How could we effectively use technology and social media in order to support the integration of refugees in the labour market? This was the main question addressed during the EU Policy Lab expert workshop on Technology and refugee integration on 13th December in Brussels.

Technology is not a silver bullet to solve integration challenges and its potential is yet to be realised. The multiple tech responses to refugees’ needs that emerged in the past two years have however underlined the need to rethink some of the taken-for-granted ideas about integration policies and practices: the importance of speed, reactiveness and the power of community-led initiatives. There is a lot of excitement and energy in this movement of highly committed individuals and communities, many relatively new to the topic. At the same time, a number of issues still need to be properly assessed and tackled. There is some tension between the drive to quickly innovate and experiment with new tools and the fact that asylum seekers and refugees are a special group of technology users who need special protection measures. They are vulnerable and their personal data are very sensitive.

Despite the high public interest, the tech community engaged in refugee integration faces challenges of funding, organisation and duplication. Better coordination and stronger links among the main actors (refugees, public authorities, research and the private sector) are needed to address these challenges and to make the initiatives effective and sustainable in the long-term. For the European Commission, this is a new topic. The workshop contributed to raising awareness and opening discussion on what the EU could do to support social and technological innovation in refugee integration.

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Group discussion

The workshop brought together 54 participants representing local public authorities, tech entrepreneurs and volunteers, NGOs, researchers, people with refugee experience active in the field and Commission policy makers and scientists to discuss how to make the best use of current technologies and what could be done to support and scale-up successful initiatives.

We kicked off the day with the presentation by Meghan Benton (Migration Policy Institute) of a recent report “Digital Humanitarianism: How Tech Entrepreneurs are Supporting Refugee Integration”. This was followed by comments of Joséphine Goube (Techfugees) and Laurent Aujean’s (DG HOME) reflection on the Commission’s Action Plan on the Integration of Third-Country Nationals (including asylum seekers and refugees).

In the first more participatory session of the day, the role of technology in five main areas put forward by the organising team was discussed in small groups:

  1. Securing refugee access to education and training
  2. Making it easier for employers to provide decent jobs for refugees and for refugees to access these jobs
  3. Stimulating innovation in the delivery of public services to refugees and local communities
  4. Empowering refugees to support themselves and to become entrepreneurs
  5. Supporting existing civil society organisations
Presentation of ideas

Presentation of ideas

After identifying specific challenges under each area (among others: changing the ‘refugee’ narrative, addressing mental health issues or inclusive community-building) the participants regrouped to address a challenge of their choice. They mapped areas for collaboration among different stakeholders and suggested initial ideas for future actions. This type of interaction fostered solution-oriented discussion and interesting ideas were proposed, e.g.:

–  devising a system of impact measurement for tech-driven labour-market integration initiatives by using the “minimum viable product” technique in a coordinated way

– scaling-up participatory approach (i.e. involving refugee researchers, service providers and local communities) to build ICT-based multilingual mental health support for refugees and use the data generated this way to deepen our understanding of the relationship between addressing trauma and successful labour-market integration

– employing technological innovation and easy to access funding to support locally-driven socially inclusive initiatives with the goal of empowering both the locals and refugees to work together as equals in building good places to live in for all

This was a first meeting of its kind organised by the Commission and it received a lot of positive reactions. Although the Commission had not presented a follow-up plan in advance, there have been several proposals for next steps. We are currently exploring different options to ensure a follow-up on those ideas that would justify Commission involvement and will be posting here about the outcomes.

Feel free to get in touch if you want to know more about the event and the next steps: alice.szczepanikova@ec.europa.eu. A short video about the day will be released soon.

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