Measures to improve integration in the Nordics
5 Oct 2021
If you are a young refugee living in the Nordic countries, the chances are high that you have poorer physical and mental health, lower education and are more unemployed than the majority population. The researchers behind a large Nordic study have identified significant inequalities within as well as across the Nordic countries and some of the factors that seem to have an impact.
– Early intervention with language teaching in the Nordic language, high-quality education, interaction with peers in the majority population and psychosocial support from arrival and onwards seem to be important for young refugees’ further life trajectories in terms of education, labor market attachment and well-being, says professor Allan Krasnik.
Krasnik has been the head of the research project Coming of Age in Exile (CAGE). For five years, he has led some twenty researchers in mapping and comparing the health and socio-economic status of young refugees in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
According to Krasnik and his colleague Signe Smith Jervelund, both affiliated with the University of Copenhagen, refugee children in all four countries had lower educational achievements and a more disadvantaged position during their later labour market trajectories than the native-born children, although with great variations within the group of refugees.
In addition, the research revealed that schools and teachers had varying, and sometimes insufficient, knowledge and competence to support young refugee students.
List of initiatives
Based on the findings from the research project, the researchers suggest the following measures:
- Start early with Nordic language training, high-quality education, interaction with peers in the majority population, supplemented with mental support.
- Have an inclusive approach to receiving newcomers that takes into account:
- A need for a focus on mental support on arrival, and introduction to health services and ongoing psychosocial support, especially for unaccompanied minors
- A need to focus on inclusion in schools – language, interaction with peers in the general population
- Focus on ensuring the completion of upper secondary /vocational school among refugees arriving as teenagers
- Introduction to the Nordic labor market culture, and focus on Nordic language skills (which are important for labor market affiliation)
- Improve diversity competence among professionals in the Nordic welfare institutions (both school teachers, social workers, health professionals, etc. in schools, health systems, municipalities) – experience can help, but systematic training of professionals is required.
In what way will these measures contribute to promoting integration in the Nordic region?
– Our hypotheses are that the level of education can be raised in this group, which will increase labor market attachment and general integration, including better well-being among young refugees, which in turn will reduce inequality in health and welfare in the Nordic countries, says Jervelund.
Restrictive asylum policy with negative consequences
Migration policies in the Nordic countries varies from country to country. Traditionally, Sweden has had the most liberal, while Denmark has pursued much more restrictive immigration and inclusion policies. The researchers have looked at whether this has consequences for how young refugees manage in the various countries.
Comparison between the four countries demonstrated that refugees in Denmark were disadvantaged in almost all education, labour market, and health indicators, both in comparison to the native-born population and similar groups of refugees in Finland, Norway and Sweden.
– This seems to suggest that immigration policy with the intention to send signals to potential asylum seekers outside of the country comes at a price for refugees that have already settled, says Jervelund.
In what way?
– Denmark has established a rather strict and segregated asylum system where you have to live in an asylum center with limited access to privacy, where you receive food in a canteen and cannot decide what you want to eat or give your children to eat, with limited school offers above primary school, and where it is difficult to get asylum and later a permanent residence permit. This may be partly responsible for our findings that those who obtain asylum in Denmark are lagging behind in terms of integration aspects compared to countries with an asylum system providing more inclusive policies for asylum seekers on arrival, such as Sweden.
Nordic welfare model for refugees
The Nordic countries have a number of common characteristics in the area of welfare. This is often referred to as the “Nordic welfare model”. Is there a common welfare model for young refugees as well, regardless of which country they live in?
– All four countries have comprehensive reception systems for asylum-seeking children, and refugee children and youth are formally granted access to education, labour market and healthcare on an equal footing with the citizens. A substantial welfare system is in place to assist refugee children and youth to catch up with their majority peers (e.g. reception classes, host language teaching, physical and mental health screening) in all four countries, but the rather decentralized Nordic welfare structures may leave many decisions to local authorities. In recent years, a workfare related view of employment has become more dominant in all four countries, with employment seen as a key to integration and a compulsory condition for long-term residency, says Krasnik.
Facts: The CAGE project
The CAGE project is unique in the Nordic context. Researchers from four Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden – and various disciplines have come together to research health, education and working life in a common approach.
Nordic health, educational and employment data has been central to the work in CAGE. This is data extracted from public registers, and the findings resulted from a strong base of register data analysis providing excellent opportunities for comparisons between the Nordic countries. Policy analyses and qualitative studies gave further insights in key mechanisms behind the quantitative results.