An extraordinary meeting of managing authorities on 25 September discussed how to optimise the use of the ESF and the FEAD to support the integration of asylum seekers and refugees and exchange good practice and experience in this field
The European Commission has been consistently and continuously working for a coordinated European response on the refugees and migration front. The Commission has taken rapid action and proposed concrete measures in response to the escalating refugee crisis, presenting a comprehensive policy package - in line with the principles of solidarity and responsibility.
Migration management can be successful only if underpinned by effective policies at national, regional and local level to promote social inclusion and to facilitate integration of asylum seekers and refugees. In this context, the ESF and the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) play an important role in implementing social inclusion and labour market integration measures across Europe.
The main mission of the ESF is to improve the employment opportunities of the workers living in the Union. Third-country nationals can therefore fully benefit from support if they are able to participate in the labour market. In the case of asylum seekers, this would be once they acquire the status of refugee, or at the latest 9 months after they apply for it. Periods vary among Member States and shortening them falls under national competence.
However, asylum seekers may also receive some support from the ESF before having access to the labour market. This applies to educational measures for children and also to vocational training when allowed by the national legislation.
ESF can support, within its investment priorities, the integration of migrants with a view to facilitate their social inclusion and integration into the labour market. ESF investments can support refugee integration into the labour market and to society through for example counselling to refugees and their families, vocational or language training, improved access to health and social services or campaigns to combat discrimination against refugees.
Improving the recognition of skills and qualifications gained outside Europe will also support faster integration into the labour market and reduce the risk of social exclusion.
The ESF has an overall volume of €86.4 billion from the EU budget, complemented by national contributions. A minimum of 20% is allocated to social inclusion. Typically, specific support to these vulnerable groups would fall under the poverty and social inclusion objective, for which the current allocation is around €21 billion. However, support to asylum seekers and refugees may also be envisaged under the other objectives of the ESF Regulation.
Whereas the ESF is the most adequate financial instrument of support to continue the integration process of asylum seekers and refugees, with a view notably to facilitate their integration into the labour market, the newly established Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) plays a major role in the first stages of the integration process. Furthermore, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) complements the ESF in supporting the integration process of asylum seekers and refugees. It can finance measures in several fields, such as social, health, education, housing and childcare infrastructure, regeneration of deprived urban areas, actions to reduce spatial and educational isolation of legal migrants, and business start-ups.
Coordination between ESF, ERDF and AMIF is crucial in order to reinforce synergies. This requires close collaboration between the relevant stakeholders.
For successful socio-economic inclusion of migrants, the policy response at the local level is of crucial importance. However, employment and social services at the local level often experience difficulties in successfully reaching out to and supporting disadvantaged migrant and refugee populations in their localities.
The refugee crisis is putting social and employment services under pressure. The Commission is therefore exploring all options to optimise the use of funds and to address constraints in the implementation of measures for migrants under the funds, taking account of established good practice on the ground. The Commission stands ready to work closely with the Member States to facilitate this process and ensure a swift adoption of such amendments in an accelerated procedure.
Member States are invited to analyse the current needs and challenges taking into account the consequences of the crisis situation. The Commission is ready to examine all proposals Member States may have to make use of the remaining EU support available under the period 2007-2013. Given the limited time left, this would require swift action. Moreover, the Commission stands ready to examine and rapidly approve amendments to the 2014-2020 Operational Programmes in order to better accommodate (more) actions to support the integration of migrants.