From reception to integration: Evidence and innovation - Athens Refugee Policy Lab
Following on from the Syros Migration Policy Lab in September 2015, the aim of the Athens Refugee Policy Lab – From reception to integration: Evidence and innovation has been to engage multiple stakeholders in a dialogue, assessing refugee reception efforts in Greece since 2015 when flows significantly changed aiming, with the aim to address two outstanding (and interlinked) issues: 1. Refugee protection, reception and integration in the frontline cities, and 2. Education for asylum seekers and refugees.
In an already struggling Greece, thousands of refugees and asylum seekers are hosted in hastily made reception centres/camps, which provide barely the minimum basics, food, shelter. Currently there are about 55,000 persons in need of protection, about 55 reception centres are set up, by a multitude of actors, state and on state, the governments, EU ECHO, international organisations, such as UNHCR and the IOM, international NGOs and local civil society mostly in a sub-contracted capacity, while local authorities and solidarity groups have played a major role.
Humanitarian action has found itself overwhelmed by the scale and complexity of the crisis. State and non-state actors at local, national, European and global level, including humanitarian agencies, have been massively challenged to protect and assist people. Recent coordination improvements in Greece have created a more coherent response, and continual innovations combined with increased use of national solutions could lead to a more efficient response. However, the challenge will be long lasting. The response requires combined humanitarian and development efforts supported by significant multi-year investments that focus on immediate relief and integration, based on serious monitoring and assesment of the work undertaken.
The overall aim of this event has been:
- To provide a forum on learning, accountability and performance issues for the humanitarian sector, government at national and local level and international actors involved in addressing the refugee reception crisis in Greece since 2015, including donor organisations, UN and EU agencies non-governmental organisations.
- To provide a platform for national and international practitioners, affected community leaders, policy makers and experts to reflect on humanitarian practice in the past year. Focusing on current issues grounded in operational reality, it will engage a wide range of stakeholders with the aim of to leverage partnerships; bringing greater clarity in the current humanitarian dialogues; improve the quality of humanitarian strategies, policies and operational responses; and promote where possible innovation by strengthening the knowledge-policy interface.
- Further, that actors learn about and improve their humanitarian response activities with a view to identifying: Current practices; Challenges that exist; How collaboration has/will help(ed) overcome these challenges.
Framing of the issues
The response of governments at national and local level is crucial given the international context where the state has responsibility to respond to humanitarian crises; the engagement of international organisations is dependent on the states willingness and capacity to respond , while the international humanitarian system has a poor track record of engaging with the state but efforts are being taken to address this.
What would be the outcomes of an assesment exercise following almost a year of the realisation of the scale of the reception crisis? The purpose has been to allow room for actors to assess the progress made towards achievement of the objectives, outcome and impact on the lives of refugee communities that include the families, communities and governments involved in the implementation of the interventions. The inibitors to be overcome include lack of resources, competition for influence, prioritisation of short-term planning horizons, while enablers could be continuity of support and shared agendas and trust.
The primary objective of this event is to provide findings and recommendations to assist dialogue between the EU, relevant national authorities and civil society in improving its programming and implementation of refugee assistance and development, targeting support to refugee communities in the involved countries, based on the lessons learned and good practices in the programming and implementation of the current assistance.
Participants took into consideration the scope of the crisis and humanitarian profile, the national capacities and response, the humanitarian access and the coverage and gaps, and reflected on:
- Intervention logic taken by ECHO and other international donors, such as the EEA grant making mechanism, since 2015, consistency with the existing strategies and its effectiveness (e.g. implementation of the strategic policy objectives, clearly distinguishing between the national/central government level; the regional/local level and the EU level and its translation as objectives into the programming framework),
- Performance (efficiency, effectiveness, coherence, impact, sustainability and EU value added) of assistance financed through national and regional programmes, targeting support to refugees both at programming and at implementation level, looking at good/bad practices in terms of operation (size of projects, implementation modality, flexibility) as well as in terms of content (relevance of interventions, correctness of intervention, etc.);
- EC cooperation with external stakeholders, supporting refugee reception and integration, such as the international organisations and NGOs who are ECHO’s operating partners, identifying possibilities of cooperation, best practices, taken into account/involved important actors at central and local level with special attention to international organisations and CSOs.
