Many of our readers have already made their minds up about refugees. Generally, Europeans are relatively supportive of their country taking in refugees (though they might disapprove of how the EU has handled things). Yet we often get comments arguing that the vast majority of refugees are really “economic migrants” (that’s not true, and the reality is much more complex). Some also wonder why “Muslim countries” don’t take more Syrian refugees (of the over 12 million displaced Syrians, roughly 11 million are in the Middle East, either in Syria itself or neighbouring countries). Is this really a question of integration?

Would people change their minds if they knew some refugees personally? If they interacted with refugees and asylum seekers socially, would it shift attitudes? Often, it seems like people with the strongest views have never actually spoken with refugees personally, yet feel confident enough to generalise about the motivations and intentions of an entire group of people.

In order to take a closer look at the local impact of the refugee crisis, we have 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 is on connecting local, everyday life at the city level to decisions made in Brussels and national capitals.

Today, we are looking at Brussels, Belgium. This is the city where Debating Europe is based, so it’s obviously close to our hearts personally. Recently, refugees have been in the news in Belgium after reports of people sleeping rough in migrant camps. including former residents of the Calais “Jungle”. The issue is controversial, with some calling for a tough approach while others (including NGOs and voluntary organisations) want to offer support and assistance. Complicating things are reports that some of the refugees and asylum seekers in the camps do not want to claim asylum and integrate in Belgium, but would prefer to travel to Britain to claim asylum.

Curious to know more about refugees and integration in Europe? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Gabi who thinks that refugees don’t want to integrate into European society. She believes it’s a “waste of energy” to even try. Is she being too cynical and close-minded?

To get a response, we put Gabi’s comment to Theo Francken, Belgium’s immigration and asylum minister. In October 2018, he accused Brussels’ local government of “pampering” refugees and NGOs, arguing that they are encouraging “economic migrants” to congregate in parks and migrants camps around the city. His office sent us the following statement in response to Gabi:

This statement is incorrect. We find that recognised refugees and persons with subsidiary protection are very motivated to integrate in our society. We focus on a quick and proper integration, in order for them to quickly find a job or to go to school and thereby to be able to rebuild their life here. By the way, here in Flanders they are obligated to take an integration course. Furthermore, they need this proof in case they eventually apply for the Belgian nationality. It is true that before and during their asylum application they aren’t obligated to integrate, but they are once they have been recognised as a refugee or they have received subsidiary protection.

To get another perspective, we also put Gabi’s comment to Adriana Costa Santos, Coordinator of the Accommodation Project for the Belgian NGO Citizen’s Platform for Refugee Support. How would she respond to Gabi?

I would say that we are not able to generalise about all refugees, because they represent thousands of people coming from many different countries and, unfortunately, from many different wars and violent regimes. But I would say that, from my personal experience, what happens is the opposite: refugees DO want to integrate…

What is most important in integration is to have a social network; when we are born in a country it’s very easy to have that social network. We have our family, we go to school, we do sports, we meet a lot people… And when we arrive in a country and are completely isolated and don’t have anybody in our social network, it is of course comfortable to meet people who speak the same language as us and have the same social basis.

So, we can see in Brussels that integration is made by building this social network. Refugees who were photographers in their country, for example, meet Belgian photographers [through the Citizen’s Platform for Refugee Support]. Refugees who are students come together to study and debate with Belgian students, and we encourage refugees to meet new people. This is the only way to integrate in a country. So, I think it’s definitely wrong to think that people don’t want to integrate – but I can tell it’s not easy to arrive in a country where you don’t speak the language…

Finally, we had a comment sent in by Marko, who wonders if there are enough incentives and support to help refugees integrate? How would Adriana Costa Santos reply?

The incentives and support are definitely not enough. When you see here in Belgium, for example, is that when people claim asylum they are able to get a place in a housing centre. Yet when we talk about integration, we can see how important it is – after finding a place to eat, sleep, and get a shower – for someone to have social relationships and meet the local population…

In 2015, while people were waiting to claim asylum, they were not able to get any support, so there were thousands of people in the park, homeless. And volunteers, people from Belgium, came to bring them clothes, tents, sleeping bags, food, and all their basic needs. And as soon as they get into a centre, they do not have anything else and the delays are very large, so they have to wait for one, sometimes two years to get an answer from the government to tell them whether they can actually start to build a life in Belgium. During this period, they are just supposed to wait.

