Prepared and Edited by Mila Stanković, Belgrade Centre for Human Rights Associate

The European Commission has presented the new EU Action Plan on Inclusion and Integration (2021-2027). The current Action Plan proposes concrete actions, gives guidance and delineates funding for initiatives meant to bring inclusion for all.

The responsibility for the policy of integration of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers rests primarily with the EU Member States. The Community has established numerous measures encouraging and supporting national and local authorities, as well as civil society, in their efforts to promote integration.

Estimates are that around a quarter of the migrants are highly educated while, at the same time, nearly a fifth of them have only primary education and are in need of additional support. Furthermore, migrants and EU citizens with a migrant background play a key role in the European economy and society. The COVID-19 crisis has made their contribution all the more evident. Many helped address the crisis as workers in essential services, doctors and nurses. It is therefore not only a moral duty in line with the EU’s fundamental values, but also an economic imperative to step up action in promoting integration and inclusion. As shown by recent research, fully integrating migrants into the labour market could generate large economic gains.

Migrants are often part of various forms of socialisation in the diaspora communities in the EU Member States. Diaspora can play a critical role to support inclusion in host societies, contribute to investments, innovation and development, while also preserving relationship with countries of origin.   The Action Plan takes into account the different situation of migrant populations in Member States and supports Member States and other relevant stakeholders in finding the adequate response in their integration and inclusion policies. It builds upon, among other things, the achievements of the 2016 Commission action plan on the integration of third-country nationals.

Lessons learnt from the 2016 action plan on integration and key facts and figures on integration and inclusion. In many Member States, the action plan contributed to the development or review of national integration strategies and provided information on the use of funding for integration. In a number of cases, tailor-made technical support was provided to national authorities in designing and implementing integration policy reforms However, persisting challenges in relation to employment, education, access to basic services and to the social inclusion of migrants demonstrate that additional action is needed.

As there is generally a shortage of basic services in many rural areas, migrants may also lack the specific support services that they need. Moreover, the implementation of the 2016 action plan confirmed that, while the areas targeted by the action plan remain relevant, stronger action is needed to promote the integration of migrant women, to foster the inclusion of EU citizens with a migrant background, to better involve the host society in integration and inclusion policies and to strengthen monitoring and evaluation of these policies. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on migrants and EU citizens with a migrant background has also highlighted the need to increase action to facilitate their access to healthcare services. These are among the key principles and values of the EU Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion. This is true across the full range of EU inclusion policies, as set out by the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Key principles and values of the EU action plan on integration and inclusion

Inclusion for all

Actions to help migrants integrate need not, and should not, be at the expense of measures to benefit other vulnerable or disadvantaged groups or minorities. This action plan promotes an integrated approach to the migrants’ inclusion and aims to create close synergies with existing and upcoming EU strategies to foster equality and social cohesion to ensure everyone is fully included and participates in European societies. In particular, it will be implemented in close interaction with the forthcoming action plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights and the EU’s anti-racism action plan.

Targeted support where needed

Newly arrived migrants often face a number of challenges when integrating into European societies. Within each policy area, policymakers should design targeted and tailored support mechanisms to help newcomers quickly integrate. Member States under migratory pressure face additional challenges in developing or expanding such targeted measures and should in particular be supported.

Mainstreaming gender and anti-discrimination priorities

This action plan will take into account the combination of personal characteristics, such as gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation and disability that can represent specific challenges for migrants. In particular, migrant women and girls face additional obstacles to integration compared to migrant men and boys.

Support at all stages of the integration process

The successful integration of migrants depends both on early action and long-term investment. Providing support to migrants and their receiving communities at the earliest possible moment in the migration process is essential. At the same time, integration does not stop after a defined period of time. The proposed Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 takes into account the need for investments along the whole integration pathway.

Actions in main sectoral areas

  • Education and training – The main focuses in this area are on increasing migrant children’s participation in education; equipping the teachers with the necessary skills and resources to teach in multicultural and multilingual classrooms; facilitating the recognition of qualifications acquired in non-EU countries; and, greater migrant participation in in language and civic orientation courses.
  • Employment – The main objectives in this area include greater cooperation at EU, national and local level between key labour market actors and the migrants themselves; easier access of migrant entrepreneurs to financing; greater participation of migrant women in the labour market; more effective and faster assessment of migrants’ skills.
  • Health – The main objectives include informing migrants about their rights and ensuring that they have equal access to regular health care services, including mental health services; consideration of specific challenges faced by migrant women, including prenatal and post-natal healthcare for mothers.
  • Housing – The main objectives include provision of access to adequate and affordable housing, including social housing; fighting discrimination on the housing market; application of innovative housing solutions fostering inclusion and fighting segregation across the EU.

Actions supporting effective integration and inclusion in all sectoral areas

  • Building strong partnerships for a more effective integration process – The main objectives in this area include empowering and enabling all the relevant stakeholders to contribute to the integration process; building multi-stakeholder partnerships at EU national, regional and local level; and, creating room for structural and open dialogue.
  • Increased opportunities for EU funding under the 2021-2027 Multi-annual Financial Framework – Funding for integration remains prioritised by Member States under the EU funds contributing to integration. The other main objectives include facilitating access to funding for the key stakeholders, including local and regional authorities, and more common use of innovative instruments for funding integration activities.
  • Fostering participation and encounters with the host society – The main goals in this area include increasing the participation of migrants and EU citizens with a migrant background in consultative and decision-making processes at local, regional, national and European levels; provision of increased opportunities for encounters and exchanges between migrants, EU citizens with a migrant background and local communities, including through art, culture, sport and social life in general; ensuring migrant women have equal opportunities for participation in society; ensuring more Europeans are well-informed on integration and migration.
  • Enhance the use of new technologies and digital tools for integration and inclusion – The objectives include integration of digital integration services in integration programmes; ensuring migrants and EU citizens with a migrant background have the digital skills to fully benefit from online services; designing digital public services in co-creation with citizens, including migrants.
  • Monitoring progress – Monitoring can be improved by involving the national authorities and key stakeholders in the process; a more widely present evidence-based debate in the field of integration; and, improving the availability of data and knowledge on integration at EU, national and sub-national level.