The importance of early, proactive, and transparent measures for a successful local integration process

Forum on the EU Temporary Protection Responses to the Ukraine War 

Contribution by Dr. Hakkı Onur Ariner, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH *

                           * Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the opinions of its author and do not reflect the views of GIZ

10 June 2022

The importance of early, proactive, and transparent measures for a successful local integration process

The Turkish experience with providing temporary protection status for a large number of people fleeing from civil war has generated important lessons relevant to the integration efforts of European Union Member States receiving forcibly displaced persons from Ukraine: 1) protracted conflicts can exceed the maximum period envisaged for ‘temporary’ protection by policymakers; 2) measures supporting local integration should be planned and implemented as early as possible in receiving countries in anticipation of a prolonged conflict that could make it impossible for temporary protection beneficiaries (TPBs) to return to their countries of origin; 3) policies promoting the local integration of TPBs should be transparent and open to public debate and deliberation from day one; 4) a concerted communication strategy should be implemented by a range of stakeholders including public institutions, NGOs, municipalities, etc. at various levels (national, regional, local) to consistently combat hate speech and misconceptions that may be fueled by political actors for short-term political gain.

When to initiate integration measures for TPBs?

Temporary protection is succinctly defined as a ‘time limited response to mass influx situations’. The added value of this status, which is not stipulated in the Geneva Convention, is that it provides States with the ability to provide protection to individuals who are forcibly displaced from their countries in large numbers, generally due to armed conflict. States are thereby able to provide protection to large numbers of individuals without having to immediately assess whether each individual seeking asylum has well founded reasons of being persecuted (i.e. a claim to refugee status) or being subjected to serious violations of human rights (i.e. a claim to subsidiary protection). It is a practical solution that alleviates the bureaucratic burden on receiving States while providing protection to a large number of people who need it.

However, the fact that temporary protection status is not codified in international refugee law has meant that there is no single standard for the time limits placed on the duration of this protection status by regional or national authorities. Following the large scale exodus from Venezuela to various countries in South America, Colombia has set the limit at 10 years, while Brazil offers temporary residence cards valid for only 2 years. The EU’s Temporary Protection Directive (Council Directive 2001/55/EC) has in turn set the maximum limit at 3 years for individuals forcibly displaced from Ukraine. Turkey’s Temporary Protection Regulation does not stipulate a time limit as such, but grants authority to the President to terminate Temporary Protection based on a proposal by the Ministry of Interior.

Leaving aside the advantages and disadvantages of clearly stipulating a time-limit in legislation, according a status on the basis of temporary protection begs the question of how to reconcile the temporary nature of the status with local integration efforts.  In the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) durable solutions are listed as voluntary repatriation, resettlement, local integration, and what is called ‘other solutions’. Voluntary repatriation may be an option where the conditions that necessitated forced displacement have ended and a safe and dignified return to the country of origin is possible. Waiting for temporary protection to end however, in order to initiate local integration measures, may be too late to contribute to the long-term acceptance of refugees and other beneficiaries of international and temporary protection. This is why one of the primary objectives of the GCR is stated as facilitating access to durable solutions, ‘including by planning for solutions from the outset of refugee situations’.

Promoting inclusive and welcoming societies for TPBs

To plan for local integration from the outset, it is necessary to clarify what is meant by local integration. A clear, practical definition of what local integration means is somewhat elusive. Access to health services, education, and the labour market are human rights that are seen as important preconditions for integration. The academic literature on integration presents it as a gradual and multi-faceted process with different implications depending on the legal-political, socio-economic, and cultural-religious dimensions.

The European Commission defined integration in its 2005 Communication ‘A Common Agenda for Integration Framework for the Integration of Third Country Nationals in The European Union’ as ‘a dynamic, two-way process of mutual accommodation by all immigrants and residents of Member States’. Similarly, the GCR states that local integration is a ‘dynamic and two-way process’, meaning that refugees need to be prepared to adapt to the host society and host communities need to be ready to welcome refugees. Crucially, in practice, the two-way process alluded to in the definition provided by the Commission and the GCR is unidirectional; migrants are expected to conform to the norms and values of the dominant majority.

This is not to say that no guidance has been provided regarding how to increase host societies’ acceptance of migrants and refugees. In the above-mentioned Communication, the Commission has pointed to awareness-raising campaigns, exhibitions, intercultural events, etc.  along with voluntary codes of practice for journalists at the national level. In addition, campaigns or intercultural events and the projection of accurate information about immigrants’ cultures, religions, and social and economic contributions at the EU level are mentioned as concrete suggestions.

