Integration Support for Refugees and Asylum Seekers through shelter and cash assistance
Submitted by: Desislava Petkova, Program Manager, Caritas Sofia
Email: [email protected]
Introduction to the project
January 2018 - December 2018
This program delivered comprehensive assistance in support of the integration of refugees and asylum seekers through housing, cash and case management.
The project offered a holistic approach so that asylum seekers and refugees (beneficiaries) were able to access a combination of services especially shelter, cash and case management, to facilitate beneficiaries’ successful integration. The project aimed to promote integration and self-reliance, reduce pressure on host countries, and change social perceptions on refugees and asylum seekers.
This project included many innovations which since then have informed NGO and other actors’ integration strategies in Bulgaria and in other European countries:
- Advocating for accommodation outside camps and reception centers for asylum seekers, while their application is being processed (collaborative effort with other humanitarian actors).
- Substituting humanitarian aid by cash grants so that beneficiaries are able to prioritise their needs, and decide how they would like to meet them,
- Providing a diversified package of integration services. Shelter/ Private accommodation for refugees willing to settle in Bulgaria, and short-term accommodation (in hotels) for Dublin returnees (under the stipulation of the Dublin regulation asylum seekers and refugees within the EU are returned to the member state where the application has been initiated) and camp residents (once international protection status is granted, asylum seekers have 14 days to find accommodation).
- Cash assistance for beneficiaries to meet their essential needs in an independent and dignified manner, and case management for refugees and asylum seekers to learn how to access the services they need.
Coordination with other actors to promote asylum seekers’ access to private accommodation instead of being accommodated in camps and asylum centers.
Establish coordination mechanism among NGOs to facilitate communication and relations among property owners and refugees. Interdisciplinary meetings are held to discuss the more urgent cases.
Learning from the 2017 DFID pilot implemented by Caritas Sofia to provide safe and dignified urban housing. Lessons learned were integrated in this project especially regarding the exit strategy.
Video from first pilot in 2017 within the DFID program (Helping Refugees Integrate into Society: Spotlight from Bulgaria)
- Catholic Relief Services (CRS)
- Caritas Graz
- Private sector with corporative social responsibility as Experian and TELUS
- Ministry of Internal Affairs
- Migration Directorate
- State Agency for refugees
- Regional Inspectorate of Education / Ministry of Education
- H. Stepic CEE Charity
Challenges and how they were overcome
Key programmatic and socioeconomic challenges:
- High needs and limited resources made beneficiary selection difficult.
- Uncertainties in the legal and social situation of the refugees and asylum seekers (will they stay or want to leave Bulgaria? Will they be granted a refugee status?).
- Beneficiaries often lack the proper documentation and resources to rent a house. Not speaking the local language nor knowing how to navigate the employment system, as well as lacking social network prevent them from finding a job.
- Landlords are unwilling to rent to foreigners.
- There is limited public assistance available for refugees and asylum seekers.
- Asylum seekers are not allowed to open a bank account. Without bank accounts, asylum seekers are not able to start a job.
The challenges were overcome through:
- Defining clear selection criteria for shelter and cash assistance, in collaboration with all relevant partners. Selection criteria were shared with refugees and asylum seekers through accountability mechanisms, so that they understand why some families and individuals were selected and others not.
- Developing specific framework for case management. Shelter/cash assistance was integrated in this framework.
- Leveraging Caritas Sofia’ reputation to promote credibility and build trust between house owners and beneficiaries. Building this relationship was an essential step in making the program work through developing sustainable relationships and facilitating communication and responsibility from both parts.
- Arranging emergency accommodation with local hostels to host Dublin II returnees and camp residents. Through demonstrating we were able to efficiently organize shelter assistance under short notice, we gained the space to advocate for sustainable shelter solutions.
- Providing gift card vouchers allowing beneficiaries to buy services at POS terminals. This allowed beneficiaries to meet their needs, while feeling welcome in Bulgaria and contributing to the local economy (multiplier effect).
Results of the Good Practice
- Cash grants allowed refugees and asylum seekers to meet their diversified needs in a dignified manner, while effectively contributing to the local economy and providing opportunities for project participants to engage with local population.
- The comprehensive case-management, self-reliance and self-empowerment plan including Bulgarian classes, job search, case management and access to public services, supported the broader integration strategy allowing Caritas Sofia to monitor progress and adjust as needed.
- 13 out of 20 households who benefited from tailored services stayed in the same apartment 6 months after the assistance ended (assess through post assistance monitoring). These households also reported increased capability to engage with landlords and neighbours.
How the project meets the GCR Objectives
Objective 1: Ease the pressures on host countries
The objective of this initiative was to pilot approaches which facilitate the early integration of refugees and asylum seekers in Bulgaria while reducing pressure on the host country and also limiting the risk for dependency on external assistance. The project included the provision of assistance for six months. During these six months, asylum seekers and refugees had time to settle, learn the local language, find jobs, enroll their children in kindergarten or school, and set up a social network. As higher level impact, this project aimed to change the local perspective on refugees and asylum seekers, showing that refugees and asylum seekers could also contributed to the local economy – through shelter and cash assistance. It also opened the door for constructive relationships between Bulgarian landlords and neighbours, and asylum seekers and refugees. Refugees and asylum seekers had many opportunities to engage with local people, through renting accommodations in communal buildings, but also going to the local grocery store, the local school, hospital, kindergarten and through participating in activities in their neighbourhood. During this project, Caritas Sofia witnessed visible changes, albeit sometimes with baby steps. The success of this project encouraged us to expand our services.
Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance
As mentioned above, assistance was provided for 6 months only. The objective was to reduce dependency on external assistance and encourage refugees and asylum seekers to take active steps towards in their own integration. For example, progressively phasing out rental assistance with reduced contributions at months 4, 5, and 6 allowed beneficiaries to slowly take full responsibility for their accommodation. In order to facilitate this process, the project helped families understand the property market and how to access public services in Bulgaria. It gave them a suitable time to adjust and gradually become self-reliant. This gradual approach was not included in the initial pilot but it deemed crucial to the success of the project. Six months after the end of the shelter assistance, most families were still in their apartment. This Housing program succeeded in providing sustainable solutions and preventing/reducing the risk for asylum seekers and refugees to become homeless when they are no more eligible for humanitarian assistance.
The underlining strategy highlighted in the project was continued through a follow up phase. The package of services provided through this project was adapted to meet refugees and asylum seekers’ needs.