- Is it possible and how to assess the efficiency, the effectiveness and the impact of the interventions – whether activities of the effort were cost-efficient, were achieved on time and whether they were implemented in the most efficient way compared to alternatives, the positive and negative changes produced, directly or indirectly, intended or unintended?
- Is it possible and how to determine lessons learned and document best practices up to now?
- Is identification of the most vulnerable and referral system through coordination with international partners, local NGOs, municipalities and affected communities working?
- Are there ways to improve integrated response; the site management of the reception centres, as wel as the livelihood assistance to vulnerable households?
Representatives from local authorities – from the places most affected by the refugee crisis – experts, civil society representatives and refugees discussed ways and means for responsible refugee policy and practice at the local level. Integration of refugees is a dynamic two-way process and begins from the day a refugee arrives within the new host society. The approach that governments choose determines the outcome of integration efforts and services and will ultimately influence integration for individual refugees. Refugee integration therefore places demands both on receiving societies and on the individuals and communities concerned. Due to the forced nature of their migration and their experiences, compared with other migrant groups, refugees often have specific needs that should be met in order to support their integration. They will often be one of the most vulnerable groups in society while also being the most resilient. It is therefore important that the special needs of refugees are recognised in integration policies and practices within an overall policy of mainstreaming. Legal issues are of crucial importance, as well as challenges of integration, such as education; employment; housing; health and social services; security; participation in civil and political life; as well as identity, interaction and belonging.
There was a special focus on education for asylum seekers/ refugees (framework of refugee education, current “state of the field” of refugee education in terms of access, quality, and protection, and relevant institutional, resource, and coordination constraints, and challenges for durable solutions, including culture. The aim has been to explore ways to promote positive refugee-host interactions in educational settings, formal and informal, as well as cultural encounters, by working with constituency-based organisations to support community-level action towards education inclusion mobilizing cross-constituency collaboration; partnerships with local municipalities, immigrant and refugee-led groups, and other civil society organisations; and active advocacy to promote inclusive education, both across the memberships of these constituency-based bodies where support for refugees is uneven as well as at the national level and the European Commission.
Refugees rarely begin from the same starting point as other migrants. Their networks are fewer, their families may be at risk in their country of origin, their language ability is often absent or very limited, their documentation may be lost, or their health has perhaps declined due to trauma and violence. Integration forms an important challenge to States and there is a clear overall commitment reflected in EU policy. Since integration was first included in the Tampere Programme in 1999 and in subsequent multi-annual programmes, EU-level integration developments have included the Common Basic Principles (2004), the Common Agenda for Integration (2005), the Zaragoza Declaration (2010), and the European Agenda for the Integration of Non-EU Migrants (2011). These developments include identifying key integration policy areas and indicators of integration, as well as outlining initiatives to increase the participation of migrants, including refugees, at the economic, social, cultural, civic and political levels. The integration policy areas identified at the EU level are employment, education, social inclusion and active citizenship.
Understandings of what integration is, which underpins government direction on integration policy and support, vary considerably. Also, differences exist between governments’ and policymakers’ views of integration and those of refugees’ and stakeholders’. The general understanding at government level that integration is a process with learning the new language, acquiring work and housing at its heart reflects refugees’ understanding. However, refugees go further, grounding their understanding of integration in understanding rights and responsibilities, the passage of time, and subjectively developing “feelings of being at home”. Therefore, governments’ integration goals of equality, inclusion and achievement may be reached by refugees in ways different to government expectations or desires, and the expectation that everyone will achieve set goals does not reflect reality.
Up to this point, global humanitarian aid targeting education has accounted for less than 2% of funds pledged. In the declaration from the fourth United Nations’ Syria Pledging Conference in London in January 2016, it was promised that by next year, every Syrian refugee child will be offered a place in school. Refugees spend an average of ten years away from their homes. Without intervention, many of the displaced children would never enter a classroom during their school-age years. When an education stops, children lose the protection of schools. Many are targeted by traffickers and vanish into all sorts of exploitation. With adults often banned from working in their country of refuge, the ones lucky enough to have living parents are pushed into cheap labour to provide their families with miniscule income. The failure to fund education for refugees is the direct result of a structurally flawed system that strands the needs of schoolchildren between humanitarian aid budgets (98% of which go to food, shelter, and health care) and development aid (which is necessarily long term).
