Creation of an Integration Centre at Ovcha Kupel Registration and Reception Centre
As early as in the mid-nineties a special area for social contacts and activities for international protection seekers was established in Ovcha Kupel at the only existing Registration and Reception Centre at the time under the State Agency for Refugees with the Council of Ministers (SAR with CM). In the beginning, this was just a place for women living in the centre and seeking international protection to spend time and overcome their isolation. Later on the place acquired the status of an Integration Centre with a certain structure, agenda and programs. The activities in the Centre were provided financially and administratively by the State Agency for Refugees, which had also been licensed for professional training. Every day there were courses in Bulgarian language conducted by specialists in teaching Bulgarian as a foreign language as well as courses in hairdressing, cosmetics, fashion design and computer literacy.
The aim of the activities carried out at the Centre was, on the one hand, to offer professional orientation to those accommodated there and on the other hand, to facilitate their everyday life. The residents at the Centre, who experienced financial and communicative difficulties related to the lack of money and knowledge of the language, could afford free language education, hairdressing and cosmetic services provided by the more advanced in the profession, sewing and clothes repair services as well as the chance to make knitwear and decorations by themselves.
To facilitate the mothers with small children the Centre provided play rooms in which trained specialists entertained the children organized in groups by age with games, singing, painting, drawing of art objects etc. Later volunteers from non-governmental organizations joined in the activities related to the social adaptation and orientation of the asylum seekers. Trips and visits to historical sites in the capital and the country were organized alongside with children’s camps, in which Bulgarian children in a disadvantaged position also took part and which were aimed at assisting the learning of Bulgarian language.
Although primarily the Centre was aimed at women of different nationalities seeking protection, later it became popular with men too.
The good practice of social adaptation and initial integration has been strengthened over the years. Even today, for example, on the walls of most hairdressing and beauty salons in the part of the city inhabited by migrants, there are certificates acquired in the licensed workshops of SAR. There is also information from a lot of people who sought and obtained international protection in Bulgaria in the past and now live in different countries around the world that they have opened beauty salons and earn their living with professions acquired in our country.
National Program for the Integration of Refugees in the Republic of Bulgaria
A follow-up of the good practice initiated with the establishment and popularization of the activities provided in the Integration Centre of the State Agency for Refugees with the Council of Ministers to support seekers of international protection is the adoption and implementation of the National Program for Integration of Refugees (NPIR) in the Republic of Bulgaria in the period 2005 – 2013. The institution responsible for the implementation of this program was the State Agency for Refugees with the Council of Ministers. The program was developed after a thorough analysis of the legal framework and practice and contained the basic principles and means for achieving the integration of refugees in Bulgaria.
Adaptation and integration activities were aimed at creating conditions for the full realization of the beneficiaries and providing opportunity for the development of their personal potential and active participation in the economic, social and cultural life of the Bulgarian society.
The NPIR was intended for approximately 100 beneficiaries of international protection annually, i.e. 60 adults and 40 children, and was centrally funded by the state budget. During this period, the average number of beneficiaries of refugee or humanitarian status was about 250 people each year. Over the years, the number of people willing to participate did not reach the estimated 100 individuals. Most of those who received protection are catered for themselves or left the country. Many of the registered participants left the program prematurely having gained the confidence to take care of their own interests. The NPIR was carried out only in the capital.
The program intended for its participants to get the opportunity for full economic, social and cultural adaptation and integration in the Bulgarian society.
During their training under the program the refugees received a package of measures in compliance with the current legislation for Bulgarian citizens included in the literacy and qualification programs of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. The package of measures provided refugees with minimal social protection for their training period.
The main objective of the measures was to integrate newly-recognized refugees in Bulgaria within no more than a year through learning Bulgarian, acquiring a profession, getting acquainted with the state administration, institutions, culture and traditions, getting access to the labour market and becoming financially independent in the country.
The Bulgarian language and vocational training courses were organized by the SAR in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. Active partners in the process of integration of refugees were the Bulgarian Red Cross, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other non-governmental organizations.
