Social service providers – key actors for inclusion

Many social services providers feel the impact of migration and want to be a part of the solution for inclusion of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers at local, national and European level. This is why Social Services Europe (including seven of our members) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) organised a meeting (29 November) to exchange testimonies from service-providers and allow for discussion with decision-makers.

Providing refugees with a single contact point and personal guidance through the different stages of inclusion is proven successful, told Sofia De Mot from Caritas Belgium. Adee Abed A Jabar came from Iraq to Belgium six years ago and received support from Caritas, for example to find accommodation and register at the commune. Today he works as an intercultural mediator for Caritas to help others. While inclusion in the areas of access to health care, language courses, education and housing is important, it is also about the right to reunite with family members. Sofia Van Belleghem works at the Red Cross’s tracing service, trying to locate families that has been separated when migrating, and secondly to reunite them. Obtaining information is a lengthy process that can cost several thousand euros for a family with children. Mohammed Abdi Wehlie shared his personal experience of how difficult it is to stay alone away from his family. Mr Abdi Wehlie is from Somalia and with the help of the Red Cross he is looking for his missing sister and trying to reunite with his wife and daughter. Kjell Karlsten from the Salvation Army in Sweden presented three successful inclusion project: firstly, giving refugees a personal mentor in four areas of life: sports, academia, social and spiritual. Secondly, linking refugee families with Swedish families for 12 weeks, starting and ending with a party. Thirdly, creating women-only centres, teaching about women’s rights, civic education, and language skills. Angele Unufe from the United Kingdom told how by helping a migrant woman filling in a form she finally received disability support that she was entitled to but rejected for several years, due to filling in the form incorrectly. This experience led her to shift from being a computer engineer to becoming a nurse and setting up the Migrant & Minority Disability Network Europe (part of our member European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities).

“Member States are not using the money the EU is allocating, and if this trend continues it will be hard for the European Commission to argue that more funding is needed in the future”, said Belinda Pyke from the European Commission. She agreed that access to services is indeed a precondition for effective inclusion, the Commission has set out what the EU and Member States can do in a comprehensive EU Action Plan for integration of third-country nationals, and thanks to the European Parliament 20 percent of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund has to be spent on inclusion.

“Early intervention, access to services, language courses and employment, participation in society through supportive mentoring projects are some of the key measures that have to be in place for successful integration”, said Brando Benifei, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and author of its report on integration. Heinz K. Becker MEP urged for more pressure at national level as “Member States are doing a bad job”. He called for the labour market to be open to everybody in Europe, a new humanitarian definition of the United Nations Refugee Convention to also recognise the threats of climate change and displacement of people it causes; and the need to create adequate conditions for people to live in other parts of the world.

I commented that service providers must also be able to work in a safe environment without fear of being punished or sanctioned for the services they provide to migrants. This is why Social Platform has been calling for the EU Facilitation Directive to be revised to ensure that Member States exempt humanitarian assistance from the law on smuggling (read more).

In mid-December a Social Platform delegation will go to South Sweden to learn about successful inclusion practices, in particular in access to employment for low-skilled workers.