Integration programs


Integration is a mutual, gradual and multi-faceted process, with inter-related legal, socio-economic and cultural dimensions. Integration programmes require coordination, collaboration, and secure resources. There is no set prescription for effective integration, and integration programmes must be adapted over time to respond to deficiencies identified through experience and to changing needs and populations. States must be committed to providing the resources required to sustain their own resettlement programmes.

Resettlement should only begin once an adequately resourced basic integration programme with identified divisions of roles and responsibilities between partners is in place. It must be clear who will provide essential services, how they will be funded, and how refugees will access them.

Refugees require a wide range of services after they arrive, but at the same time they can contribute to existing programs going far beyond integration. To provide them, governments, municipalities, NGOs, volunteers, private sector organisations, members of receiving communities, and refugees themselves, need to work together in a participatory partnership and communicate regularly. A responsive and participatory institutional framework is vital to this effort. It requires sound decision-making arrangements, clear allocation of responsibilities, well planned distribution of resources, and the involvement of key partners (including refugees) in information-sharing, training and evaluation. When all stakeholders share their experience and practice, services and integration outcomes improve.

New partnerships with civil society representatives, schools, businesses, universities and the media can provide support for integration. At the local level, communities must be prepared to welcome and support resettled refugees. Refugee participation in the development, implementation and evaluation of integration programs helps to identify and address challenges.

Basic services can be adapted and focused, and new partners drawn in to deliver services. Similarly, mainstream services should also be adapted over time to reflect the changing character of the resettled refugees. While clearly, receiving countries have an important role in creating an environment for positive integration outcomes, it is important that there is scope for individual refugees to plan and follow their own integration pathways.

Sharing integration experiences and good practices among all resettlement partners and between resettlement States supports a deepening understanding of how to improve service delivery and integration outcomes. Feedback and consultation mechanisms that actively involve resettled refugees assist in identifying gaps in services and barriers to access.

Indicators of Integration Framework​

In 2019 UK Home Office launched the new Indicators of Integration Framework, with the aim of providing practical ways to design more effective refugee integration strategies, monitor services and evaluate integration interventions. For more information, see here and here.

Implementing integration in contrasting global settings

This section is concerned with how resettlement countries, in particular governments, understand integration and the choices they make in integration planning. While integration programs in different resettlement countries share many common features, they developed in very different political, social and economic contexts. In particular there are significant differences with regard to:

  • the availability of existing service and program infrastructure to support integration.
  • the extent to which grassroots organisations including those initiated by the diaspora are actively engaged in integration.
  • the level of economic capacity and political will to support integration.
  • the level of non-government and civil society involvement in planning and service delivery.
  • governmental structures and arrangements governing relationships between levels of government.

The diversity in conditions in resettlement countries has produced contrasting approaches to some key integration planning issues. These varied approaches provide a basis for resettlement countries to learn from one another.

Community sponsorship programs

Community sponsorship presents another model of integration. Most community sponsorship programs have been developed relatively recently. State practice is developing in three directions:

Sponsored resettlement: Sponsorship as a tool for reception and integration support for refugees who are referred by UNHCR for resettlement and matched with a sponsor.

Support for refugees admitted through complementary pathways: Sponsorship can also be used as a tool for reception and integration to support refugees who are admitted through a complementary pathway, such as education, employment or family reunification.

Named sponsorship: Sponsorship as a pathway allows communities, individuals or institutions to sponsor and support the entry and stay of named or nominated individuals. The short-hand way of labelling such programmes would be “named sponsorship”.

Funding arrangements for integration

Resettlement countries have a common goal of supporting refugees to achieve independence; to assume the same rights and responsibilities as nationals; and to have access to the same range and quality of services and programs.

In the early integration period, most refugees will require a period of targeted and more intensive support. Typically, this includes reception accommodation, case management, orientation and basic health care, as well as income support until resettled refugees become self-reliant.

Some countries provide this support through separate and special programs for refugees and immigrants. There has been increasing recognition, however, that integration is more likely to succeed if resettled refugees are assisted at the earliest possible stage through systems and networks in the receiving society that are also available to nationals.

