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Europe needs a policy framework for refugee integration

GUE/NGL MEPs heard first-hand the experiences of the German federal state of Thuringia in dealing with the influx of refugees in recent years in a second discussion during the group's external bureau meeting in Erfurt this afternoon.

German MEP Cornelia Ernst, GUE/NGL coordinator on the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee, said that the EU does not have a policy framework for refugee integration and this reflects on the weak response to the crisis in some member states:

“There are serious gaps in the Commission’s approach: the directives do not provide support for people with special needs, children and the elderly and they do not make provisions for appropriate training and education to support the integration of vulnerable people.”

“Measures to prevent so-called secondary migration, flows between EU countries, are unrealistic, whereby asylum seekers are required to stay in the first country they arrive in and are refused services in other member states. But what if they have family in another country?”

“Certain provisions in the directives can be exploited by member states. Asylum seekers are required to provide documentation to prove their claim but some come with no documents,” Ernst affirmed. 

The meeting also heard from Anja Flaig and Christine Sommer, coordinators for the work of volunteers at the Ministry for Migration, Justice and Consumer Protection of Thuringia, about the coordination efforts between civil society and local authorities:

“Integration is only possible with support from volunteers and the local community. Of course the government has to provide the framework and the conditions for this to happen,” argued Flaig.

Sabine Berninger, member of the DIE LINKE parliamentary group in Thuringia, explained how her group is working to ensure refugees with strong prospects are allowed to stay in the long-term:

“We have a programme to integrate refugees in the local market and funds allocated for guidance courses throughout the region. We want to prepare those with a strong prospect of staying.”

Ending the session, Tamara Thierbach, Mayor of Erfurt on integration policy, gave a vivid testimony of the logistics involved in hosting refugees arriving almost overnight and the level of coordination involved:

“We had a big number of refugees arriving on the 5th February 2015, the houses that were available to host them needed six weeks to be ready, we couldn’t find furniture at short notice. We had available a school undergoing renovation that acted as a reception centre. Hundreds of public servants worked overnight to ensure houses and communal centres were ready, we could not wait six weeks. There was an across-the-board consensus that we would not have tent cities.”

“Our response to refugees also brought challenges, especially from the far-right but also questions from concerned citizens. We have to address each situation and provide the counter-arguments necessary and the awareness-raising required to explain why we are doing this.”