The BSPC Working Group on Migration and Integration held its second meeting on the premises of the Swedish Parliament on 19 March. Delegations from the Baltic Assembly, Nordic Council, Åland, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hamburg, Latvia, Lithuania, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Norway, Poland, Schleswig-Holstein and Sweden participated in the meeting. The new Chairman of the Working Group Hans Wallmark, Member of the Swedish Parliament and of the Nordic Council Presidium, also gave the participants a profound insight into the work of the Swedish Parliament.
The Working Group discussed in its first meeting common questions to be sent by each delegation to their respective governments. This way, the Working Group wants to obtain a better overview and results regarding the situation in the whole region, learn from best practice examples and develop proposals to improve cooperation in the integration of migrants. BSPC Vice-President and WG Vice-Chair Ms. Carola Veit – who had summarized the questions and developed a list to be sent to the respective governments as homework assignments – informed the group at the beginning of the meeting on the preliminary results of the survey of the WG and the first answers of the governments.
By the time of the meeting in Stockholm, the survey had been answered by the governments of Åland, Denmark, Hamburg, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden.
Carola Veit briefed the WG about first reactions which included detailed answers.
A comprehensive comparison of the responses received will be submitted to the next meeting of the WG in Copenhagen.
The meeting was provided with a number of very informative expert presentations and had a lively discussion with the experts.
Mr Bernd Hemingway, Deputy Director-General of the CBSS Secretariat, reminded his audience that migration was back on the agenda of the Council of the Baltic Sea States with the ministerial declarations of Warsaw and Reykjavík. These had been basically a reaction to the events of 2015. This focused more on the topic of refugees rather than migration governance. He pointed out that migration fits into all long-term regional priorities of the CBSS, because migration in itself is a horizontal policy area. Migration is also related to security management, it is part of social politics, of education politics, of health politics, of foreign affairs regarding migration flows and part of development cooperation and many other areas. He noted that this led to the disadvantage that migration policy often has no specific home. In governments, it is most commonly the responsibility of the ministries of the interior. For the CBSS, it is important that the migration area should not be left in the hands of populist politicians. Furthermore, Mr Hemingway referred to a couple of activities by the CBSS in this policy area and to the results and recommendations by the soft security conference in Helsinki. He especially mentioned the recommendation to implement one-stop shops where migrants are able to receive all necessary services in one place.
Mr Marco Roman Loi and Mr Björn Bergström, specialists at the International Affairs Department of the Swedish Migration Agency, gave detailed information on the development of migration. In addition, they spoke about the numbers of asylum seekers from 2010 to the present day in Sweden and the shares of the individual countries of origin as well as migrant labourers, approved work permit applications and guest students.
Mr Per Aldskogius from the Swedish Ministry of Employment informed the Working Group on the reception and integration of newly arrived immigrants in Sweden. He underlined the principles of the Swedish migration policy. The goal is to ensure equal rights, obligations and opportunities for all, irrespective of their ethnic and cultural background. The reception of newly arrived refugees is a shared responsibility on a national, regional and local level. The policy objective is work, education or training normally within two years after the issuing of a residence permit during the introduction programme. These objectives are to be achieved primarily through general policy measures, supplemented by targeted support for the introduction of newcomers.
In his presentation, Mr Aldskogius pointed out both the main challenges and opportunities. He mentioned as main challenges: prolonged waiting times; a lack of housing – uneven reception and settlement between different regions and municipalities -; insufficient capacities in society, e.g. a lack of teachers and interpreters; an early and efficient access to the labour market and education for those granted asylum and, finally, increased segregation. He highlighted as opportunities: a strong economy; a high employment rate and relatively low unemployment; a high demand for labour meets a labour shortage in many professions: many newly arrived migrants are young and well educated; job opportunities are good.