Another practical guideline is provided as part of UNHCR’s Three Year strategy (2019-2021) on Resettlement and Complementary Pathways. The UNHCR states that an environment that promotes solidarity, diversity, and openness is essential for the sustainability of resettlement and complementary pathways. These include community sponsorship programmes, humanitarian visas and admission programmes, educational opportunities, etc. Incidentally, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration also provides alternative options for regular stay beyond international protection or temporary protection status. These include stays ‘of appropriate duration based on compassionate, humanitarian or other considerations’ strengthened by the commitment of States’ Parties to develop procedures facilitating transitions from one status to another in order to prevent irregularity. Therefore, the early and proactive engagement with receiving societies to promote inclusiveness will allow the initial goodwill that exists in the receiving communities towards TPBs to be sustained, and will ensure greater support to policies that may in the future transition TPBs to alternative and even permanent statuses.  

While each strategic priority and enabling action set out in the Three Year Strategy is equally significant towards the fulfillment of the goal of promoting welcoming and inclusive societies, for the purposes of this brief article, the following are highlighted:

  1. Local strategies and programmes for integrating refugees and other beneficiaries of international and temporary protection should be fully inclusive (i.e. reflect a genuine understanding of the special needs that accompany age, gender and diversity, and promote freedom from racism and discrimination) and co-designed by authorities, civil society, refugees, local communities, and the private sector;
  2. Evidence based narratives on refugees should be used in communication materials that effectively convey the contributions of refugees to different sections of the host community, including political groups, policymakers, and key influencers.

Sustaining the welcoming attitude for TPBs from Ukraine

Early insights by the ICMPD into the necessary steps to ensure the integration of refugees from Ukraine  have pointed to the express need to provide housing, physical and mental care, access to the education system, language classes, and access to the labour markets, as well as the various measures taken by EU Member States in these areas. These correspond to the rights dimension of integration. From a rights-based approach, therefore, there is no question as to the urgent need to allow access to shelter, education, health, and the labour market to those forcibly displaced from Ukraine.

The creation of a welcoming and inclusive society should be equally emphasized as an integral part of the ‘dynamic two-way process’ of integration. The current positive welcome has been attributed to a shared notion of ‘Europeanness’ based on geographic proximity, similar skin colour, shared religion, and socio-economic ties. The ICMPD piece warns that the welcoming attitude of the host communities of EU Member States may wane as conflict is prolonged and numbers of arrivals increase, and cites the head of the UNHCR as saying the same.  The UK Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, has warned that the conflict may last 10 years and that Europe should be prepared for the ‘long haul’.

For the benefit of social cohesion between the receiving communities and persons forcibly displaced from Ukraine, preparation for the long haul should mean the formulation of a clear, transparent, and long-term integration and communication strategy with a strong emphasis on supporting initiatives to promote inclusive and welcoming societies as soon as possible. This should include a strong, sustained and multi-stakeholder focus on combating xenophobia, racism, and discrimination. The Turkish example demonstrates how the initial goodwill and welcome can denigrate into anti-refugee sentiment in the absence of such an approach.

Lessons from Turkey

The Turkish experience has shown that lacking a clear and transparent strategy for the promotion of inclusive and welcoming societies from the outset and expecting the initial goodwill and acceptance of the host community to continue is not plausible. Coupled with the negative effects of an economic downturn and the Covid-19 pandemic (which has disproportionately affected disadvantaged groups including refugees in the country), misconceptions about refugees, conspiracy theories, unjustified alarmism, xenophobia, and hate speech have run rampant. Indeed, national surveys implemented or commissioned by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have consistently shown an increase in social distance between the host community in Turkey and Syrians under Temporary Protection (SuTPs).