In most resettlement countries, dedicated integration programs are time limited and are delivered in ways that facilitate resettled refugee’s early access to resources and systems in the community required for their long-term integration (such as permanent housing, employment, education).

Nevertheless, many resettlement countries recognise that resettled refugees will have some specific needs extending beyond the early integration phase, and which are unlikely to be met by services provided to nationals (e.g., language training, psychosocial support).

Such programs are generally funded (though not necessarily implemented) by national governments. Most national governments will also invest funding and effort to build the capacity of the receiving community and various levels of government (i.e., municipalities) to support integration of resettled refugees.

Some resettlement governments also provide funding to existing grassroots initiatives and other nongovernmental groups to strengthen their capacity to support newcomers.

Coordination and Partnerships

The roles of levels of government

While in most resettlement countries, refugee resettlement is the responsibility of central governments, in practice integration occurs at the local level. Moreover, many integration resources (such as housing and education) are commonly administered by other levels of government and in some cases, by non-governmental agencies. Hence, in most countries, integration is conceptualised as a shared responsibility of central and other levels of government. It is important that one institution at the central level maintain overall responsibility to ensure synergies and coordination.

The extent to which various levels of government are engaged in administering dedicated reception and income support programs differs from country to country.

New Scots: refugee integration strategy 2018 to 2022

The New Scots integration strategy aims to support refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland's communities. It is an excellent example of applying an evidence-based and participatory approach in its design and delivery. The outcomes and actions that the strategy seeks to deliver are grounded in an approach that places refugees and asylum seekers at the heart of the communities in which they reside. As such, it recognises that, for approaches to integration to succeed, they must be about working in and with local communities, as well as with refugees and asylum seekers. The New Scots strategy actively encourages refugees and asylum seekers to be involved in helping to shape the strategy and its delivery. The New Scots strategy has been developed collaboratively to coordinate the efforts of organisations and community groups across Scotland involved in supporting refugees and asylum seekers.

The role of the non-governmental sector

A significant feature distinguishing established integration programs is the extent to which the non-government and community sectors are engaged in refugee resettlement. In some countries, government assumes almost exclusive responsibility for all aspects of integration, while in others integration is seen as a partnership between government, non-governmental agencies and both refugee and wider communities.

The extent to which non-government organisations (NGOs) are formally engaged in the integration process varies from country to country. In some, they play supplementary or advisory roles. In others, such as the USA, nine NGOs (also called resettlement agencies) are contracted to implement key aspects of integration from the provision of reception services and early integration support, through to job placement and administering social support payments. While in some countries, volunteer and community support networks complement the role played by government, in others they are engaged through formal arrangements such as community sponsorship programs.

The advantages of taking a partnership approach

Governments have a pivotal role in integration and the primary responsibility for funding, coordinating and monitoring. Government involvement makes for more efficient and effective planning of those aspects of integration which transcend local communities (e.g. the development of national curricula for language training programs). Governments can also provide a framework for ensuring that there is a coherent and predictable approach to resettlement. Government support also communicates to resettled refugees that they are an important constituency and provides reassurance that they are welcome and valued.

Many NGOs and community groups have a wealth of expertise and knowledge in refugee resettlement and established networks and resources in the community. Their involvement can help to broaden awareness of refugee issues and build a base of political support for refugee resettlement, particularly given that many are linked with larger faith based constituencies. Being independent of government, NGOs and community groups can also play an advocacy role in relation to refugee resettlement and integration. In countries where government service provision is highly regulated, NGOs, volunteers and community support networks may be able to offer a more flexible response.

Expectations of early self-reliance

Economic self-reliance is a pivotal goal of integration. In some countries resettled refugees are expected to obtain employment very soon after arrival, with income support payments being available for only a limited time. In others, income support and other safety net services are available for longer.