During the July 2015 Oslo Summit on Education for Development Norwegian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister contributed to forge policymakers’ resolve to establish a cohesive response to the education crisis afflicting tens of millions of children caught up in war and civil strife, as well as to find the resources required under the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all”, stressing that they are in the process of doubling Norway’s financial contribution to education for development in the period 2013-2017. Further, to address closing the $39 billion annual gap in external funding needed, Norway announced the establishment of a Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunities. The aim under the emerging approach is to have a new program ready to start next year.
Moreover, there is a critical need to design innovative financing solutions that will work at scale, as well as to ensure better donor coordination and new ways of working. By bringing to bear the efficiencies that come with scale, creating global platforms for educational inputs like books, technology, professional support materials for teachers, and student learning assessment mechanisms, promises to support country-led education planning and implementation. Digital access and online courses for youth in refugee camps is one of the goals to be considered for education in emergencies, while efforts in offering online classes for teachers and refugee children need to be coordinated. Important settings in which refugee education occurs – in a camp, in a city, and upon repatriation.
In Greece, refugee education needs to be guided by three conceptual approaches, involving collaboration with governments and institution-building: the humanitarian approach, an institutional approach to refugee education viewing education as one component of a rapid response, providing immediate protection to youth and preventing human rights violations; the human rights approach, defining education as an “enabling right,” providing “skills that people need to reach their full potential and to exercise their other rights, such as the right to life and health”; the developmental approach, which recognises education as a long-term investment for society and the lack of quality education in a crisis as holding back development potential, most commonly expressed by refugee parents and children, takes a long-term view of education, with priority on current access to quality education but with a sense of future relevance, even in the cases of relocation and or return to the home countries. There is a series of stakeholders that need to be involved in this planning and programming, starting from the national level — the government, Ministries of Education and Finance, and tertiary education institutions located in the centre and the periphery of the country, such as the University of the Aegean, international organisations, municipalities, other educational providers, civil society organisations with track record in education, as well as asylum seekers themselves. It is crucial to discuss the context-specific realities of refugee education, the availability of financial and human resources and the implementation of innovative alternatives.
As an example, in 2015 Lebanon has taken Syrian children off the streets by creating 207,000 school places. Under a double-shift arrangement, Syrian refugees receive instruction in the afternoon and early evening in the same classrooms that local Lebanese children occupy earlier in the day. In the late afternoon and early evenings, some 500,000 Syrian children will be taught in Arabic. Following Lebanon’s example, both Turkey and Jordan have announced plans to double the number of school places for refugees. The program – at a cost of $263 million – is set to be the largest education humanitarian effort ever mounted during an emergency.
In short: Access is limited and uneven; Quality is defined and measured by ineffective standards; Education is protective but only if it is of high quality; Refugee education faces large institutional, resource, and coordination constraints.
Urgent Challenges to Refugee Education in Greece
Challenge #1: Urban refugee education requires an approach different from strategies used in camp settings.
Challenge #2: Limited access to post-primary education for refugees in both camp and urban settings has immense economic and social consequences, for both individuals and societies
Challenge #3: There is a shortage of properly trained teachers and lack of structures, including remuneration and training, to retain them.
Challenge #4: The quality of refugee education, and how it is recognised, does not help youth to make connections between schooling and their future livelihoods.
Challenge #5: The inherently political nature of the content and structures of refugee education can exacerbate societal conflict, alienate individual youth, and lead to education that is neither of high quality nor protective.
Challenge #6: Lack of financial resources, and their inconsistency, as well as a shortage of educational expertise both within national institutions, UNHCR and implementing organisations, limits progress in refugee education.
Challenge #7: There are challenges to coordination in refugee education, including complex power dynamics, which limit the productivity of partnerships.