Executive summary of the Synthesis Report (D8.1.)

Executive summary of the Synthesis Report (D8.1.) by Agnieszka Trąbka, Marta Jadwiga Pietrusińska and Dominika Winogrodzka (SWPS University)

The project “EMpowerment through liquid Integration of Migrant Youth in vulnerable conditions” (MIMY) studies the integration processes of young migrants (aged 18-29) who are Third Country Nationals (TCNs) living in nine European countries: (England(UK), Germany, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania and Sweden). Acknowledging the role of locality, in each of these countries, the research was conducted in two localities: one bigger and urban, and one rural or peripheral and smaller. MIMY’s main research question may be formulated as follows: How can we support the integration processes of young migrants in vulnerable conditions in Europe?

In order to answer this question, the MIMY project used an innovative and comprehensive multi-method research design combining secondary data analysis with unique qualitative empirical insights. The quantitative methods, focused on the macro-structural level, enabled us to give an overview of the socio-economic conditions of the lives of TCNs in European countries. The qualitative methods were especially appropriate for understanding migrants’ perspective, to better explore meanings, capture complex relational contexts, and enable in-depth analysis of the vulnerability and resilience experiences of different subgroups of young migrants. All the results, including this report, are the basis of policy recommendations aimed at supporting the integration of young migrants in European countries.

Thus, our goal in this report is to synthesise the findings from different components of the MIMY project (work packages 1 to 7), and to draw conclusions regarding the integration of young migrants, including the factors facilitating and hindering this process. Specifically, we aim at integrating the voices of different social actors participating in the research, namely young migrants themselves, representatives of older generations of migrants, stakeholders and young non-migrants. Based on the interdisciplinary and multilevel research approach (macro, meso and micro levels), we have explored in-depth how vulnerability and resilience manifest in the lives of young migrants, how they and other social actors understand integration, and which factors foster and hinder integration, taking into account spatial and temporal dimensions.

The Key Findings may be summarised as follows:

  • Challenges such as financial insecurity; difficulties in navigating complex legal systems; lack of access to healthcare, education, and other services; housing problems; limited employment opportunities; or exposure to discrimination based on gender, country of origin or religion; can interact with each other in a way that amplifies migrants' vulnerable situations. The intersectional character of the above-mentioned macro, meso and micro factors puts young migrants in particularly vulnerable situations as they overlap and reinforce each other. The range of overlapping vulnerabilities that young migrants may face, especially at the beginning of their migration trajectory, negatively impacts their well-being, and, in consequence, hinder broadly understood opportunities.
  • Vulnerability is a complex and multi-dimensional phenomenon influenced by various intersecting factors, including the socio-political, cultural and familial context, that change over time. Many vulnerabilities that young migrants face stem from macro-structural factors, but they may be either exacerbated or mitigated by factors from meso and micro levels, such as family situation, social networks or personal characteristics. Thus, vulnerability is not a fixed and permanent state, but may change with time and context.
  • Experiences of vulnerability are gendered, and even if it is not the direct cause of vulnerability, gender seems to be the significant mediator in interaction with other factors, particularly with race, ethnicity, religion and family situation. For instance, young men (particularly from Africa and the Middle East) are more often perceived as aggressive, hostile and posing a threat by populist politicians and the media. As a result, they are exposed to even greater discrimination in the domain of housing, the labour market and social contacts. Young women, on the contrary, are often labelled as vulnerable “victims”. One of the most prominent vulnerabilities is their enclosure within the domestic sphere and limited opportunities for participating in education, the labour market and the public sphere in general.
  • Migration influences the temporal dynamics of young migrants’ transitions to adulthood. Generally, it disrupts this process, but its impact may differ depending on the circumstances. On the one hand, migration may accelerate transition to adulthood by imposing various challenges connected with independence and adult life. On the other – it may slow down transitioning by creating conditions of vulnerabilities that are connected with the prolonged waiting time for a decision on legal status or on international protection. Such episodes of limbo result in a sense of temporariness, uncertainty and inability to plan one’s life. At the same time, young age is perceived, particularly by the representatives of the older generation of migrants, as facilitating integration because of the assumed ability to learn faster and adjust to new circumstances, as well as freedom from obligations, such as familial.
  • Despite the challenging and complicated situation, young migrants resist labels associated with vulnerability. They do not want to be seen as weak or needing help, distancing themselves from the victimhood image. The rejection of the vulnerability label proves that they want to maintain a sense of agency and control over their own lives, being aware that vulnerability is a transient condition dependent on time, place, and context. Thus, they tend to use proactive strategies to turn risks and challenges into resilience.
  • The stories of young migrants show that resilience is a dynamic process that involves three interrelated capacities: short-term coping with current adversities; longer-term adapting through learning from past experiences, as well as adjusting to future challenges by applying preventive measures; and transforming one’s situation. Resilience is not a fixed trait, but rather something that can be developed and strengthened over time through experience and learning, shaped by various individual and contextual factors. Therefore, resilience can be an individual’s capacity to “bounce back” (return to the state from before the adversity) as well as “bounce forward” (adapt and grow as a result of the adversity).
  • When it comes to young migrants’ resilience, they rely heavily on their personal resources to navigate the challenges they face. These resources cover individual characteristics (like determination, having a strong sense of purpose and goals, self-esteem), skills useful on the migration path (such as flexibility, communication skills), as well as various coping strategies (e.g. taking up different activities). These personal resources are rooted in a relational milieu, which means they may be strengthened by the family, friendship, and community relations. The family provides young migrants with emotional, cognitive, and instrumental support, which, together with the personal resources, seem to be the core sources of young migrants' resilience. At the same time, young migrants deem structural resources insufficient. They are aware of the relevance of broader social and institutional sources of resilience, but they are critical of the lack or insufficiency of such support, as well as of lack of reliable information on the available support.
  • Integration should be analysed taking into account the local context. It is at the municipal or local level that young migrants interact with members of the host society, negotiate access to crucial resources such as work, housing, education and so on. At the same time, policies created both at the EU and national level are implemented locally. The locality itself is obviously shaped by various historical and socio-political factors, and thus it creates a unique constellation of factors fostering and hindering integration. These elements play out differently in larger cities and in smaller or more peripheral localities.
  • In the context of bigger urban localities, young migrants appreciate a well developed network of institutions and services, educational, professional and recreational opportunities. In smaller localities, on the contrary, it is their peacefulness and security, along with their compact and manageable size, making it easier to get oriented, that are reported as the main assets. When we add the temporal dimension to this analysis, we can see that migration history in a given locality, which is often connected with diversity, the presence of migrant communities and a denser network of services targeted at migrants, is perceived as factor fostering both a sense of belonging and integration.
  • Young migrants’ sense of belonging depends on a multitude of factors, including a sense of safety and stability; economic, educational and recreational mobility; but above all the quality of social relations in a locality. Here, friends and community support (especially migrant-to-migrant informal support) emerge as crucial.
  • Different forms of participation in a community, be it leisure activities, sport, cultural events, voluntary organisations or churches facilitate developing a sense of belonging. Across countries, young migrants name civil society organisations and clubs (mostly football) as places where they feel they belong and as safe spaces where they can “be themselves”. These informal sport and leisure activities provide participants with a sense of connectedness and agency, stemming from being an active member of a community and pursuing one’s interests.
  • However, in terms of their social relations, young migrants are more likely to interact with other migrants than with their non-migrant peers. Interviewees indicate that there are limited opportunities for non-migrants and migrants to meet and spend time together, which negatively impacts social cohesion and integration.
  • Analysing integration from the perspective of both discourse and practice, and taking into account the power relations interwoven in them is worthwhile, as it allows us to grasp discrepancies between these two perspectives. In the discursive dimension, integration is presented as a two-way process. In contrast, integration programmes and measures apply a rather one-way concept of integration. These criteria are produced on an international or national level, reinforced by general public discourse and implemented by local authorities and NGOs. The majority of these policies define what is considered as “integration success” and “integration failure”, thus they impose on migrants certain criteria they must fulfil to be seen as “integrated”. They also create the profiles of “welcome” or “deserving”, and “unwelcome” or “undeserving” migrants - those who deserve to stay and those who should be removed.
  • Crucially, the above discrepancy between the discourse and practice is reflected in assigning responsibility for the integration process. While in discourses promoting integration as a “two-way” process it is both migrants and host societies who share the responsibility for its outcomes, in practice this responsibility is shifted and lies primarily on migrants individuals, who are expected to fulfill the criteria of “being integrated”.
  • Such individualisation goes hand in hand with the neoliberalisation of integration, which makes migrants responsible for their integration process, and limits the influence of structural and communal factors. In this context, we speak about the responsibilisation of young migrants for integration, which is also reflected in how they speak about their resilience, based above all on personal resources.
  • Neither migrants nor non-migrant local communities are sufficiently included in the discussion of what integration is, how it should be implemented, by whom and what its goals and outcomes should be. This leads us to the conclusion that many young migrants - especially those who have access to social, economic and cultural capitals, and who are thus empowered to be more critical - might see integration as an oppressive social construct which “tells them how to live”.
  • There are almost no policies or measures targeted at young migrants in general. In the researched countries, targeted measures are most often intended for asylum seekers, migrants with different types of international protection (mainly refugees and unaccompanied minors), migrants with disabilities or female migrants. This inflexible catalogue of vulnerabilities does not sufficiently take into account that vulnerabilities are situational and intersecting. As a result, programs may not adequately address the needs of particular migrants if they do not fall into one of the categories of vulnerability. This lack of flexibility is perceived by those who implement policies and create integration programs, mostly within NGOs.