UNHCR: refugee integration should start as early as possible

Tuesday 6, May 2008 Budapest, May 6 (UNHCR) – In a mission to find out about the situation of asylum-seekers and recognised refugees in Hungary, UNHCR’s experts recently visited two out of Hungary’s three refugee reception facilities. The visit has confirmed the need for refugee integration to start as early […]

Tuesday 6, May 2008

Budapest, May 6 (UNHCR) – In a mission to find out about the situation of asylum-seekers and recognised refugees in Hungary, UNHCR’s experts recently visited two out of Hungary’s three refugee reception facilities. The visit has confirmed the need for refugee integration to start as early as possible. In addition to the services provided by the authorities, integration also requires more involvement and interaction with the local community.

Michael Lindenbauer, UNHCR’s Deputy Regional Representative has visited the Bicske (Western Hungary) “integration centre” where recognised refugees can spend six months preparing for their integration in Hungary. In general, he found the centre a good first step to help newly recognized refugees learn the language and get acquainted with the local culture, in order to find jobs later on.

“However, in the long run, there is no such thing as integration within a centre.” – says Lindenbauer. He thinks that integration has to happen at a community level. Therefore, after the initial steps in Bicske, refugees should be helped to find employment and housing outside. “Only few people need specialised support for a longer time. In general, refugees should be helped to start their own, independent lives as soon as possible.”

Refugees need to speak the language to find a job

Experience shows that refugees very much follow the same line of thought, as many of them leave the camp early in the morning to look for odd jobs outside. This means that the language classes offered to them during the day are very irregularly attended. However, this can plunge refugees into a vicious circle, for without a sound knowledge of Hungarian they have very little chance for permanent and legal employment.

On the other hand, even speaking Hungarian well may not be enough to guarantee the long term success of integration. Refugee integration is a two way process that cannot be successful without the support of the local population.

UNHCR believes that there is a great need for projects or programmes to enable refugees to participate in the labour market and social networks as early as possible. In practice this also means that employers, schools, landlords, doctors and labour offices should be made aware of the rights and needs of refugees.

“Refugees are the Hungarian citizens of tomorrow.” – says Lindenbauer. “They found a safe haven here and they are here to stay. It is the interest of both Hungary and the refugees to help them become active members of society and build up their lives here.”

Asylum-seekers should be helped to stay active

Integration does not only start when asylum-seekers are recognised as refugees by the authorities. It may start at the moment of arrival, through contacts with local people, language and culture. Therefore, the Debrecen (Eastern Hungary) centre hosting asylum-seekers may also have an important role in paving the way for the integration of refugees in Hungary.

However, Areti Sianni, UNHCR’s Regional Expert on Refugee Integration and Resettlement has recently visited the Debrecen centre and found that its residents have limited access to learning programmes and almost no chance of interacting with the local population. The authorities are reluctant to organise social or training programmes for asylum-seekers, as such activities are related to integration which is not considered desirable during the asylum procedure. “This is a waste of human potential that needs to be urgently addressed.” – Sianni says.

UNHCR considers the lack of learning and training activities for asylum-seekers a serious gap, as some residents may spend more than a year in Debrecen, such as in cases when their application has been rejected and they file an appeal with the court.

UNHCR believes that there is a need for language and vocational training activities for everybody from the beginning of the asylum procedure. Such training would enable asylum-seekers to take part in the decisions affecting them. Furthermore, asylum-seekers could stay active and preserve their skills and willpower to be self-sufficient later on when they receive refugee status. “It’s difficult for people to regain a sense of initiative and confidence if they are kept at the margins of society, waiting idly for months in a processing centre”, says Areti Sianni.

Andrea Szobolits in Budapest, Hungary