On 1 December 2015, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) as the coordinator of EMN in Slovakia in cooperation with the Migration Office of the Ministry of Interior of the Slovak Republic organised the EMN National Conference on Integration Programmes for Beneficiaries of International Protection and subsequently the EMN Expert Round Table. The aim of the event was to contribute to the preparation of the state Integration Programme of the Slovak Republic for Beneficiaries of International Protection which is being coordinated by the Migration Office of the Ministry of Interior. Among speakers of the conference were representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), state administration of the Visegrad Group countries and Austria as well as local experts in this field. The conference was attended by 58 representatives of public administration, the third sector, international organisations, academia and media.
Situation in Slovakia, practical problems and preparation of state Integration Programme for Beneficiaries of International Protection
The current situation in Slovakia and planned activities in integration of beneficiaries of international protection (refugees and persons with subsidiary protection) were described by Petra Achbergerova, the Director of the Department for Migration and Integration of the Migration Office of the Ministry of Interior of the Slovak Republic. At present, Slovakia hosts 30 asylum-seekers and around 120 beneficiaries of international protection in the integration process. The most significant obstacles for the labour integration of beneficiaries of international protection are insufficient Slovak language command which limits these migrants to low-skilled and low-wage jobs, no interest of employers to employ persons with temporary residence as well as mistrust of employers because of ethnic, racial and religious prejudices. Main problem in the field of social security is related to old-age and invalidity pensions to which these persons are often not entitled. The obstacle in the field of rental/public housing is the condition of 5-year permanent residence often set in the municipalities' regulations which beneficiaries of international protection do not fulfil since the persons granted subsidiary protection have temporary residence and persons granted asylum enjoy the permanent residence but do not meet the 5-year threshold. The housing for beneficiaries of international protection is currently almost exclusively provided through financing of the private living which is more costly compared to public housing. In the area of health care, the frequent obstacle is reluctance of medics to carry out mandatory health examinations for persons granted subsidiary protection based on the “pink insurance card” issued by the Ministry of Interior. The state must also pay more attention to psychological care for these persons who often suffer from mental health problems after experienced trauma.
Based upon the internal analysis the Migration Office concluded that it is inevitable to create the national Integration Programme for Beneficiaries of International Protection with the following priorities: accommodation, employment and education. The programme is being created also in relation to the Slovak Government Resolution from October 2015. In line with the resolution the Ministry of Interior is tasked to create from 2016 transitional and from 2017 systematic solutions for integration of beneficiaries of international protection.
UNCHR recommendations for the refugee integration
Peter O’Sullivan is a Resettlement Officer to UNHCR’s Bureau for Europe. Refugee integration is a complex two-way and long-term process into which all national stakeholders should be actively involved. Discussion about refugee integration should not include only numbers of refugees, but also quality of their reception and support. The overarching purpose and goal of the integration is that refugees reach their potential as productive citizens. Effective integration requires sustained government commitment to establish and implement legislation, policies, resources and expertise in this field. Integration effectiveness is directly affected by degree to which receiving communities continue to endorse and support national resettlement policies.
Among the most important integration dimensions are employment, housing, education and language. For each of these dimensions O’Sullivan presented UNHCR’s recommendations which were based on the research project ‘Refugee Integration: Capacity and Evaluation’ which was undertaken in 2011 – 2013 in different European countries including Slovakia. In the integration process refugees cannot be perceived as a homogenous group but as individuals with their specific needs. Refugees do not begin from the same starting point as other migrants – they have fewer networks, they can be separated from their family which might face danger in the country of origin, their language skills are limited or none, their documentation might be absent, and their health is often affected by experienced trauma and/or violence. The time spent in the asylum process affects the lives of beneficiaries of international protection in the long run and poor reception provision and negative experiences in reception can significantly influence integration prospects and create dependency. While physical and material reception conditions matter, so do issues of idleness, de-skilling, insecurity, isolation and uncertainty which asylum-seekers face.
Integration of persons with international protection in Europe and best practices from the third sector perspective
Perspectives of the European non-governmental sector and best practices were shared by Anne Bathily, the senior policy officer at the ECRE. ECRE works with similar definition of integration of persons with granted international protection as UNHCR – its prerequisite is ability of individuals to enjoy their rights and begins with asylum-seekers. The first integration phase during the asylum process should be interlinked with the second phase or the “actual” integration otherwise the scheme is not functional and integration starts from the scratch. Integration system should be open to all asylum-seekers, not only to those with high recognition rate. Multidimensional approach in the integration of beneficiaries of international protection is very important. According to this approach all integration aspects and dimensions (legal, socio-economic and socio-cultural) are interlinked and require coordination of multiple sectors and actors (including implementing actors from civil society, private sector and volunteers). Countries should not focus only on first generation of beneficiaries of international protection but also on transgenerational integration. Refugees in Europe face low labour market integration, being overqualified, lower educational attainment and compared to other populations are much more exposed to poverty, social exclusion and worse living conditions. Bathily presented also good practices from several European countries which were initiated by state institutions, cities, third sector or civil society. She pointed out Canada as a leading country in refugee integration.
