Challenges and prospects in the EU: Quality of life and public services Chapter 7

81 Introduction Between 2014 and 2016, over three million asylum-seekers arrived in the EU. This posed serious immediate and continuing challenges for both the Member States and the EU. It also prompted EU-level responses (there is an ongoing review of the relevant legislative framework and rules – this has to be agreed by the Member States). Initially, in 2015 and 2016, the average duration of asylum procedures in the most affected countries increased considerably due to the high inflow. At the same time, the need for quick integration and early intervention was recognised and moved higher on the agenda. This chapter considers the key role played by public services – individually and in more coordinated efforts – in the integration of refugees primarily, but in some cases asylum-seekers as well (while reception could be more relevant for the latter, some measures may include services relevant to them, especially for those who have a high chance of staying). The chapter highlights challenges and lessons learnt which can inform policy decisions for the future. The number of first-time asylum applicants in the EU increased substantially from 562,680 in 2014 to 1.26 million in 2015 – a rise of more than 100%. In 2016, despite efforts to contain the high inflow (such as the closure of the ‘Balkan route’ and the Turkey–EU Statement), the number of new asylum applicants still amounted to 1.21 million. At present, more than two million recognised refugees and almost one million asylum-seekers with pending applications for asylum are present in the EU, most of whom arrived in 2015–2016. While the inflow decreased in both 2017 and 2018 (the number of asylum applications in the EU more or less halved, at 654,610 and 581,775, respectively), EU countries granted protection to close to half a million (437,555) asylum-seekers in 2017 and almost a quarter of a million (217,400) in 2018 (first-instance decisions; the figures do not necessarily include those who came in 2017 or 2018). 16 The greatest challenge was posed not only by the size of the inflow but also by the varied nature of integration measures that were needed. For example, initiatives had to be designed to meet the specific needs of refugees with mental health issues following their traumatic experiences. Therefore, substantial capacity building was required. From the perspective of public services specifically, the most visible difficulty was to increase resources. While EU funding (e.g. the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund) could help, this provided complementary resources only. Increasing budgets was more difficult given the increase in negative public attitudes and the rise in the anti-immigration rhetoric of populist parties that were gaining ground. Integration of migrants (not only refugees) is defined at EU level as a ‘dynamic, long-term, and continuous two- way process of mutual accommodation .… It demands the participation not only of immigrants and their descendants but of every resident.’ 17 Within the context of the process, the EU’s Common Basic Principles for Immigrant Integration Policy also emphasises rights and responsibilities which the immigrants should adopt in relation to the host country (Council of the European Union, 2004, p. 19). Whether or not this process is successful can hardly be decided without the voice of the specific target group being heard – be they migrants, refugees or asylum-seekers (Pace and Simsek, 2019). A lot of attention is given to the role of integration for entry to the labour market. Refugees and asylum-seekers do not have a job arranged prior to their arrival (unlike many labour migrants). Moreover, in terms of employment, experiences have shown that it could take 20 years for them to catch up with the natives of the host country (OECD, 2019). In order to be ready to enter the labour market, refugees and asylum-seekers first require access to services. They rely on certain preparatory measures (language training, orientation courses) and, mainly, public services (e.g. housing, health, education – the importance of these services in this phase was also emphasised by the European Migration Network, 2019). Moreover, they often have suffered trauma, lose time in the asylum stage, become demotivated when staying for months in reception facilities without much to do and face uncertainties over the prospect of residing legally and permanently, even after asylum is granted. All these circumstances underline the importance of social 7 Public services for the social and economic integration of refugees 16 Eurostat [migr_asydcfsta] 17 The theoretical framework underlying immigrants’ adaptation to the host society, however, includes three other strategies as well as integration: assimilation, separation and marginalisation. Integration is regarded as the best approach, since it implies that immigrants maintain their identity ‘while engaging in daily interactions with other groups’ (see Robila, 2018, p. 2, which refers to Berry’s study on immigration, acculturation and adaptation).