The integration program was financially secured by the SAR budget.
- a package of measures for the integration of newly recognized refugees;
- elaboration of a guide with information on the rights and obligations of refugees in Bulgaria and the powers and functional competence of state institutions and non-governmental organizations working with refugees;
- provision of housing services for refugees – information, assistance with administrative formalities, address registration, legal assistance and advice;
- inclusion of refugees in employment and craft training programs at the Labor Offices and the National Craft Chamber as well as their training for the development and implementation of small business projects;
- legal regulation of the access of adult refugees without education to the state educational system;
- inclusion of social mediators in the activities for social assistance for refugees;
- inclusion of refugees in national programs for health and disease prevention;
- inclusion of refugees with special needs in various forms of psychosocial work, medical care, social patronage, cultural activities, etc.
Those wishing to join the NPIR were to submit a request within a specified period of time after receiving a refugee or humanitarian status. A social worker from the SAR conducted an interview with them, on the basis of which an Individual Integration Plan was prepared. The Individual Integration Plan included specific measures for the integration of the person and his family and deadlines for their implementation. Requests and plans were considered by an Integration Commission appointed by the Chair of the SAR, where apart from their staff representatives of NGOs, UNHCR and other institutions related to the integration of the beneficiaries of protection in the Republic of Bulgaria were also included.
Following a positive decision of the Integration Commission to include a person or a family in the program, between him/her and the Chair of SAR an Integration Agreement was signed, which specified the rights and obligations of both parties.
Financed under the NPIR were the following activities included in the Integration Plan:
The people included in the NPIR were to find suitable housing by themselves or use the services of NGO mediators (BRC) who assisted them in finding housing. Through mediators, a contract with the landlord was signed, a copy of which remained in the refugee’s personal record, and the amount of the rent financed under the NPIR was determined. During the last year of the program the rent was 170 leva for a single person, 300 levs for two cohabitants, 370 levs for 3 persons and 450 levs for 4 and more cohabitants.
When individuals had their own finances, they could rent a home with a higher rent where the difference was not paid out of the program budget.
- Social assistance
Upon entry into the program each household received a lump-sum targeted assistance up to the amount set for the year in the Regulations on the Application of the Social Assistance Act to cover basic needs and provide essential necessities.
- Conducting Bulgarian language training
The Bulgarian Language Courses were held in the Integration Centre of the State Agency for Refugees by specialists in teaching Bulgarian as a foreign language. As textbooks approved by the Ministry of Education and Science were not available, what was used were textbooks developed by Caritas – Bulgaria especially for the needs of the beneficiaries or those seeking protection at level A1 and A2 according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. These can be found at:
A daily scholarship was paid for each day of the participants’ attendance of the language course in accordance with the amounts envisaged in the Employment Promotion Plan for the respective year. The course lasted for 6 months. Upon conclusion the participants received a certificate of proficiency in Bulgarian.
- Health Insurance
Persons and their families were insured for the entire duration of their participation in the program.
- Professional qualification and retraining
In the Integration Centre of SAR there were courses in several professions and the participants received a daily scholarship in accordance with the amounts laid down in the Employment Promotion Plan for the respective year. After taking an exam, the participants received a certificate of partial qualification in a certain profession.
For more successful labour integration the refugees who had passed the training courses under the Program, with the assistance of social experts from SAR or NGO mediators, registered as active jobseekers in the Labour Office Directorate. The main purpose of ensuring employment to refugees was to give them access to the labour market and help them remain permanently on it. The highest rate of employment of refugees was registered in the catering, car repair, construction and utilities sectors.
- Child Care
The individuals were assisted in the enrolment of their children in kindergarten and pre-school groups. The fees for kindergarten as well as the lump-sums for enrolment in first grade set to be paid to Bulgarian children were covered by the budget of the program.
Particular attention was paid to the school integration of children whose parents were included in the NPIR. Meetings were held with teachers and parents to prevent the early drop-out of school children and to improve the conditions for their successful adaptation.