So, during the year 2016-17, we were focusing much more on integration and accompanying asylum seekers waiting for their application to be processed. So, we’ve been providing language classes, school for the children, giving support in finding a job, finding an apartment right after they get their refugee status, giving basic support in administration – because sometimes even for those of us who are Europeans and living in our own country it’s sometimes hard to understand the bureaucracy… So, these are all volunteers have been helping thousands of people without getting any money…

Do refugees want to integrate? And is there enough support to promote and facilitate integration? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Patrick Marioné
The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

36 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    catherine benning

    Do refugees want to integrate?

    Who is this man? Where did he get his support and notions of child rape and molestation being an acceptable way of life in the UK? And why was this kind of cultural expectation accepted by our governments as a good idea to promote in countries having very different cultural experience? This group child rape by immigrants had been going on for years and kept out of the public eye.Then why did they expect integration as a possibility? And continue to do so?

    If this girl, who was repeatedly raped as a child by an adult ‘integrated migrant’ and left pregnant, in this horrific way, had been a refugee ‘boy’ bullied in a school yard by local boys, just once, she clearly would have had a charity fund set up for her and her baby boy. This bullied boy, it is said, has raised, $100.000. Now, I wonder why that is? Is it boys are more important than girls as both males in these furores appear to take a huge preference, by media, in their experiences? Or, is it something peculiar that is to persuade us psychologically, that repeated physical abuse by refugees against European female children, is not as criminal or despicable as abuse by locals against migrant ‘boys’ who want to integrate? I am confused by the message here.

    Any thoughts?

    • avatar
      Bernard Fox

      And Théo Francken “… here in Flanders … “, he want to be integrated in Belgium ?

    • avatar

      Sorry, but how is this relevant to this debate? Was this man a refugee?

  2. avatar

    Are you asking for “opinion” or what is in reality? 🤔
    Do your research.

  3. avatar

    Do Brits in Spain want to integrate? The majority, no.

    • avatar

      I’d say it depends on person

    • avatar

      Marian… I resort u, I from Spain and Mani guys (younger) come here to drunk, drugs… To noise and leave dirty street. If I go to London to do the same, the police kick my ass to return to Spain.

    • avatar

      All immigrant and tourist is welcome in Spain. All these people coming to get a dignified live. Working hard, his kids go to school… Speak and learn Spanish more better than mani spanish native.

    • avatar
      Paul X


      I think you will find a fair few Brits have recieved a good kicking from the Spanish police over the years

  4. avatar
    catherine benning

    @ George

    This is research…I’m asking Europeans how they feel about those refugees and migrants who culturally have a repulsive background and abhorrence toward much of our historical way of life. And, why migrants, given the right to remain and integrate, are being encouraged by our government and by laws passed, to set themselves up as tormentors of our peoples children. And why leaders of our Western countries would do that?

    Additionally, to know what it is you, the people of these Western states, find acceptable in the position our leaders have put us in, without once asking our permission to do so. And further, without ever taking measures to renounce this psychology, after years of knowing what it is doing to our collective lifestyle.

  5. avatar
    Franz M

    1) define integration
    (integration =/=assimilation!)
    2) most want to, few do not
    3) promote education
    4) stop making one’s identity the reason issues while in fact most often social indicators are responsible for problems.

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ Franz M

      Which social issues would that be? Social issues in the country they originate, and if so, what are they? And if you refer to social issues here, why import more problems on that front? We already have many problems for thousands already in our society. Additionally, educate. In what way do you suggest we educate? Change their cultural expectations and beliefs of thousands of years evolution? I

  6. avatar

    I do not think that one can generalize the concept of a refugee. Each person is different, with a different background and to define a statement like ‘refugees do not want to integrate, I believe it is a very strong saying.

    For example, I once attended a guest lecture from a professor in The Netherlands who took the opportunity to flee from his country and build a new life in The Netherlands. For me, he is the perfect example of a well integrated person and taking the opportunity of starting over.

    So I personally believe that one’s action can not define an entire group of people. Instead of focussing on those who do not integrate well, we should focus on those who do and put more attention to those.

  7. avatar

    1 All that is organised mass migration !
    2 Obviously, very obviously they are not coming to integrate .
    3 It’s sad that the fact, millions of people are used like a pawns

    • avatar

      Obviously to whom? People who believe that Syria is a theme park?

  8. avatar

    most of them are not refugees. they are migrants, just an illegal migrants. this is the answer

  9. avatar

    Generally – no. There are exceptions, of course. And frankly, Europe doesn’t need any more migrants. We need a stable birth rate for our own native population to get our countries out of the demographic crisis. That’s what we should use our taxes for, not more migrants.

