A conference on refugee issues hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) last week called for affordable, inclusive housing solutions to boost integration.
The third annual Social Innovation for Refugee Inclusion (SI4RI) conference, held in Brussels on 24 and 25 January, focused on ways to establish safe and adequate housing for refugees and the effect of available, accessible housing on the ability of recent arrivals to integrate into their new country. It was organised as a joint effort between the EESC and the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Europe; and supported by the Missions of the US and Canada to the EU.
Attendees discussed innovative and holistic approaches to refugee housing and their effects on both recipients and the wider community. The issues of prevailing populist and anti-immigration sentiments across the EU, which can hamper efforts to generate state actions to help refugees, were acknowledged as a significant challenge. As the scarcity of affordable housing is a wider problem which affects low- and middle-income citizens as well as incoming migrants, prioritising refugees risks stoking racial tensions.
Other issues addressed at the conference included the perpetuating by well-meaning citizens and charitable bodies of a “victim narrative”, which dehumanises and removes agency from refugees; and lengthened stays in refugee shelters, which impedes residents’ ability to integrate into the community. Housing projects in the Netherlands and Germany were studied which enable refugees to live with or alongside local residents in order to build community ties and boost language acquisition.
In her opening remarks, MPI Europe’s Assistant Director of Research, International Programme and Senior Policy Analyst Meghan Benton said: “With this theme, we wanted to capture the idea that where you live is so much more than the roof over your head. It also defines all external aspects of your life, from who you meet to your job prospects and your access to services, education and training. We wanted to show that housing really is a major milestone in a refugee’s journey. Finding stable and affordable housing for refugees can create immense challenges, yet it is often overlooked or somewhat sidelined.”
Conference attendees were largely in agreement that funding remained a prevailing concern for refugee housing projects, both in the public and private sector. Many of the developments showcased were in need of extended funding; and national authorities were accused of overlooking refugee causes both financially and politically.