For the sake of the children’s better adaptation regular consultations on the rights of refugee children, including unaccompanied minors, were conducted. Refugee parents learnt about Bulgarian culture and education. They were involved in intercultural activities with the participation of Bulgarian children and their families for the purposes of their social inclusion in the Bulgarian society. Special attention was paid to research and the development of curricula and projects related to the education of refugee children in Bulgarian schools.
The Integration Program was monitored and controlled by the Integration Commission. The Integration Commission proposes to the President of SAR termination of the contracts with the individuals who did not comply with the requirements of the integration contract and, if necessary, a change of the conditions.
In 2014 the Integration Centre of SAR with the Council of Ministers was closed with an amendment in the Institution’s Rules of Procedure.
Pilot Integration Program (2016)
In April 2016, a small Pilot Integration Program for 40 beneficiaries of international protection in Bulgaria, funded by UNHCR and implemented by the Bulgarian Red Cross, was launched.
The main activities included in the project are Bulgarian language A1 and A2 courses according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, vocational training, translation and legalization of documents, provision of additional Bulgarian language lessons for children enrolled in school as well as enrolment (payment) in kindergartens / crèches or securing a part-time babysitter for young children while their parents are attending a Bulgarian language course. Participants are provided with a public transport card, school materials and health insurance.
A social worker is responsible for the organization, implementation and monitoring of the integration measures, supports the beneficiaries in their social and cultural adaptation and assists them in their professional realization.
Working with social mediators
A good practice in the area of integration, established over the years, is working with social mediators. The social mediators supporting asylum seekers and beneficiaries are selected among other migrants, beneficiaries, family members of mixed marriages, foreigners with permitted residence in the country and Bulgarian citizens who are fluent in the most commonly used languages by those seeking protection and familiar with the culture of the countries where the largest groups applying for refugee or humanitarian status come from.
Social mediators play an extremely important role in the cultural orientation and integration of newcomers in the country. They are irreplaceable advisers and consultants in the first integration steps of asylum seekers and beneficiaries.
Sphere of activity of the mediators:
- acquainting asylum seekers with their rights and obligations;
- assisting them in everyday living activities – familiarizing them with the internal order of the housing centres, communicating in a multicultural environment (in the registration and reception centre and beyond), observing personal hygiene, hygiene in the housing and public places, visiting a shop , use of public transport, banking services, etc.;
- medical assistance related to attendance and translation during a visit to a health facility, contact with medical staff, administrative services for the detection of chronic diseases and disabilities, care for pregnant women, young mothers and children, awareness campaigns for the prevention of serious diseases and related to children’s immunizations, etc.;
- mediation in contacts with institutions – issuance and legalization of documents, registration, etc.
- Assistance in children’s enrolment in kindergarten and school and mediation in parents’ contacts with school authorities and teachers.
Social mediation activities are funded by programs and projects for certain periods of time. This affects the sustainability of the results achieved and the inability of the trained experts to be kept for a longer time in the area of the proposed integration measure.
Refugee integration program implemented by the Bulgarian Red Cross and financed by UNHCR
Activities to facilitate the social and economic integration of refugees and beneficiaries of humanitarian status:
- Consultations on issues related to the life and rights of refugees in Bulgaria;
- Assistance in getting access to healthcare and services;
- Assistance in finding a job;
- Social and cultural orientation;
- Housing program covering household expenses for a period of three months;
- Support for children attending Bulgarian schools through additional Bulgarian language training, provision of textbooks and learning materials;
- Support for refugees with special needs – disabled, single parents, elderly, separated children.
Refugee integration programme implemented by the Bulgarian Red Cross financed by UNHCR
Activities to facilitate the social and economic integration of beneficiaries of international protection:
- Consultations on issues related to the life and rights of refugees in Bulgaria
- Support for access to healthcare and services
- Assistance in finding a job
- Housing program covering household expense for a period of three months
- Social and cultural orientation
- Support for children attending Bulgarian schools through additional Bulgarian language training, provision of textbooks, teaching aids. Lessons for children, enrolled in Bulgarian schools, help with childcare.
