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What is This Thing About Refugees’ Integration?



People’s Assumptions on Integration


While achieving integration is commonly known as moving to a new place, learning a foreign language and having access to work and housing; from a refugee’s perspective, integration is a much deeper and a more subjective endeavor, which includes rights and responsibilities, but above all, the feeling of being at home. People’s views regarding refugee integration are influenced by the concerns and stereotypes regarding Muslims in the Western World. There is a widespread assumption – most prominent amongst older, less-educated people – that Muslims would like to be among the communities they live in, but also be distinctly different than the rest of the society. Those who are religiously affiliated, in addition to those on the right side of the ideological spectrum, tend to be the most skeptical about the possibility of integration, highlighted by their fears of the refugee crisis becoming a top security threat. (Stokes, Wike and Poushter, 2016) Here, it is important to examine the expectations of integration from the welcoming society itself while understanding past and present integration patterns on a circumstance-specific multi-faceted level.


The act of migration by definition does not simply constitute the replacement of one’s existing culture with strong connections and cultural ties to the receiving society. The ability to coexist through Understanding, tolerance and education is essentially the desired outcome of any international community. Although, many misconceptions have been formed based on interpretation of various E.U. governments’ alteration of the concept of rights to duties to the obligations of immigrants and self-responsibility.  (UNHCR, 2013, p. 36) This change in attitude has shifted the responsibility for community-migrant integration off of the government in regards to policy on to the individual migrants and communities, which in turn has left integration efforts to become one-sided leaving many foundations and programs under-funded. (ibid. 37) This lack of integration efforts on behalf of the government has unfortunately stalled integration efforts in some societies further perpetuating stereotypes and fears about unfamiliar cultures.


On a larger scale, the European Union has not created any solid mandate to take on a particular integration approach, therefore relying solely on soft law. (Sunderland, 2016) However, the E.U. does provide allocated funding for integration measures. The motivation for E.U. support in the integration process is based in the E.U. Common Basic Principles, adopted in 2004, which defines integration as “a dynamic, two-way process of mutual accommodation by all immigrants and residents of Member States”, going on to also state the importance of employment, education and active participation in society to incorporate diversity. (UNHCR, 2013, p. 35) Norms set out by the E.U. lay the basis for all Member-States to abide by, yet, it is at the discretion of the Member-States and governing bodies to allocate support and funding to initiatives in addition to basic protections and aid given to newly received migrants and refugees.




The host society can essentially take on the characteristics of 5 different approaches of integration with occasional overlap based on the makeup of the society. (Montreuil and Bourhis, 2001, p. 700) These methods of integration can be defined below:


·         Integrationism – when the host society accepts the value of the heritage of migrants and the belief that migrants can adopt features of the host society;

·         Assimilationism – when the host society expects minorities to relinquish their cultural identity and absorb the host society’s;

·         Segregationism – when the host society expects that minorities keep their distance so that they do not transform or contaminate the host culture – in this case, communities must be created separated from the host society, since they are not seen as rightful members of society;

· Exclusionism – when the host society believes that migrants can never be incorporated into the host society;

·         Individualism – when individuals see themselves and others as individuals, rather than members of certain groups.


Through analyzing integration based on the five possible scenarios in the chart, it can be deducted that the more exposure a culture has in a society, the better the outcome for integration will be. For example, if a society is exposed to prized art, food or culture of a particular country in the form of a tea salon or through music, then the community will associate migrants coming from this area as citizens from a culture that could add positive contributions to what already exists in their society. These new cultural ties can create bonds and commonalities between people from different backgrounds.


The more exclusion and separation there is between the society and the migrant, the larger the chance is that integration will be more difficult. The goal of creating a “melting-pot” community, where cultures co-exist over a “mixing-bowl” society that keeps cultures equal yet unique, can be achieved as a gradual two-level process.




The process of integration is all inclusive and can be measured in terms of housing location, opportunity for employment, education level and other social and cultural adaptations in the host society. It can also take place at the collective level of the immigrant group.


Furthermore, legal and labor market integration provide a means of achieving stability, which new migrants can embrace as a part of their fresh beginning in their new home. While there is a popular focus on these two aspects of integration across countries, there is another equally important element which is socio-cultural aspect of refugee integration. This aspect cuts across all other aspects of integration, and to a greater degree than the other two aspects of integration, it requires efforts from every member of the community. Proper socio-cultural integration in theory ensures that not only will the refugee maintain his cultural identity while adapting to the new host culture,  but that the host society will understand and tolerate the differing aspects of the refugee’s culture.


The Netherlands





According to the Dutch government: integration and learning basic Dutch is compulsory to those outside the EEA, Switzerland or Turkey – though other nationals are not obliged by law to integrate. ( The government then monitors the effort of the newcomers to integrate and if the government does not judge the migrants’ effort to be adequate, their residence permit can be revoked. Since refugees and newcomers are expected to integrate independently, they are responsible for finding and paying for their own integration courses and language tests, with the option to request a loan of up to €10.000 in order to finance these processes. (Ministerie Van Algemende Zaken, 2016; International Catholic Migration Commission Europe, 2013) Additionally, controversial clauses that allow for refund requests to be made after passing the exams have since been revoked. (


Due to these standards, Human Rights Watch has criticized The Netherlands for their "extensive use of detention for migrants and asylum-seekers, and the lack of support for rejected asylum seekers who cannot be returned to their countries of origin”. In order to tackle these issues, it is necessary to re-visit Dutch government policy towards migrants and refugees and where improvements can be made to provide adequate support.



The Problematique?




Despite the most up to date Refugees Convention (1951) stating that the state should facilitate the integration and naturalization of refugees, integration policies have become streamlined and the specifics of refugees’ situations including hardship and personal loss are often overlooked in integration policies. (UNHCR, 2013, p. 11) It has been proven that insensitive integration policies requiring people to give up fundamental aspects of their identity are not prone to success. (Phillimore, 2015) It could be caused by a simple difference that hinders understanding between the government and refugees. There can also be cases of an individual being integrated in one area of the receiving society, but not in others. This has led to the concept of everyday integration; different from the big issues such as employment and housing, it includes: leisure, consumption and access to childcare.


Governments’ philosophies of integration can vary from facilitation and forms of encouragement to coercion, however the goal of integration is always inclusion. (UNHCR, 2013, p. 13) In the European Union, national integration policies have relied on coercion: from religious-dress bans in France, Belgium, Italy and Spain, to the Netherlands’ practice of overseas integration tests.  (UNHCR, 2013, p. 120)


Barriers to integration have surfaced overtime including language and citizenship tests as well as compulsory orientation courses, which moves policies toward the process of assimilation.  The UNHCR calls