During a recent study visit to Madrid and Barcelona, MIEUX Junior Project Officer, Mr. Markel Redondo Ibarrondo, felt inspired by the discussions he held with several civil society organisations and government authorities at local and national level on the topic of integration of immigrants.
Markel accompanied a Costa Rican delegation during the study visit as part of the ongoing six-step action designed by the MIEUX team to support the Costa Rican Directorate General for Migration and Foreigners (DGME) in developing its second National Integration Plan (2018-2022).
As Markel shared with the team, “I felt that these five key ideas stood out among the rest. Each of them sheds light on a different aspect of integration, reflecting how multifaceted this process can be for an individual or a family arriving in a new country. They also reflect essential aspects of what the Costa Rican Government has tackled through previous policies and aims to achieve with the forthcoming second National Integration Plan (2018-2022).”
1. Integration starts on day of arrival
“The question of when reception ends and when integration begins is flawed. The process of one’s integration begins from the very beginning” (Spanish NGO Apropem-nos)
This idea stayed with me because it stressed a very subtle but crucial issue for policymakers: defining which services should match which stages of integration.
When speaking of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, one of the Lessons Learnt that Spanish civil society organisation Aproprem-nos shared with us refers to the artificial, and sometimes problematic, separation of reception and integration phases.
Actually, these are not self-contained phases but form part of an integration continuum. In order to achieve a sense of full integration into the host society, the mechanism must be triggered from the very first moment of arrival in the country.
2. Local government is a key partner
“When local authorities show leadership and political will in integration, local residents follow their lead "(Director of a Centre for Reception of Refugees reflecting on the role of the Alcobendas City Council)
This idea is important because we know that involvement of local authorities is crucial for the successful integration of all residents. We visited the Centre for Reception of Refugees in Alcobendas, in the outskirts of Madrid, where the City Council has been closely involved for the past 30 years in ensuring that the Centre participates in local cultural and social and life, by promoting the participation of refugees in every event or festivity in the town and, in turn, by encouraging its citizens to regularly visit or volunteer at the Centre.
This approach proves particularly relevant in cities which attract migration, as neighbourhoods are shaped by the population that inhabits them.
3. Acknowledging migrants
“Each immigrant, as the main actor of his or her own integration process, must be recognized as such and empowered (Forum for the Social Integration of Inmigrants, Ministry of Employment and Social Security)”
This sentence is powerful in that it recognises a fundamental aspect of integration: the ownership over each individual’s migration project. As the Forum explained, integration is a bi-directional process between the individual and the host society: it can never be one-way. While any person needs to adapt to the (new) context he or she is to live in, no one can be required to give up or deny him/herself. A migrant needs to feel welcome and wanted in order to ensure he or she feels integrated. Among other means, this is to say the host society should also devote resources and capacity to customised migration projects
4. Migrants are assets to the national economy
“All immigrants, like any national citizen, are; part of the country's growth (General Secretariat of Inmigration and Emigration).”
This idea is very positive and is related to the age-old debate about migrants’ contribution to economic development. We know that migrants contribute to a country’s economy, by bringing in new ideas, skills and businesses. In the case of both Costa Rica and Spain, many immigrants are employed in construction, agriculture or domestic work sectors, filling in key employment gaps.
Many, however, do not benefit from social protection because they lack access to secure jobs through formal labour contracts. Recognising their contribution paves the way to formulating policies that ensure they can participate in the national economy to the full extent.
This is exactly the ambition of the Costa Rican Government in moving away from a welfare provision model to a holistic model with the new National Integration Plan (2018-2022).
5. National policies are just as important as dedicated programmes
“It’s not just about providing integration projects for users; it’s about giving citizens their rights. Policies are needed to inform such projects (Trade Union UGT).”
This idea is of vital importance when formulating new policies. It’s not just about providing social services through shorter or mid-term projects, but about crafting inclusive, coherent and evidence-based policies at the national and local level, taking into account the wide variety of actors that intervene into this process. Projects with pre-set timelines may turn their users into dependents.
They also risk being abruptly discontinued in times of economic shortage, as was the case in Spain during the recent economic recession. In the case of migrants, this may result in limiting the scope of their actual integration.
In regards to this, Costa Rica already adopted a 10-year comprehensive immigration policy (“Política Migratoria Integral”) for the period 2013-2023, spelling out the conceptual framework and steps to be followed by public institutions and civil society to achieve the integration of immigrants into Costa Rican society.
MIEUX Reflections is an ongoing series that provides a space where our Project Staff can share their insights on their recent missions.
On any given week, a member of the MIEUX team, together with a group of experts, can be deployed around the world to support EU partner countries in reviewing, transforming and reinforcing their migration policies.
These missions provide opportunities to interact with the full range of local, regional and/or national actors that are involved in MIEUX’s activities.
Once on the ground, the many months of preparation come alive, inspiring the Project Staff to go forward and apply Lessons Learnt into new activities.