- Assistance to refugees with special needs – disabled, single parents, elderly, separated children
Caritas Sofia Mentoring Program
The mentoring program implemented by St. Anna Centre for Integration of Refugees and Migrants under Caritas Sofia helps to promote the internationally protected people’s communication with the local population, which supports their integration into the Bulgarian society. The program has been in existence since 2016 as a proven and workable practice to help beneficiaries of international protection living in Sofia.
By entering a completely new and unfamiliar environment away from home, people who have received international protection need someone to help them get their bearings – a friend and a partner to share their concerns with, to practice their Bulgarian and spend time in the company of a local person.
When pairs are formed, the personal interests and talents of the participants are taken into account. Typically, the mentors and mentees see each other at least once a week and exchange skills and knowledge, building up a lasting friendship.
Mentors undergo pre-service training to learn more about the essence of mentoring, effective communication, program goals, how to teach Bulgarian through conversation and inclusion in appropriate cultural events.
Volunteers who act as mentors are motivated people driven by the desire to do good. People who want to lay the foundations of their new life in Bulgaria are motivated to learn more about the culture, lifestyle and customs of the country in which they want to build their new home.
Caritas Mentoring Program helps these two groups of people to fulfil their dreams, building a bridge to their worlds, hopes and desires and by erasing the imaginary barriers of prejudice and fear to encourage them to show their best.
St. Anna Centre for Integration of Refugees under Caritas
People who have been granted refugee or humanitarian status can seek help from St. Anna Centre for Integration of Refugees and Migrants under Caritas Sofia, who provide social counselling, psychological support, Bulgarian language courses, address registration, registration with a GP, home and work assistance, art activities, mentoring program and other activities supporting the process of integration in the Bulgarian society.
St. Anna Integration Centre in Sofia supports 65 people seeking or having received international protection monthly.
EUROPE AND BEYOND
In France, there is an Immigration and Integration Office with the Ministry of the Interior, which consists of 15 people: 8 civil servants, 5 experts, 2 administrative staff employees working in cooperation with the prefectures implementing national policies at a local level (police, employment authorities, company registrations, etc.).
Support for integration is provided for 5 years.
Integration mechanism: Since 2007, all migrants, including refugees, have been obliged to sign a reception and integration contract. The contract provides for French language courses, an assessment of professional skills and competences and a course on social and cultural orientation. Beneficiaries of international protection are allowed to stay for up to 6 months at reception centres.
Housing: The Ministry of Housing Policy, Territorial Equality and Agriculture apply a housing program implemented by housing associations which act as intermediaries between private landlords and refugees. Refugees may stay in rented accommodation for up to 18 months.
In Austria, the Ministry of the Interior is in charge of immigration and administers integration programs.
The Ministry for European Affairs, Integration and Foreign Affairs monitors some of the integration programs administered by the Ministry of the Interior.
The Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection is responsible for the employment of migrants and refugees.
Integration activities are within the sphere of competence of local authorities.
Integration Mechanism: Since 2011, all migrants have been required to sign an integration agreement. It includes an option for German language training, job search assistance, school enrolment assistance, information provision and social orientation.
The municipalities provide vouchers for German language courses. Information sessions are held in public places (parks, squares, shopping centres) for local residents on topics related to migration, integration and diversity.
The City of Vienna has opened a forum for civic organizations, the private sector and political representatives. Municipal authorities cooperate with a non-governmental organization which provides information to beneficiaries of international protection, offers German language courses, individual counselling and other educational activities.
The Ministry of the Interior in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy is responsible for providing protection and all issues related to immigration. Local prefectures are involved in integration by offering a one-desk type of registration mainly in terms of applications for work permits, family reunification, residence permits and language proficiency tests in Italian.
An agreement on integration between the Italian State and migrants, including refugees, was signed in 2012. It includes the organization of courses in Italian language as well as social and cultural orientation. The municipality of Rome works with a non-governmental organization that provides information on beneficiaries of international protection and organizes training in Italian, individual consultations and educational activities.
Refugees are defined as a separate target group regarding employment services and municipalities are involved in the process of job provision.