  10. avatar

    Very small percentage. Not adequate enough to even experiment. See Turkish in Germany for example.

  11. avatar

    They should only be in Europe temporarily, until they can safely return home. There is therefore no question of integration.

  12. avatar

    They are very eager to integrate and get on with their lives. But it is made extremely difficult for them.

  13. avatar

    They are willing to integrate far beyond the opportunities given to them. We had lots of refugees in our village who used the larger part of their allowance to take public transit into the nearby city because they could attend five-days-a-week language courses there whereas only three-days-a-week courses were offered locally, which would have taken them longer until they receive their certificate.

  14. avatar

    Well there is little indication that they do. They seem to live in enclaves where the kuffir is not welcome and sometimes they are downright aggressive, especially towards women. Because a small minority actually want to do us harm, the rest of them become tarred with the same brush and therefore, because they are rarely denounced by their own people, it makes the rest of us very fearful. However, there should never be overwhelming immigration of any type that wants to change the character and face of Britain.

  15. avatar

    Yes… Of course. For me all immigrants is welcome in Spain. I change immigrants for Pig politic.

  16. avatar

    It’s lucky that Brits in Spain are not forced to integrate otherwise they’d be hardly any of us over here!

    • avatar
      Steve p

      Who cares about them, we are getting over run here

  17. avatar

    Perché dovrebbe esserci? Sono loro che vengono, non noi che gli chiamiamo

  18. avatar

    It’s all a question of numbers,if you have say a few thousand people arriving over a period of years you can disperse them to all different parts of the country where they will feel isolated.They will then have to integrate in order not to stand out and not draw attention to themselves.
    But that is not what is happening in Europe today.what we have here is literally tens of thousands of people arriving at virtually the same time,and with no managed dispersal the immigrants naturally band together in one area,and that is how ghettos form, and the division between the indigenous population and the newly arrived ‘refugees’ begins.It’s already happened in cities like Paris for example.

  19. avatar
    Steve p

    No in my view they dont, they only know there own culture but want the benefits

  20. avatar

    We need a simple rule no passport no asylum. Many throw away travel documents specifically because they want to create some fake identity and abuse our system. Some might be wanted criminals in their homeland or people with criminal records that we don’t want or need here.
    My personal experience is that most asylum seekers want to learn the language and get their secondary school diplomas etc. The question should be can they leave behind cultural beliefs and practices that don’t fit into the host nation. Look at some of our recent terrorists in Europe. They dressed western, smoked, had jobs spoke the language, some even had citizenship, and they didn’t have foot long beards, these were clean shaven proper looking people. Some were even 2nd or 3rd generation European muslims. Seemingly integrated, what does this mean?

  21. avatar
    catherine benning

    Do refugees want to integrate?

    Here we see the next step to warn European cultures and nationals, that should they not want to accept an invasion by those leaving their country of origin, no matter how intolerant or destructive to our lifestyle they may be, your freedom to condemn such an act, is ready to be removed from you and your human right called, Freedom of Expression.

    Check out who the movers and shakers inside the UN are. And why they would want to incarcerate ‘Europeans’ for rejecting a destructive force aimed against them and their way of life.

    Very sinister indeed.

  22. avatar

    Most of them want but how many can? I mean there are two types of immigrants: the ones how want to be part of the local community and the ones how don’t or don’t want to change parts of their lifestyle in order to fit in and see it as part of their rights to carry the habits of their continent to ours, the letter can be a real problem
    They are coming here they have to adopt not we,
    Ps am not talking about religion or language but more important things like the place of women in society, sharia and some really bad traditions

  23. avatar

    First off, nicely written piece of writing. If you ask me I believe it always comes down to personal choice whether or not a person wants to, or is willing, to integrate. When looking a singular person, we can conduct experiments, or just merely observe the person in order to draw conclusions. But where it gets blurry and hard to define whether a whole group of people, say an ethnic group, is willing to integrate into a whole new society, or rather a whole new world, is difficult. We have to look at the contrast between our world, and their world, and simply accept the truth that when an alien group of people migrates over into a different continent, there will be issues, there will be crisis emerging out of the unwillingness of those who refuse to integrate, and there will be mass protests. Culturally, I don’t think that the western and middle eastern way of life is compatible, and as such gives room for problems to grow, if not addressed.

  24. avatar
    Olivier Dutreil

    I would do a difference between Muslims and non Muslims refugees and between real refugees and economic migrants…
    I think most of economic muslim migrants Don t intend to integrate
    And political refugees have vocation to return home

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