MPI Europe report explores the promise of resettling refugees in small and rural communities, drawing on experiences in four countries to highlight opportunities and challenges
BRUSSELS — The COVID-19 pandemic has brought ambitious plans for refugee resettlement in Europe to a near halt. When resettlement resumes, small and rural communities could play an important role in ensuring its sustainability. Although most refugee and migrant populations are concentrated in urban centers, policymakers seeking to alleviate housing bottlenecks and public service strains in major cities increasingly are looking to the potential of "rural welcoming" efforts.
Resettlement to rural areas holds promise for both refugees and receiving communities. It can lead to the sustainable integration of refugees into close-knit networks and the development of strengthened infrastructure and public services. It also may contribute to the social and economic revitalization of aging communities—if woven into a coherent strategy of local development. Yet for these opportunities to materialize, it is necessary to prevent and address the potential challenges refugee resettlement may pose, especially for underfunded, remote and less diverse communities.
A new MPI Europe report, Building Welcome from the Ground up: European Small and Rural Communities Engaging in Refugee Resettlement, examines rural resettlement from the perspective of refugees and receiving communities in Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden. Drawing on nearly 60 interviews with local authorities, service providers, volunteers and resettled refugees, the report outlines best practices for national and local authorities seeking to effectively integrate newcomers while supporting existing residents.
The authors conclude that the success of integration efforts depends on the implementation of carefully planned interventions that take into account the resources and gaps of the small and rural communities where resettlement is planned. As these communities are not monolithic, the details and implications of these interventions vary according to the characteristics of the region. Nonetheless, the authors identify a few overarching recommendations, including:
- Kickstarting refugee integration before arrival: Providing refugees information on their destination via pre-departure orientation programs may help ground expectations and prepare them for their new life. Models that facilitate personalized contact with local stakeholders, authorities and former refugees may help galvanize the transition.
- Preparing receiving communities and service providers: Particularly for communities unaccustomed to diversity, proactive measures aimed to inform local residents, public institutions and service providers about the objectives of the resettlement program and the profiles of new arrivals may help prevent tensions and build local capacity for support.
- Encouraging sustained interactions between newcomers and other residents: Leveraging existing social infrastructure, such as sports associations or religious organizations, may foster more organic, long-term connections between newcomers and residents.
- Weaving refugee resettlement into long-term development: Approaching refugee resettlement and rural development as inter-related policy areas might help bolster public services and infrastructure projects that serve the entire community. Regional, national or international networks may be particularly useful in pooling resources and supporting intersectional policy action.
The report, commissioned as part of the European Union Action on Facilitating Resettlement and Refugee Admission through New Knowledge (EU-FRANK) project, can be read here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/european-small-rural-communities-refugee-resettlement.
The EU-FRANK project is financed by the European Asylum Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and led by the Swedish Migration Agency. Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland are partner countries. For more on the project, click here.