The Slovak Humanitarian Council has signed contracts with various municipalities in Slovakia to provide services to beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.
Accommodation in municipal dwellings
In Warsaw, five municipal apartments are provided only to refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.
In Lublin, Caritas – Poland has a long-term partnership with the Municipal Social Service. There is an interdisciplinary team of refugee integration experts, whose purpose is, among other things, to revise local legislation on housing, services and assistance to beneficiaries of international protection in Lublin. The expert team has managed to bring about changes in local legislation that allow refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection to apply for housing that is municipal property.
Program for Resettled Refugees
In Denmark, municipalities are responsible for receiving resettled refugees. They are in charge of finding a suitable shelter for them. Moving to another municipality within the first three years of the integration period is only possible if the host municipality assumes responsibility for the costs and implementation of the adaptation and integration program. This is usually the case if the refugee has found a job or an opportunity to continue his/her education in the relevant municipality.
The Integration Program offers three years of Danish language training without any other commitments.
Language schools are run by municipalities or other contractors, such as the Danish Refugee Council. Social workers from the municipality, and to a lesser extent civil society representatives assist refugees in the preparation of an individual contract /action plan to be concluded between the municipality and the refugee on the basis of an assessment of their specific skills and qualifications. The aim is to facilitate the person’s access to the Danish labour market or to some form of education. The integration program can also be targeted at vocational training. Contracts are monitored periodically.
Denmark has a well-established network of volunteer organizations that help for the integration of resettled refugees. The Danish Refugee Council, the Danish Red Cross, and other NGOs support the integration process of refugees. These organizations reach municipalities through a nationwide network of thousands of volunteers. They can also be partners of municipalities in the implementation of the mandatory integration program. NGOs help in the integration process by providing various services: facilitating contacts or networking for inter-family interaction, providing courses in cultural and civic orientation and language learning, seminars for students, dinner gatherings, summer camps and activities for young people, job-finding assistance and vocational training facilities.
Encouragement of municipalities to receive refugees
In order to encourage municipalities to receive refugees for resettlement, municipal authorities are funded to implement the integration program. The municipality is paid a lump sum for each refugee to cover the cost of integration during the first three years.
Once the refugees arrive in the municipality, volunteers from the Finnish Red Cross help them with their new homes by introducing them to practical details of everyday life: the location of shops, schools, municipal buildings, health centres and how to use public transport.
Municipalities provide housing for resettled refugees. During the three-year integration program refugees are entitled to financial aid and rent payments for housing.
The Federal Government of Germany defines the policies implemented by the federal provinces. The Federal Bureau for Migration and Refugees is responsible for immigration, integration and asylum. The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is responsible for the employment of migrants and refugees.
Municipal Integration Program
In the Netherlands, municipalities are obliged to offer refugees a one or two-year integration program consisting of language courses, acquaintance with Dutch society and vocational training.
Municipalities that have received refugees for resettlement provide them with independent housing. Refugees cannot choose where to live if they want to take advantage of social housing.
CIS Integration Program
The CIS Integration Program aims to provide guidance and adaptation services, services to provide support for the accommodation and long-term integration of newcomers and help them contribute to Canada’s economic, social, cultural and civilian development, as well as to encourage local people to join in the creation of hospitable communities for newcomers.
MY WAY Program
Women refugee employment in Canada
MYWAY is a nine-month employment program designed for immigrant and refugee women between the ages of 18 to 30 who live in the Saskatoon community. This program consists of a six-month classroom portion followed by a 12-week work placement. The work placement is intended to give participants real Canadian work experience, provide networking opportunities, and allow them to gain Canadian employment references. Participants are placed based on their skills, abilities, education, English proficiency, past work experience, and area of interest. Formal feedback is given by the participants during the final week of the program in the form of a comprehensive questionnaire and group discussions. During the course of the program, feedback from participants is encouraged at all stages through group discussions and private conversations. Staff find the feedback given by program participants extremely valuable and attempts are made to adjust the program as necessary to ensure that they are getting the most out of the program.