Allied to the question of economic self-reliance are questions concerning the level of support resettled refugees require to integrate successfully. Very different approaches can be distinguished internationally regarding the role of intensive support in meeting longer term integration goals. In some countries, integration is largely the responsibility of resettled refugees themselves, being achieved primarily through the vehicle of economic self-reliance. In these countries very few specialised services are available to refugees following a brief initial reception phase.  In others, however, integration is thought to be best facilitated by offering resettled refugees relatively intensive support in the early resettlement period to overcome initial challenges and barriers.

  • From a planning perspective, it is important to clarify self-reliance goals, since they influence both the level of resources required for integration as well as how other critical components of an integration program are delivered.

Meaningful refugee participation

Any integration policy should seek to empower individuals and communities to promote change, enabling them to exercise their rights and obligations. Approaches and initiatives, ranging from consultation to partnerships and co-design should be promoted, in order to encourage individual agency, address barriers to participation, and support refugees as positive and proactive agents of change. Meaningful refugee participation is both a driver of integration and an outcome of well implemented integration strategies.

While refugee participation and leadership are essential in the development, implementation and evaluation of both refugees’ own individual resettlement and integration programs, meaningful participation stretches across all domains of life in the resettlement country. Refugees integrate themselves. The responsibility of the public, private and community sectors is to work alongside refugees as facilitators to create an environment in which people can be empowered.

Establishing a new integration program

This sub-section is concerned primarily with the processes and issues involved in planning the early phases of a new program.

Starting small and optimizing the conditions for success

The first years of operation of an integration program will be critical to its success. It is best to optimise the conditions for success by starting with a small and relatively homogenous caseload. It is also important that resettlement programs be closely monitored on an ongoing basis.

Laying sound foundations: a capacity building approach

Resettlement programs require coordination and collaboration. It is important that effort be invested at an early stage to ensure that sound coordinating infrastructures and processes are established; that co-operative relationships are fostered between players and that relevant personnel have opportunities to develop their expertise in integration program development and implementation. Similar effort will be needed at the local level to select and prepare communities for the placement of resettled refugees as these communities may have little prior experience of refugee resettlement.

Critical to the success of these efforts will be opportunities to bring people together to build relationships and identify and address issues.

These tasks require an investment of time, resources and expertise. It is fundamental to build relevant expertise at the governmental level or in non-governmental agencies.

Funding for such staff will usually need to be secured through intergovernmental, private or charitable organisations operating at the domestic or international levels. Countries with established resettlement programs might also be asked to share good practices on integration with a new and emerging resettlement country.

What steps are involved in establishing a new resettlement program?

While the steps in establishing an integration program will depend on the particular characteristics of the receiving country concerned, those typically involved are outlined here

What are the essential elements of an integration program?

Elements that are critical to the success of a new program are identified in this document. Issues requiring particular consideration in the planning stages are highlighted in more detail in relevant sections of this Handbook. A National Action Plan can assist new and emerging States in assessing their programs. A template can be found here.

The Integration of Resettled Refugees: Essentials for Establishing a Resettlement Programme and Fundamentals for Sustainable Resettlement Programmes

This link provides an overview of the essential elements a State must put in place in order to establish a resettlement programme, and the fundamentals that should be developed over the longer term to ensure that their resettlement programme is sustainable.


Learning from other refugee resettlement programs

Established resettlement programs have a wealth of experience which emerging resettlement countries can draw on. Other emerging resettlement countries may also be able to offer valuable input, particularly if they have comparable social and economic conditions or have faced similar planning issues.

However, each country is best placed to determine what will and what will not work in the local environment. To date countries of resettlement have shared their integration expertise and resources by offering:

  • secondments of experienced staff to serve as integration consultants or facilitators or to play monitoring or trouble-shooting roles;
  • training and professional development initiatives;
  • professional development resources (e.g. instructional manuals);
  • multilingual information for refugees;
  • background information on the different refugee caseloads;
  • site/study visits, conferences, technical/good practice exchanges and other training opportunities.

Welcome to Europe! A comprehensive guide to resettlement

This publication is a resource that illustrates how the different phases of resettlement ‘link’ together and outlies different programs in Europe.