Situation in asylum applications and integration programmes in the Visegrad Group countries and Austria
Among discussants of the panel were Petr Novák from the Ministry of Interior of the Czech Republic, Paulina Babis from the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy of Poland, Szilvia Weimann from the Ministry of Interior of Hungary and Nora Kienzer from the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs of Austria. They presented current situation in the area of international protection and introduced their integration programmes for beneficiaries of international protection.
All of the four above-mentioned countries have experienced a higher number of asylum-seekers. In comparison with the Czech Republic which registered approximately 1500 asylum applications at the end of 2015, Poland registered 4000 in the first half of 2015. Despite a high number of asylum seekers in Hungary, it remains mainly a transit country with relatively low number of beneficiaries of international protection. The situation in Austria is considerably different from the one in the Visegrad Group countries as regards the number of asylum applications. Until November 2015 the country registered 75 000 applications for asylum and 95 000 applications are expected at the end of the year. Asylum-seekers come mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The recognition rate is 90% for Syrians and 70% for Afghans and Iraqis. These figures are challenging for such a small country like Austria.
All of these countries have previous experience with integration of beneficiaries of international protection. In 2014, Hungary introduced the integration contract which includes both financial and personal support. At the end of 2015 integration programmes were adopted in the Czech Republic and Poland, Austria adopted new integration measures. Integration systems of these countries differ: while in Hungary an existing institution was chosen for the provision of integration measures – Family Support Service, a new authority was established in the Czech Republic – General Provider of Integration Services. Countries accommodate beneficiaries of international protection in different locations. While Czech Republic has positive experience in accommodating these persons in smaller towns, Poland prefers bigger cities. In all of these countries, integration programme is funded both from the state budget and from the EU funds which are mainly used for additional activities.
Integration in Slovakia and Czech Republic from the non-state actors’ perspective
In the second discussion panel, Slovak and Czech non-state actors offered recommendations for the currently prepared Integration Programme of the Slovak Republic. Miroslava Hlinčíková outlined the main findings of the research of the Institute of Public Affairs (Inštitút pre verejné otázky) “Integration of Persons with International Protection in Slovakia: Searching for Solutions” which maps integration services provided by the Slovak Republic. The research was carried out from September 2014 until June 2015 through interviews with employees of non-governmental sector and persons with granted asylum and subsidiary protection and based on their diaries. Integration services should create an effective base for further integration stages of an individual. The main areas of provided integration services are housing, language courses, social and health security, as well as economic, social and cultural integration. Hlinčíková offered several recommendations for each of them.
Vladimír Slama from the Migration Information Center (MIC) IOM focused on language training and socio-cultural orientation with which MIC IOM has several years of experience. The process of integration should start already in the country of origin. At the same time, the integration process should be set in such a way so that it can continue after the resettlement. It is necessary to map the needs and expectations of the target group e.g. through cultural mediators and adjust the integration programme accordingly. Cultural mediators should be trained in the field of socio-cultural orientation and speak the language of the target group. Education should be participatory, interactive and experiential with stress on skills and approaches, not just facts.
Head of the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia, Mohamad Hasna, presented its activities and possibilities of engagement of the Muslim community in integration of beneficiaries of international protection. The foundation focuses rather on spiritual issues and the integration of beneficiaries of international protection belongs to its secondary activities. According to Hasna, the topic of the migration crisis has not been managed properly by politicians. Some political statements has influenced atmosphere in the Muslim community and several of its members are considering their departure from Slovakia. The integration process should involve as many relevant actors as possible and the Muslim community is willing to take part in it.
Michaela Pobudová introduced the project Who will help? (Kto pomôže?) which is the first civic initiative of its kind. The petition has transformed into a volunteers’ effort to help refugees from the Middle East in Slovakia. A volunteer is a potential agent of change and is able to build around oneself a community of reception and through the initiative Who will help? s/he should be able to make use of this potential. Currently the initiative seeks to become an organization which will be able to engage more than 1000 volunteers. The volunteers will firstly undergo a screening procedure in order to assess their skills and subsequently they will be trained. Regular supervisions and teambuildings are also being prepared. Furthermore, a manual for volunteers is being prepared which will comprise two parts. The practical one will map expectations and the technical one will deal with intercultural skills. The initiative is also working on a systematic and professional fundraising. The initiative appealed to the representatives of the Slovak state administration to support volunteers both conceptually and financially.
