refugees can contribute to the host community, build a social network and gain financial independence. The lack of language proficiency or proof of academic qualifications are only some examples of common hurdles experienced by newcomers. This chapter provides an overview of initiatives that enhanced the integration of refugees and asylum seekers in the local economy.
Providing better access to education: Integration in new societies begins with quality education, which is one of the most valuable, empowering assets refugees can have. It enables them to learn the languages, culture, and tradition of host communities and to acquire new knowledge and skills, with which they can sustain themselves and their families and become valuable members of the community. Initiatives which facilitate access to education, such as open schools and universities and temporary education facilities with fast-track language courses, are an essential step for a successful integration.
The Congress proposes a set of recommendations aimed at :
- Facilitating integration in your community
- Providing adequate housing
- Enhancing integration in the labour market and economy
- Protecting vulnerable populations (women, unaccompanied minors)
- Providing better access to education
- Countering hate speech and acts of violent extremism
- Convention on the participation of foreigners in public life at local level
- The reception of refugees in Europe
- The role of local and regional governments in protecting internally displaced persons (IDPs)
- Border regions facing the migration phenomenon
- Voting rights at local level as an element of successful long-term itegration of migrants and IDPs in Europe’s municipalities and regions
- Unaccompanied refugee children: the role and responsibilities of local and regional authorities
- From reception to integration: the role of local and regional authorities facing migration
- Migrants’ access to regional labour markets
- Integration through self-employment: promoting migrant entrepreneurship in European municipalities
- Protection of migrants and asylum seekers: States’ main legal obligations under the Council of Europe Conventions
- The European migrant crisis: a global issue, a territorial issue