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Once Migrants Reach Europe, Countries Face Integration Challenge


We've heard the numbers - thousands of migrants and refugees risking everything to get to Europe every day. Nearly a million people claimed asylum in the EU just last year. But how are countries handling this influx? How do countries greet them, help them learn a new language, build a new life? We called up Thomas Liebig. He's a senior migration specialist at the OECD. That's the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development which just released a report called "Making Integration Work." He said the process depends on the country.

THOMAS LIEBIG: For some countries, it's a completely new challenge, like some of the Central and Eastern European countries, also the case of Finland, for example. They must build up their whole infrastructure. Other countries like Sweden, Germany, Austria have very high inflows. But they had already significant flows prior to the crisis, so they have established a system in place. And for these countries, it's more about can they scale up the existing services to a degree, or must they find completely new solutions?

Germany, for example, just last night decided that they're going to have a new fresh new look at their integration system. So countries are taking this also as a chance to do things better now than they have done in the past.

CORNISH: Walk us through in broad strokes essentially what happens when a humanitarian migrant arrives in a European country. What kinds of services are they offered, and are those services offered right away?

LIEBIG: Most people arriving right now are basically asking for asylum initially. And then obviously there's humanitarian urgencies to be met. That means providing them with shelter, giving them health treatment when necessary and that the children are being able to integrate into the school systems or that they get some language training. After these humanitarian urgencies, then, gradually, also, in a growing number of countries, their skills are assessed and then built tailor-made approaches because clearly it's going to be a different process for somebody who is a medical doctor than for somebody who just has a couple of years of schooling and very basic skills in general.

CORNISH: Can you talk about cultural adjustments? There have been loud voices in some of these countries that question the values of the asylum-seekers depending on what country they're from. Are countries providing classes - civics classes or cultural classes that they think would somehow, I guess, alleviate this perception?

LIEBIG: Yes. A growing number of countries provide these kind of courses where people learn about the history of the country, about the general principles of equality of gender, for example, the basic rights that people have in the country and that refugees are also encouraged to talk about these and to ask, what does it imply for them?

CORNISH: What do you think that's really about? I mean, how important is that aspect to this process or is that about fears, right, from some of these countries?

LIEBIG: Well, it's obviously part of these policies are introduced with a view of the public opinion to reassure the public. At the same time, it can be a useful tool in a way that people can ask about these values and can actually openly discuss them in the classroom, and that's a good thing to give the refugees a chance to adapt to the whole country.

CORNISH: Your report really emphasizes permanence as an important part of integration. Why aren't temporary measures a good idea?

LIEBIG: Well, there's a certain tradeoff. Countries don't want to give them a stable status because they think it's easier to send them back later on or they want to discourage large numbers of seeking asylum. But at the same time, when you do that, there's a certain risk that these people will not well-integrate, for example, not to learn the language because they think, well, in a year or two, I may not be longer here, and that is obviously a strong risk for integration.

CORNISH: Thomas Liebig - he's a senior migration specialist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Thank you for speaking with us.

LIEBIG: Thanks to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.