Activities of the non-governmental sector in the integration of beneficiaries of international protection in the Czech Republic were described by Andrea Špirková from the Organization for Aid to Refugees (Organizace pro pomoc uprchlíkům - OPU) based in Prague, Brno and Plzeň. OPU focuses mainly on the provision of free social and legal counselling and implementation of educational activities for experts and general public. They also deal with unaccompanied minors (Dom na polceste) as well as development activities (e.g. house for the elderly which are partially financed from a hostel which is situated in the upper floor). In the area of integration of beneficiaries of international protection, OPU acts as an implementation partner to UNHCR. Each year OPU carries out in cooperation with UNHCR monitoring of asylum facilities and provides Czech language courses along with job counselling. Free presentations about integration of beneficiaries of international protection are also organised for cities and regional representations. The organization engages volunteers in two ways: through visits to detention centers so that they can take care of clients during free time activities as well as through mentoring. They are also experienced in cooperation with companies which started to reach OPU more after the migration crisis began due to the fact that these activities belong to their model of corporate social responsibility.
Expert Round Table
On 2 December 2015, the conference was followed by the EMN Expert Round Table during which Slovak and foreign experts discussed recommendations for the Integration programme of the Slovak Republic for beneficiaries of international protection.
Information about the speakers
EMN Conference in the media:
Štátny integračný program pre osoby s medzinárodnou ochranou (tlačová správa) [State Integration Programme for Beneficiaries of International Protection] – prservis.sk, 1.12.2015
Slovensko pripravuje štátny integračný program pre utečencov [Slovakia is Preparing a State Integration Programme for Refugees] – hlavné správy, 1.12.2015
Slovensko pripravuje štátny integračný program pre utečencov [Slovakia is Preparing a State Integration Programme for Refugees] – konzervativnyvyber.sk, 1.12.2015
Slovensko pripravuje štátny integračný program pre utečencov [Slovakia is Preparing a State Integration Programme for Refugees] – pozri.sk, 1.12.2015
Slovensko pripravuje štátny integračný program pre utečencov [Slovakia is Preparing a State Integration Programme for Refugees] – sme.sk, 1.12.2015
Slovensko pripravuje štátny integračný program pre utečencov [Slovakia is Preparing a State Integration Programme for Refugees] – teraz.sk, 1.12.2015
Slovensko pripravuje štátny integračný program pre utečencov [Slovakia is Preparing a State Integration Programme for Refugees] – pozri.sk, 1.12.2015
Slovensko pripravuje štátny integračný program pre utečencov: Nebude sa spoliehať na financie z EÚ [Slovakia is Preparing a State Integration Programme for Refugees: It Will Not Depend on EU Funding] – dnes24.sk, 1.12.2015
Predseda Islamskej nadácie na konferencii o migrácii: Je dôležité spolupracovať so slovenskými moslimami [Head of the Islamic Foundation at the Conference on Migration: It is important to cooperate with Slovak Muslims] – islamonline.sk, 2.12.2015
Celý prejav predsedu islamskej nadácie na konferencii o migrácii [The Entire Speech of the Head of the Islamic Foundation at the Conference on Migration] – islamonline.sk, 2.12.2015
Štátny integračný program pre utečencov [Slovakia is Preparing a State Integration Programme for Refugees] – Radio Slovak International, 2.12.2015
Slovenskí moslimovia strácajú trpezlivosť. Viacerí lekári zvažujú odchod [Slovak Muslims Are Loosing Their Patience. Many Doctors Are Considering Their Departure] – aktuality.sk, 3.12.2015
Rádiožurnál o 12:00 – Rádio Slovensko, 4.12.2015
Photo gallery from the event:
Photo Gallery to the EMN National Conference Integration Programmes for Beneficiaries of International Protection
Presentations from the EMN Conference for download:
Download all (17,4 MB)
Achbergerová, Petra – Integration of beneficiaries of international protection in Slovakia: current situation, planned activities and outcomes of the EMN study (4,5 MB)
Bathily, Anne – Integration of beneficiaries of international protection in Europe: best practice from the perspective of the non-governmental sector (2,1 MB)
Hasna, Mohamad – Výber fotografií z aktivít Islamskej nadácie na Slovensku (6 MB)
Hlinčíková, Miroslava – Integrácia ľudí s medzinárodnou ochranou na Slovensku: Hľadanie východísk (483 kB)
Kienzer, Nora – Integration of beneficiaries of international protection: Austria. Facts and approaches (922 kB)
Pobudová, Michaela – Kto pomôže, keď nie my? (1,3 MB)
O’Sullivan, Peter – UNHCR recommendations for the integration of refugees (2,1 MB)
Slama, Vladimír – Sociálna kultúrna orientácia (1,2 MB)
Špirková, Andrea – Integrace držitelů mezinárodní ochrany (145 kB)