Central Europe gets a new tool to measure refugee integration

UNHCR unveils a tool that will allow governments in Central Europe to more effectively measure how refugees are integrating with host societies.

Government representatives discuss the new evaluation tool.   © UNHCR/W. Ejalu

BUDAPEST, Hungary, February 18 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has unveiled an online tool that will allow governments in Central Europe to more effectively measure how refugees are integrating with host societies.

The Integration Evaluation Tool, developed for UNHCR by the Brussels-based Migration Policy Group, was recently presented in Budapest to representatives of Central European governments and non-governmental organizations interested in the new software. It is expected to be introduced throughout the region over the coming months.

"It covers every aspect of refugee life, from asking whether refugees' jobs meet their skills and qualifications to enquiries about school enrolment of refugee children to more administrative issues, such as government budgets for social orientation programmes," explained Gottfried Köefner, UNHCR's regional representative for Central Europe.

In broad terms, the evaluation mechanism looks at general issues as well as the legal, socio-economic and cultural integration of refugees. It comprises a set of more than 200 quantitative and qualitative indicators of integration covering all aspects of refugee life. The information gathered will help both to determine how registered refugees are settling in and to analyze policy strengths and weaknesses in the different countries.

The information will be placed in a database that all stakeholders can access. They will be looking at issues such as access to health, housing and employment, acquisition of residency rights, family reunification, ability to communicate and knowledge of the culture and history of the host country.

Development of the evaluation tool is seen as important because integration is now the most common durable solution for refugees in Europe. Moreover, it has been difficult to evaluate the impact and cost effectiveness of integration measures because so many different parties are involved, ranging from government departments and aid agencies to schools, banks, trade unions landlords, teachers and many others.

Köefner noted that in the past, European Union member states and UNHCR focused more on how to help asylum-seekers get protection status. "But what happens once the asylum-seeker gets protection status?" he asked, before adding: "We see that failures of integration are often used to fuel anti-refugee rhetoric and to justify restrictive refugee legislation."

It is now up to governments to introduce the Integration Evaluation Tool, which could also eventually be adopted in the rest of Europe. In countries where it is introduced, UNHCR will work with a wide range of experts in specific areas, such as naturalization, employment and health. They will be able to access the database online. A peer review will follow once all the relevant information has been entered into the database.

Across the region, it will be possible to exchange best practices and to learn from each other. Follow-up surveys will be conducted on a regular basis.

By Melita H. Šunjić in Budapest, Hungary