On 14 March The Hague Institute for Global Justice and the Embassy of Canada to the Netherlands hosted a roundtable on the theme Immigration and Civic Integration: A Challenge for the Future. The roundtable brought together immigration and integration experts to discuss and share best practices with respect to the civic integration of migrants and refugees in the European and Canadian contexts. The discussion, moderated by Dr. David Connolly, Head of the Conflict Prevention Program at The Hague Institute, centered upon how the impact of integration policies can be adequately measured and enhanced.
The roundtable opened with welcome remarks from Dr. Abi Williams, President of The Hague Institute. Noting the inadequacies of existing strategies within the EU, Dr. Williams expressed the need for a “responsible and effective response” to the migration and refugee crisis. He emphasized the importance of not losing sight of the strengths and capabilities of migrants and refugees who can be an economic asset to host communities in Europe that are in need of young and skilled workers. Leveraging the potential of migrants and refugees requires integration policies that are both enlightened and comprehensive.
Following this, Dr. Leslie Seidle, Research Director at the Institute for Research on Public Policy, introduced Canada’s Syrian Refugee Initiative and its civic integration programs. Civic integration aims to equip refugees with the motivation and skills required to become actively involved in their host society. Dr. Seidle used a range of public opinion surveys as indicators of integration levels among migrants and refugees. In particular, he listed positive perceptions of current settlement programs and services, such as language training, among refugees. Of central importance to the settlement of refugees in Canada are government initiatives, private sponsorships and charity donations. He concluded by calling for the continued commitment and active engagement of community groups, private sector and citizens with regard to the various initiatives in light of the persistent nature of the crisis.
Responding to this, Prof. Dr. Godfried Engbersen of Erasmus University of Rotterdam and co-author of the policy brief ‘No time to lose: from reception to integration of asylum migrants’ discussed the integration of refugees in the Netherlands. Prof. Engbersen presented the findings of the policy brief which studied socio-economic integration of refugees that arrived in the Netherlands during the 1990s. The research results showed that many permit holders are at a disadvantaged position in the labor market and there is high social welfare dependency within this group. Thus, he argued for a greater integration strategy within the early stages of arrival, and called for a parallel approach to integration focusing on initial settlement and civic integration phases simultaneously. Finally he emphasized the role of municipalities in integration processes.
The presentations were then followed by a question and answer session focusing on how native populations can be sensitized to receiving refugees and potential lessons that Europe can draw from the Canadian civic integration policies. Here, the discussions also addressed the influence of political and historical factors in responding to integration challenges. Among the solutions was a call for greater focus on the “functional and categorical indispensability” of immigrants for the economy and the social identity of the host state respectively. The need for governments to involve refugees in the development and implementation of integration policies was also called for.
The roundtable ended with concluding remarks by Gallit Dobner from the Embassy of Canada. Ms. Dobner reflected upon the commonalities between the Canadian and Dutch approaches to the migration crisis. Both countries have a strong history of immigration and tolerance, yet there are still lessons to learn from each other. The question of integration, she concluded, is challenging and must be considered holistically taking into consideration the complexities of host communities and the needs and capabilities of immigrants.