How should refugees be housed? It’s one of the most pressing questions facing the towns and cities tasked with resettling refugees across the European Union. Critics argue that drawing from social housing stock to house refugees will create resentment, as locals feel that refugees and asylum seekers are unfairly “jumping the queue”.
So, what’s the solution? We recently heard from Bristol City Council in the UK, who say that they do not want refugees to take up social housing, and are instead relying on a network of private landlords. Could this approach work in other cities? Obviously, at a certain point such a scheme would be unsustainable. But if the programme was distributed across the European Union, could it offer a way forward?
In order to take a closer look at the local impact of the refugee crisis, we recently launched our ‘Cities & Refugees‘ project – aimed at fostering a Europe-wide dialogue between citizens, refugees and asylum seekers, NGOs, politicians, and European leaders. The emphasis will be on connecting local, everyday life at the city level to decisions made in Brussels and national capitals.
This week, we’re looking at Milan, Italy. In January 2016, the city of Milan announced that it would be paying a monthly stipend of 350 euros to every citizen willing to host a refugee or asylum seeker in their home. Families are then given a training course in how to host, and are interviewed by a psychologist to determine their suitability and compatibility with the person they could be hosting. The programme is currently a pilot scheme, being funded by the Italian government.
We had a comment sent in by Oot, who suggested that the cost of housing refugees should be covered by the European Union (which would mean a bigger budget for Brussels). But how would this housing ? Could the EU (or individual Member States) follow Milan’s example, and pay citizens to host refugees in their private homes?
To get a response, we spoke to Alberto Mossino, President of the Migrant Integration and Welcoming Project (PIAM), an Italian NGO working to support refugees and asylum seekers, including with housing issues. How would he respond?
There are two points to make on this issue. The first is that, when refugees arrive in Italy, the government normally puts them in a camp. Life in the camps is very, very hard. The quality of accommodation in the camps is not good. There are hundreds of people living together, having just arrived in Italy. Under such conditions, it’s very difficult for refugees to start to learn what life is like in Europe; to start to assimilate and enter into our culture.
If, however, the refugee go to live with a family that have a normal European life, they can learn more quickly. Also, the family can be the agent of empowerment, because they can help support the refugee. This can accelerate the social empowerment of refugees in Italy and in Europe.
Second thing, many of the families that take refugees in their homes are immigrants. They are people coming from Africa or other regions. They know how difficult it is for migrants entering European society. They know how to integrate. These are the people who can train the refugees best about Europe. And these people are not alone, because there are organisations like ours who help to support them.
From the point of view of welfare policies, many people who take refugees come from a lower socioeconomic background – particularly as many are immigrants themselves. It’s not rich people hosting refugees, it’s poor people. And it’s often difficult for them to manage everyday. So, if we sponsor them with some money, they can live better, and this can help fight poverty.
We put the same question to Matteo Bassoli, co-founder and member of the board of Benvenuti Rifugiati (‘Welcome Refugees’), an NGO that matches refugees with Italian hosts. What did he think of the scheme being piloted by Milan and other cities?
It is a good idea. Our main aim is not to cover all the needs of asylum seekers with our domestic, free-of-charge hospitality. We are very happy if public institutions enter offer payments to families. I think it would increase the fairness of the system for two different reasons.
Firstly, it allows families with more limited economic means to host in their houses. Secondly, it changes the nature of the relationship between the host and the guest. If it is free of charge, then the perception from the host might be: I am the good one, and I am hosting you here, so please do not bother me.
If everything is contractualised within a public scheme, the guest can have a clearer understanding of his or her own rights, and also be less dependent on the host family. Because, one of the main drawbacks of the voluntary scheme is that the asylum seeker or refugees are in a position of less power as opposed to the family hosting them…
Should governments pay people to host refugees? Would that create a more equal relationship with hosts? Would it help fight poverty, and better support the integration of refugees into society? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!