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I Lost My Home. I Lost My Country. But That’s The New Start, The New Beginning, My New Life!

A strategy to improve syrian refugee integration that addresses the evolving long-term issues in their host countries.

Courtesy Image of Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/AYJtX9Ay7lI

My name is Anan, I was 17 when I lived in Aleppo on Dicember 15, 2016.


During those days I often woke up at 7 o’clock when bombs continually landed near my apartment.


My family was terrified and my parents and brother always started to cry and shout. There was some damage to the doors and windows of our apartment from the blast, but I often managed to calm them down making some coffee to drink together and calm myself down.


My little brother Mohammad was hungry, but we had no bread, just some pasta and an onion, which I cooked up for them. There was a hospital near our home and when Mohammad heard the ambulances arriving he started crying again.


Sometimes the bombing was intense, targeting everything: schools, hospitals, mosques. Two friends of mine, were killed and another injured in his legs and hands when they were walking to school.


In the morning when the planes came we all went to the shelters, we spent most of our time there and it was so boring, there was nothing to do, no electricity, no fuel for the generator.


It felt like we were in a prison, a really big but claustrophobic prison. It was an unbearable situation.


But I was an ambitious and conscientious girl, and I wanted to complete my studies, I wanted a good job, I wanted to have my own family. I had a dream and I tried to achieve it.


Infact after two years of hell I am 19 and I now finally live and work in Toronto, Canada.


I lost my home. I lost my country, but that’s the new start, the new beginning, my new life


I arrived through the Syrian resettlement programme with my parents and my brother on March 2017.


A year on, I have a job as a sales assistant at a retail outlet. I live with my parents, but I’m looking at getting my own home next year.


I wanted to learn English. But after waiting for three months, I decided that I had to do something. I have very high ambitions. There is a lot that I want to do with my life.


So, that’s why I started working.


I’ve been here more than a year and I’ve already worked five months. I have very high aspirations! I am working and I am paying my taxes like others.


I am very proud of what I’ve achieved so far. We have to find ways to rebuild our lives here.


We need to integrate, we need to meet people and interact with them, this is what we need to do.


This is how we will develop.”

Since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011, over 6.1 million Syrians have been internally displaced, while an estimated 5.6 million more have fled the country. Within the European Union (EU), close to 1 million of these refugees have requested asylum in different countries, with Germany being the primary destination.

Given that the Syrian conflict has already lasted for seven years, and with no short-term solution in sight, a strategy that addresses the evolving long-term issues of refugees in their host countries is essential.

In late 2016 and early 2017, the nonpartisan RAND Corporation conducted a study as part of the Pardee Global Human Progress Initiative to provide an overview of the situations of refugees and non-citizens in host countries, as well as to summarize policies and legislation regarding refugees. The study, illustrated below, explored cases in seven countries, including Turkey, a main destination of Syrian refugees; Germany and the United Kingdom (U.K.), high-income countries in which public sentiment about refugees has shifted over time; Greece and Italy, border countries that have a large influx of refugees; and Canada and Australia, which have significant refugee populations despite being continents away from Syria and have also experienced some success integrating migrants and refugees.

The study considered cross-national survey data from the European Social Survey and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, along with national data from selected countries to analyze attitudes, beliefs, labor market integration, and behaviors across various countries. The analysis focused on the economic activities individuals reported, including performing paid work, engaging in educational activities, or remaining unemployed.

Key Points:

In the context of increasing refugee flows from Syria, multiple E.U. countries’ populations believe that refugees’ presence could increase terrorism and take jobs and social benefits away from residents, according to the Pew Research Center’s spring 2016 Global Attitudes Survey. In Greece and Italy, for instance, a majority of respondents stated their countries would be a worse place to live in if an increasing number of people from different races, ethnic groups, and nationalities lived there. Most respondents in Germany, Greece, Italy, and the U.K. agreed with the statement that refugees would increase the likelihood of terrorism in their respective countries.

Challenges faced by first-generation immigrants in the E.U. while trying to find suitable employment include a lack of language skills and the inability to transfer qualifications from one country to another. Nationality, religion, and social background are also barriers to obtaining jobs in Greece and Italy.

The criteria countries set regarding noncitizen employment also affect these individuals’ abilities to access employment, since they must first meet host countries’ basic requirements. For instance, Germany deems an individual’s “willingness to be committed to the way of life in host country” important, while the U.K. emphasizes speaking the official language. Host countries must consider integrating these millions of refugees socially and economically, because the refugees will most likely stay in host countries for several years.

But without integration, lack of employment opportunities makes refugees prone to becoming an underclass targeted with discrimination and susceptible to religious extremism.

Despite these barriers, political commitment coupled with public support and community engagement — including private sponsorship of refugees — determined Syrian refugees’ successful resettlement.

Infact different stakeholders’ involvement in Canada, which has resettled over 25,000 Syrian refugees, has helped successfully integrate them into Canadian society.

Germany, Austria, and Sweden have also improved active labor market policies and implemented mandatory integration measures, including an increase in funding for language courses and the development of mechanisms to assess previously acquired skills.

In comparison, migrants and refugees in Italy face growing negative sentiments, lack of political commitment, and little public support. Although Italy has enacted legal measures to provide protection to asylum seekers and to admit more refugees in recent years, organizations such as Doctors Without Borders perceive Italy’s reception system of migrants and refugees as slow. Italy must now adapt its legislation to its high influx of refugees while managing local negative sentiments toward immigrants.

In the U.K, initial policy regarding the Syrian crisis was mainly limited to providing humanitarian aid and relief. In early 2014, however, the U.K. government announced it would take a more active role and created a program that settled the most vulnerable Syrian refugees.

A strategy for better Integration:

Addressing Syrian refugees’ socioeconomic integration in host countries demands solutions in two major areas:

1. Recognizing that social and economic integration are inter-correlated;

2. increasing refugee employment while minimizing negative effects on labor outcomes of the native population.

First, Syrian refugees experience social and economic problems, which reinforce each other in host countries. Cultural and social issues affect economic integration and vice-versa. Some observers argue that the Syrian refugee crisis is a social harmony issue. At the same time, multilateral organizations point out that a strong and fair labor market promotes social integration. Job market competition might lead to social conflict with detrimental effects. To deal with these issues, a social integration program should accompany host countries’ economic integration plans.

Second, integration of refugees into host labor markets might increase unemployment and reduce earnings of the native population. Host governments should consider including refugees in the formal economic sector to acquire decent earnings and social benefits. At the same time, this inclusion should not affect job opportunities for the native population, otherwise unemployment and negative attitudes toward refugees might increase. Policies must consider these conflicting objectives and tailor actions according to local socioeconomic and demographic conditions. Host governments should consider recording detailed information about refugees and share this data, so they can understand and better address the needs of refugees and natives.

Successful social and economic policies to deal with the refugee crisis demand collaborative planning, monitoring, and assessment efforts to successfully implement initiatives.

Inter-agency cooperation in the public sector is essential for these activities’ success. Coordination and empowerment of local public offices (e.g., community, city, municipality, province) can help implement policies adequate to specific contexts. Partnerships between public agencies and private institutions can provide job and language training, work permits, and employment creation, among other activities, to improve refugee integration.

This commentary originally appeared on Georgetown Journal of International Affairs on April 20, 2018.

Originally published at medium.com

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