An investigation into the local practices concerning the integration of refugees in Maastricht
At present, the Dutch integration policy is based on the Agenda for Integration which was launched in May 2013. According to Hague’s alderman Rabin Baldewsingh (PvDA) the national integration policy of the Netherlands has “failed miserably”, in that immigrants are less involved in society and are mainly living off social welfare benefits.
“Integration”... a much disputed concept
According to Hague’s alderman Rabin Baldewsingh (PvDA) the national integration policy of the Netherlands has “failed miserably”, in that immigrants are less involved in society and are mainly living off social welfare benefits. But how does integration fail and how should it succeed? Whilst there is consent on what integration is: the process by which migrants become accepted into society, this open definition does not provide the grounds for cross-cutting guidelines on how national integration policies should be developed or executed.
At present, the Dutch integration policy is based on the Agenda for Integration which was launched in May 2013. The approach does not target specific migrant groups or countries of origin, but rather employs a more strategic general focus on participation and social diversity. However, the increased influx of asylum seekers in 2015 led to developments in the area of integration of beneficiaries of international protection. As a result of the establishment of a temporary ‘Ministerial Committee on Migration’, several measures were taken in the dimensions of labour market integration, education and housing.
Amidst discussions on how to improve integration for beneficiaries of international protection, the Migration Policy Group has developed the project NIEM. MACIMIDE is the research institute that acts as the Dutch national focal point and currently is gathering evidence to assess how the Netherlands performs in refugee integration, as compared to other selected EU countries. Its most recent updates can be accessed in this link. Complementary to MACIMIDE, ITEM conducts research within the scope of cross-border Euregional mobility and cooperation issues, focusing on practical solutions for these issues. Their research line focuses on linking immigrants to the province of Limburg.
Taking integration down to the local level
While the national government has a coordinating role in the field of integration policies (captured by the NIEM indicators), municipalities are charged with the implementation of such policies and thereby play a crucial role in the practicalities of integration. Therefore, our research attempts to supplement the work of NIEM by capturing the local level practises within Maastricht regarding integration in the areas of education and housing.
Within the educational integration of refugees, our research focused on access to primary, secondary and tertiary education, recognition of prior qualifications, and language learning. Within the housing integration of refugees, access to housing, conditions of housing, and tensions between native and refugee population were the main explored dimensions. Overall, the attempt was to answer three broad questions:
- What barriers to integration currently exist?
- Are there potential solutions/best practices and what makes them successful?
- Are there best practices in Maastricht that can be adopted by other cities?
Local level findings
One of the main findings (the full report is available to download here) relates to the lack of a single actor or institution that comprehensively coordinates respective spheres of integration. Moreover, there is no mechanism that allows for a follow-up and monitoring of refugees in the process of becoming integrated in Maastricht. On the other hand, the vast majority of programs targeted towards improving refugee integration are aimed at young, highly educated refugees. One final salient point is the fact that the target group for these policies, programs and processes, the refugees themselves, are rarely included in the discussion of how to improve integration.
On a positive note, there have been several grassroots initiatives that have tackled the integration of refugees in a constructive and creative way. Examples of these include the Refugee Project, the Buddy Program and the Match Project. All aforementioned initiatives aim to integrate refugees with locals in order to achieve means including: language learning, knowledge of Dutch society, support in navigating through Dutch organisations, and improved social relationships.
The future of monitoring integration practises…
NIEM is designed to be used by civil society organisations and local governments as a political instrument in order to assess the efforts deployed by central governments to coordinate the different actors and to provide them support in the development of their tasks regarding refugee integration. Therefore, a crucial step is to bridge the gap between academia and policy-makers and build up national coalitions in which all kinds of stakeholders can be involved. Following the same reasoning, the findings derived from this research were presented and discussed in an interactive workshop held in Maastricht on the 3rd July 2017, with the attendance of several stakeholders including housing corporations, VluchtelingenWerk, and the municipality of Maastricht.
UM-MACIMIDE will continue to implement the NIEM project for the coming years and therefore will monitor developments in integration policy at the national level. However, the local practicalities pertaining to integration must also be researched and hence incorporated into an accurate and holistic picture of what integration looks like.
This blog was written by Harres Yakubi, Mercedes Quammie, Sarai Suárez Louzao, Vienna Kooijman and in cooperation with ITEM. Image by Flickr_horizontal.integration