Mr Aldskogius also informed the Working Group about the main integration measures between 2016 and 2018 in Sweden, specifically: increased state funding to municipalities; a new reimbursement system for reception of unaccompanied minors; early measures for asylum seekers; a new law forcing all municipalities to settle migrants granted asylum; several new initiatives in labour market policy, e.g. fast tracks, employment support as well as several new initiatives in most policy areas, e.g. education, social and housing policy. Mr Aldskogius further briefed the WG about a 2-year introduction programme for new arrivals, coordinated by the Public Employment Service, including an individual introduction plan, based on the person’s needs and previous experience. As part of this programme, he noted that the Public Employment Service and the social partners were also implementing tailor-made “fast tracks” for occupations with labour shortages. He pointed out that this was a new concept created in close collaboration with employers. It included tripartite talks with the social partners, the Public Employment Service and other relevant government agencies regarding the employer’s needs, validation of skills, vocational training and work. The first fast track had been presented in 2015, creating opportunities for chefs, and extended to fast tracks in 14 industries by October 2017.
Mr Arion Chryssafis, Deputy Mayor for Social Services of the Solna municipality in northern Stockholm, reported on the special situation in Solna. This was characterized by 35 percent foreign-born adult residents. 98 percent of the population lived in flats, a typical suburb with the resulting challenges. The history of Solna, he said, had been shaped by high unemployment, social problems and high costs for social benefit.
Today, it was a city with low taxes, a good economy and known for being business-friendly etc. Mr Chryssafis informed the Working Group about the ‘Solna Model’ including systematic efforts to assist Solna residents on income support to become self-sufficient through work, self-employment or studies. The ‘Solna Model’ was characterised by good cooperation with the local enterprises, good knowledge of each participants’ experiences and by further efforts to find a way into the labour market, and it was seen as a model allowing the municipality to fight unemployment, especially among young people.
He mentioned as success factors of the ‘Solna Model’: coaching – “Identify and overcome all obstacles on the way to get a job” -; training; good relations with local and regional employers; education; matching employers and employees as well as the speed of delivery of workforce. He noted that Solna was affected by the refugee flow in the short term since temporary housing was needed – there was limited housing space available –, the demand for more and new municipal services and increased diversity. In the long-term, effects included changes in the work force as well as growing tax revenues and diversity. The reception for adults and families with residence permits allotted to Solna according to national/regional quota included housing, settlement support, civics orientation, Swedish for immigrants training, pre-school and school education as well as social services support if needed.
Those moving to Solna on their own received Swedish for immigrants training, civics orientation, pre-school and school education as well as support by social services if needed. Mr Chryssafis considered as main challenges the very long, often inactive, asylum process period – affecting the motivation and well-being of asylum seekers – as well as the severe lack of housing in the Stockholm region. Further obstacles to overcome were the involvement of a large number of authorities and stakeholders where smooth collaboration was needed, where temporary solutions were required as well as strategies on how to move from temporary to permanent housing. He added that employment measures during the first two years should be seen as a national responsibility rather than a municipal task, that it was difficult to organise efficient school education for newly arrived youths due to extreme variations in educational backgrounds and that temporary residence permits made it difficult to work with long-term integration initiatives.
Ms Lillemor Lindell from the Swedish Sports Confederation gave a very insightful presentation about the structure, funding and efforts of sports in Swedish society and how the field was handling integration.
In order to achieve an environment where everyone, regardless of age, gender, social class, religion, cultural and ethnical background etc., felt that they belonged, she pointed out the necessity of an intersectional perspective. She explained intersectionality as a theoretical idea and an analytical tool used to understand how different norms and power structures together create inequality, discrimination and oppression. She also highlighted sports as a way toward inclusion, enveloping people in the community. She provided detailed insight into the lessons so far and also spoke
about ASPIRE, an international collaborative project co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union, seeking to find out how to best support migrants and refugees, building on the wide popularity of sports and other forms of physical activity. ASPIRE could serve as a pioneer in the long-term perspective, offering a positive, evidence-based response with the help of sports to the many problems of inclusion related to the current migrant and refugee crises, during and after the settlement of migrants and refugees with regard to facilitating the access of refugees to social services
All presentations are attached below.
During a tour of the Swedish Rigsdagshuset, the members of the Swedish Parliament Hans Wallmark and Pyry Niemi shared details of the parliamentary practice with the Working Group members.
Further procedure and next meeting
The Working Group agreed furthermore on the main contents of its Midway Report. In addition, initial recommendations for the 27th BSPC are to be worked out in the upcoming meeting.
The next meeting will take place in June in Copenhagen.