Although not a new topic, migration has been put on the forefront of political and societal challenges quite recently. The “discontent” in the Middle East and increasing poverty in Africa have caused hundreds of thousands of people to seek refuge in Europe. Integration policy has seen multiple rebirths.
Policymakers have debated and renegotiated the target areas (culture, work, communities), responsible agencies (national vs. regional and local government), and target groups of integration (first generation vs. migrant background, non-EU vs. all foreign born, migrants vs. those with similar needs across the entire society etc.). A number of nation states have seen responsibility for the integration portfolio shift multiple times. Others have seen a move away from targeted policies towards “mainstreaming,” that is, embedding inclusion or diversity objectives across all policy areas and government departments (Collett & Petrovic, 2014).
In the last several years the difference between culture, religion and beliefs became apparent, as tensions between incoming people and local communities have built throughout Europe and was/is a cause for considerable amount of protests and rise of nationalistic agendas. The methods employed by the European countries varied from total segregation and denial of human rights, to uncontrolled acceptance of incoming refugees and migrants often without a clear plan for integration and relying only on the well-known “integration facilitators”- job, housing, health, social cohesion (described thoroughly in prof Alistair Ager’s Conceptual framework for integration). This method, as observed, is impossible to apply coherently and evenly in Europe, as every country has different political systems, views, economic stability and diaspora size.
This ineffectiveness has initiated the desire for a different approach, one that avoids exclusion of the incoming refugees and migrants from communities, helps them settle in the new environment and be a productive members of society.
A different perspective
It has been an ongoing debate among prominent authors, philosophers in the migration field as well as heads of European institutions in creating a system for proper integration that would be easy to apply, extensive while helping social integration in the process. A primary mistake is that integration is seen from the view point of the host country, rather than including refugees and migrants into the discussion thus on 12 and 13 September 2016, European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) organised a seminar called Social Innovation for Refugee Inclusion. The event showcased that a lot of social innovation in refugee inclusion is coming from relative newcomers in the field such as the tech community. In that sense, co-creating technologies or other innovative solutions together, side by side, with refugees and local communities is the key to success. Platforms like Techfugees (a social enterprise coordinating the international tech community’s response to the needs of Refugees, which empowers the displaced with technology) and apps like “Bureaucrazy” which aims to help immigrants (not only refugees) navigate the German bureaucratic system, are a prime example of innovation, due to the easy access and general effectiveness. The multiple tech responses to refugees’ needs that emerged in the past two years have however underlined the need to rethink some of the taken-for-granted ideas about integration policies and practices: the importance of speed, reactiveness and the power of community-led initiatives, as well as co-creating technological or other innovative solutions together with refugees and local communities being the key to success.
Tech challenges for refugees and locals
However, despite the excitement, the tech community is also waking up to concerns about the use and potential misuse of personal data and contentious questions around privacy. There is some discreptancy between the desire for quick innovations and experiments with new tools and the fact that asylum seekers and refugees are a special group of technology users who need special protection measures. A proper constructive interaction between the physical and digital space is also required, as technologies need to be applicable in real life situation so that presented solutions do not perpetuate existing for example by excluding illiterate groups women or elderly.
Co-author: Maria Alexandrova, Cleantech Bulgaria
- Alastair Ager & Alison Strang (2008) Understanding Integration: A Conceptual Framework, Journal of Refugees studies Vol.21, N2
- Collett, E., & Petrovic, M. (2014). The Future of Immigration Integration in Europe: Mainstreaming Approaches for Inclusion. Washington, D.C.: Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from http://www.org/research/future-immigrant-integration-europe-mainstreaming- approachesinclusion