To be sure, several factors have contributed to this situation. The Turkish Government, having miscalculated the potential duration of the conflict in Syria, initially allowed for the creation of a parallel education system whereby Temporary Education Centres (TECs) were established (both within and outside refugee camps) providing Syrian children education in Arabic based on a Syrian curriculum at the start of the arrivals from Syria in 2011. The Regulation on Temporary Protection that gave SuTPs the right to access to education came into force in 2014, three years after forcibly displaced persons started arriving in Turkey. TECs were eventually shut down in 2016, which corresponded with the launch of the EU funded Project on Promoting Integration of Syrian Children into the Turkish Education System (PICTES). Surveys still show that Syrian children experience exclusion at schools by peers and teachers as well as bullying. While a majority of students have belatedly learned Turkish, the language barrier continues to come up as a major challenge in front of integration for Syrian adults, and more so for Syrian women. One reason is that the quality of teaching Turkish as a foreign language is not standardized across the country. An A2 level of Turkish competency is not sufficient to enable SuTPs to know about and access services, seek and find employment, and navigate the bureaucratic systems in Turkey. In addition, while SuTPs have been granted access to the labour market in January 2016 with the adoption of the ‘Work Permit Regulation for Foreigners under Temporary Protection’, many work informally, meaning with low pay and no security. This is in large part due to the fact that informal employment was already very high in Turkey prior to the arrival of Syrians. Additionally, the cash support provided by the European Union (EU) in the form of the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) acts as a disincentive for refugees to find formal work as it is withdrawn from the whole household once someone in that household finds formal employment. Added to this are unscrupulous employers, the lack of state enforcement/inspection, and the fact that vocational trainings have not been designed according to the needs of the market.

Alongside all of these factors, arguably the most important lesson learnt from the Turkish experience should be the effects of a failure to generate a reasoned debate and an acceptable consensus among the Turkish public as regards the situation of Syrians under Temporary Protection in Turkey from the start. Consider the development and implementation of the main policy document for the integration of foreigners, namely the Harmonization Strategy and National Action Plan (HSNAP). The HSNAP was drafted following an inclusive process in which relevant state and non-state stakeholders were indeed consulted. The contents of the HSNAP are indicative of the benefits of this process, with strategic priorities set out in the areas of social cohesion, information sharing, education, health, and the labour market. Under each section various stakeholders are apportioned duties based on detailed activities set out towards the fulfilment of these priorities. To illustrate with a relevant example, and one which shows the awareness of the importance given to creating an inclusive and welcoming society, consider the following chain of action stated in the HSNAP:

Strategic Priority 1: Social Cohesion

Strategic Objective 1: Managing the social perception and attitudes towards migration and migrants in a way that contributes to social cohesion

Strategic Aim 1.1: Strengthening the level of social acceptance towards migrants

Activity 1.1.3: Researching society’s perception towards migrants and conducting awareness-raising to support a positive perception

Activity 1.1.4: Establishing an effective intercultural communication strategy, regularly informing media organizations, and preparing innovative programs for all visual and print media.

Activity 1.1.7: Emphasizing the richness brought about by cultural diversity through the work conducted by the media, NGOs, municipalities and public institutions working on migration.

These points seem to be very much in line with the European Commission Communication and the guidelines provided by UNHCR’s 3-year strategy in promoting inclusive and welcoming societies. Yet the HSNAP was only drafted in 2018, seven years after the start of the arrival of Syrians into Turkey. Moreover, it was only made public only in 2020 through publication in the Presidency of Migration Management’s (at the time called the Directorate General of Migration Management) website, after being leaked in 2019 by a newspaper which pointedly headlined the article ‘we are announcing the harmonization strategy of the government that concedes nearly 4 million Syrians are here to stay’. The article quotes the Director General of the then Directorate General of Migration Management as saying that the decision to delay the publication of the document was that of political will (a euphemism for the Government).

In the end, we are faced with a situation where now almost every opposition party in Turkey is calling for the repatriation of Syrians to Syria. Some note that this should be voluntary, while others say it can be forced if necessary. The President has also recently announced a plan to enable the voluntary return of 1 million Syrians to the Northwest region of Syria that has been under the control of opposition groups with the support of the Turkish military. The goal of an inclusive and welcoming society does not seem to figure as an option in the public debate in Turkey today and the window of opportunity to adopt practical measures that may have made this possible seems lost.

Concluding remarks

The temporary protection experience of Turkey should serve as an important lesson for EU Member States on the significance of early measures of promoting welcoming and inclusive societies, especially through the adoption of integration and communication strategies that target host communities. This calls for a proactive approach with the participation of all relevant actors including public institutions, municipalities, NGOs, chambers of industry and commerce, and the media at the local, regional and national levels, and in the spirit of the GCR, refugees themselves. Furthermore, integration policies should be transparent and openly debated in the public eye to ensure that necessary measures are lent legitimacy and ownership in the eyes of host communities in Europe.