Building Welcome from the Ground up: European Small and Rural Communities Engaging in Refugee Resettlement
Immigration to EU countries is largely an urban phenomenon, but small and rural communities have in recent years been more active in welcoming newcomers—including resettled refugees. This has sparked considerable interest in the idea of “rural welcoming,” but gaps remain in understanding how to make the most of resettlement to such localities, to the benefit of both refugees and receiving communities.
While Europe’s small and rural areas vary considerably in their economic and social characteristics, shaping the context in which resettlement occurs, this study identifies some important commonalities. It draws its findings from interviews with resettled refugees, local officials, public service providers, and representatives of civil society in receiving communities that were selected for their small size, rural nature, and because they are situated within countries with varying levels of resettlement experience (Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden).
This research sheds light on both opportunities and challenges for small receiving communities and the refugees who are resettled there. For refugees, these can include receiving more individualized support, though specialized services may not always be available, and the potential to form strong relationships with neighbors in what are often tight-knit communities, though these same community networks can sometimes be challenging to become part of. For receiving communities, resettlement may be able to support local businesses and social revitalization, but as the number of refugees they receive is often modest, they may need to fold resettlement into a broader approach to local development to have the desired impact.
A number of policy approaches can help countries and communities seize these opportunities and overcome the challenges. These include adjusting the predeparture orientation refugees receive before resettlement to include discussion of what life is like in the destination country's small towns and rural areas as well as its cities; supporting receiving communities as they prepare for refugees’ arrival and refugees as they work toward long-term integration; and weaving resettlement into local development strategies.
This report was written as part of the European Union Action on Facilitating Resettlement and Refugee Admission through New Knowledge (EU-FRANK) project, which is financed by the European Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund (AMIF) and led by Sweden. Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland are partner countries. More MPI Europe research for the EU-FRANK project can be found on this series page.
2 Refugee Pathways to Small and Rural Communities in Europe
3 Challenges and Opportunities for Resettled Refugees and Receiving Communities
A. Opportunities and Challenges for Resettled Refugees
B. Opportunities and Challenges for Small and Rural Communities
4 Promising Policy Approaches for Sustainable Resettlement
A. Kickstarting Refugee Integration before Arrival
B. Preparing Receiving Communities and Service Providers
C. Encouraging Sustained and Meaningful Interactions
D. Supporting Refugees’ Long-Term Integration
E. Weaving Refugee Resettlement into Local Development