Migrant Integration in Europe: Steps Towards a Comprehensive Approach

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About seven in ten Europeans say that integrating immigrants is a crucial investment in the long run for their country. But is Europe providing a level playing field, and are beneficiaries of international protection given the fair and reasonable chance to integrate across the European Union?

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In spite of the standards set by the European Union and international law, the quality of integration policies for beneficiaries of international protection vary widely across European countries. Levels of support even differ within the same region and between different types of refugees within the same country.

A Temporary Shift: What happens when immigrants have to wait longer to obtain permanent residency? by Birthe Larsen, Director for BiS Platform on Inequality, Copenhagen Business School

A Temporary Shift: What happens when immigrants have to wait longer to obtain permanent residency? by Birthe Larsen, Director for BiS Platform on Inequality, Copenhagen Business School

Overall, across Europe, refugees rarely experience fully favourable conditions to integrate in any area of life. Health and education are the most positive, while employment, housing and vocational training are usually areas of weakness in governments’ integration support; particularly weak are a lack of long-term housing support and few targeted employment measures. The availability and quality of language learning and social orientation also diverge widely.


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In terms of collaboration, most national governments do not work in partnership with civil society and local and regional governments to develop and implement their policies. Furthermore, countries are weak on mainstreaming refugee integration and lack effective and committed national strategies. Most do not have an all-of-government and all-of-society response to the challenges of refugee integration. Co-ordinated multi-stakeholder strategies, as it turns out, are equally rare in the housing, employment, vocational training, health, social security and education domains.

Failing to acknowledge the two-way character of integration misses out on opportunities to make most of the contributions that immigration can make in Europe.

To break the gridlock, a more comprehensive and holistic approach to migrant integration is necessary – an approach that is oriented towards the long term, involves society as a whole and builds on the specific advantages of action at all levels of government. Firstly, this entails mainstreaming integration across policy areas based on an overall strategy and a regular process for review and further development. Based on such co-ordination, mainstream public services can provide services of equal quality for all members of society. Secondly, integration should be tailored and differentiated by taking into consideration the full variety of migration flows in terms of their causes, intentions and countries of origin. Going beyond the mere provision of equal access rights, early support measures and services that cater to particular needs can guarantee that arrivals access key services and rights immediately – preventing long waiting periods and social isolation while already fostering trust and positive identification. Thirdly, integration policy development and implementation should happen in partnership with local and regional authorities and civil society organisations. Finally, migrants themselves should have a say in order to enhance the legitimacy and effectiveness of integration policies.

Read the OECD's International Migration Outlook 2019 (also available in French and Spanish) or the executive summary

International Migration Outlook 2019

Our debates about responsibility-sharing at the European and international level need to take into account the blatant discrepancies in integration support across countries. The main challenge is not necessarily in the legal framework, but in the policy support and government investment in implementation and collaboration between stakeholders. Failing to acknowledge the two-way character of integration misses out on opportunities to make most of the contributions that immigration can make in Europe.

The data from this article was provided through “The European benchmark for refugee integration” National Integration Evaluation Mechanism (NIEM) research, which provides a comparative, indicator-based assessment of the refugee integration frameworks in place in 14 countries: Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. The notion of a holistic approach draws on the ReSOMA research “Operationalising a comprehensive approach to migrant integration.

Related Topics

Migrants’ Integration

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Go to the profile of Thomas Huddleston

Thomas Huddleston

Research Director, Migration Policy Group

Thomas is MPG’s Research Director. Thomas joined MPG in 2006, and since 2018, he coordinates research and communications. On behalf of MPG, he chairs the EU’s migrant education network (SIRIUS) and the quarterly migration meetings of the EU NGO Platform on EU Asylum and Migration (EPAM). He is also the coordinator of MPG’s Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX), the European Website on Integration (EWSI), the VoteBrussels campaign and the Transatlantic Migrant Democracy Dialogue. Thomas obtained his PhD in European Studies at Maastricht University. He is a Senior Fellow of Humanity in Action, and an alumnus of Georgetown University. Areas of expertise: EU migration policy; integration of migrants and refugees; citizenship; political participation; family reunification and education.

1 Comments

Go to the profile of Jacques Drolet
Jacques Drolet 7 months ago

Dear Thomas,


thank you for this work. It provides facts and critical elements for a humane and creative path forward. I would like to add that the two-way functionality of integration has been a long development for those who have been dealing with the one-way development for the last 70 years. It is sad that most of those I refer to, governmental and NGOs "aid" institutions are still at the one-way communication level. But the purpose of my comments is to say that a few, like the Swiss Cooperation (SDC) ( and no I am not Swiss but Canadian), have developed approaches to train individuals in acquiring cross-cultural abilities (eye-level communication and cooperation on a level playing field). This is what all individuals need to acquire in our exponentially globalizing world.

I see cross-cultural training as an education staple like mathematics, and grammar. After being trained by the SDC 34 years ago, my colleague and I kept developing the approach in tandem with our global regulatory harmonization work in agriculture. We trained the army, the police, teachers in Canada, a bit as our legacy, convinced of the importance for all individuals to acquire these abilities if we are to make it as a species. We are now in Germany, where in parallel to our international regulatory harmonization work, we train teachers and any individuals interested in meeting diversity with creativity instead of fear and anger. The point is, there are not enough of us doing the field work, especially those who have difficulties to engage with diversity, yet, as we all know globalization is like gravity. The option we have is to make it a more humane and face the fact that none of us have the needed attributes, yet. If you can help...