The Importance of Refugee Integration
by Lord Alex Carlile CBE KC, Chair of The Commission on the Integration of Refugees
November 28, 2022
Today marks the launch of the Commission on the Integration of Refugees, an independent commission that aims to improve the integration of refugees. Our 23 commissioners are striving for a society where everyone, including refugees, feels welcome and part of a strong, cohesive community. As chair of the Commission, I’m honoured to be taking part in a project which aims to have real impact on the lives of thousands of people in the UK – both refugees and host communities.
It’s not exactly a controversial statement to say that the refugee and asylum system in the UK is broken. Almost everyone agrees, from the current government to the voluntary sector, not to mention refugees and asylum seekers themselves. Asylum waiting times and backlogs are longer than they’ve ever been. Living conditions for people in the asylum system can be appalling, while resettled refugees frequently struggle to get the support they need to build a new life here. Refugees are less likely to be employed than the rest of the population and more likely to be in low paid work. And unaccompanied children seeking safety here in the UK are often not given the protection that all children deserve.
© UNHCR/Andrew McConnell
Meanwhile, public opinion on refugees and asylum seekers is fierce and polarising, stalling serious efforts to think up new ways to improve the system. It’s for this reason that we established the Commission. And if there is one thing all the commissioners agree on, it’s that policies designed to enhance the integration of refugees have been sorely neglected by successive governments for the last 25 years.
This has been the main finding of the Commission’s first publication, ‘A Broken System? Asylum Reform Initiatives 1997-2022‘, produced in collaboration with the Good Faith Partnership and published today. This review of government policy on refugees and asylum since 1997 highlights how the British government has consistently seen policy to enhance the integration of refugees as less important than policy around migration management.
Refugees and our communities are suffering because of this lack of attention on integration. It’s one of the reasons why public debate around refugees and asylum seeker has become so polarising. With public and political attention focusing solely on securing our borders and managing the total number of people coming in and out of the UK, it’s easy to lose sight of the social, humane and economic need to ensure those who arrive seeking protection here can become active and empowered members of society. But it’s precisely this focus that gives me optimism about the Commission’s work.
The Commission will collect evidence from across the UK over the next 12 months. This work will include a number of local engagement hearings, the first of which is taking place in Birmingham today. These hearings will be a chance for the commissioners to get to grips with the challenges and opportunities thrown open by local experiences of integration. We know that integration can mean different things to different people, but what’s certain is that it means an openness to making adjustments – both for those arriving here as refugees and those welcoming them to their communities.
My parents were refugees. They survived Nazi persecution in Poland and were able to get to the UK, where they built a very good life for us. It is now my privilege to do my bit as Chair of this Commission to try to improve the refugee and asylum system today, and create a positive experience for both those in need of our protection and those welcoming them here.
Read the Commission’s first publication now for more information.