Asylum reception centres and the local community (2010)
This report describes and presents an analysis of the interaction on a higher institutional level between UDI, local authorities and the operating managers of reception centres and the interaction locally between the reception centre, the municipality, civil society, groups and individuals.
Download the entire report
Asylmottak og lokalsamfunn (pdf, 4,2 MB) ("Asylum reception centres and the local community")
The empirical basis for this report consists of data obtained from questionnaires sent to all asylum reception centres and all municipalities with asylum reception centres in Norway. In addition, three case studies were carried out in three different municipalities, and constitute the study's qualitative data material. The main purpose of the report is to describe and analyze the relationship between reception centres and the local community where they are located, and to make suggestions for how this relationship can be improved. The report describes and analyzes 1) the interaction on a higher institutional level between the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration, local authorities and the operating managers of reception centres, and 2) the interaction locally between the reception centre, the municipality, civil society, groups and individuals. Furthermore, the report discusses what kind of competence is necessary for reception centres to have to engage successfully in interaction with the local community.
Interaction on an institutional level
The general picture that emerges in the study of the interaction between reception centres and local authority and administration, is that it is working well. The interaction is primarily formal, but also elements of informal relations seem to be of importance. However, despite the generally positive picture that is shown, the study also indicates several barriers to interaction. The municipalities relate these mainly to:
- Lack of knowledge about local conditions and issues among staffs at reception centres
- Lack of interpreters
- Insufficient internal coordination in the municipality between different services
- Inadequate routines for cooperation between the municipality and the reception centre
According to the reception centres the main barriers to interaction are:
- Insufficient internal coordination in the municipality between different services
- Lack of forums for cooperation
- Insufficient municipal resources
The report further shows that good information flow between different institutional levels is important for strengthening cooperation. The survey shows that 57 percent of the local authorities found the information given during the period of setting up a reception centre in their municipality satisfactory. Some municipalities however, feel that the information should have been given earlier. With the uncertainty related to capacity requirements and the limits inherent in the policy of tender which govern the management of reception centres in Norway, there seems to be few possibilities for improvement on this issue. Standard procedure today is that the operating managers of reception centres notify local authorities when they submit a tender to the Directorate of Immigration. The report indicates however that there might be room for improvement related to how information is given and what type of information is given.
Good information flow and formal routines regarding information seems to be particularly important during the early stage of setting up a reception centre. This includes all information between different institutional levels and actors, but particularly between local authorities and reception centres. The report also indicates a discrepancy in expectations between the Directorate of Immigration and the local community in regard to what is perceived as relevant information. This can constitute a strain on the relationship between administrative levels which again can affect the relationship between the local communities in general, and reception centres and responsible authorities. Public meetings have proven to be an important information channel even in situations where the conflict level has been high. It can also function as a meeting place where the local management of reception centres can establish contacts with groups and individuals in the local community.
There are several factors that can have a disturbing impact on interaction on an institutional level. In an early phase, this can be related to different perceptions on what an asylum reception centre is, and which standards are required. Is it an institution or is it a house? Close cooperation with local health authorities at an early stage is important to avoid unnecessary conflict related to the physical infrastructure of the reception centres.
Most municipalities organize their services to asylum seekers according to sectors, but many also have coordinating mechanism. Coordinating meetings between different services seems to be particularly important during the phase in which the reception centre is establishing itself in the local community. These meeting can contribute to learning and to building bridges between different actors related to the reception centres. The participation of the management of the reception centre in these meetings can also be seen as constructive. In these meetings they can easily receive knowledge about the way the municipality is organised and function, and questions of concern can be dealt with efficiently.
Organizing services according to services can however present a problem for the cooperation between centres and municipalities if it is not coordinated sufficiently internally in the municipalities. The report shows that there can be internal disagreement related to asylum seekers rights and the responsibilities pertaining to different services. This seems particularly to be an issue for the health services. Clarification of rights and responsibilities related to asylum seekers could make both cooperation internally in the municipalities and between municipalities and reception centres easier. Health visitors stationed at reception centres could ease cooperation, but it can also be a source of conflict if the financial responsibility for this is not clear.
Interaction between asylum reception centres and local communities
Also, regarding the interaction between reception centres and the local community in general, the general picture that emerges is mainly positive. More than half of the reception centres and 60 percent of the municipalities consider the relationship as good. More than 40 percent of the reception centres characterize the relationship as “very good”, while 25 percent of the municipalities do the same. A majority of the municipalities as well as the reception centres believes that the relationship has improved over time. There are however possible to identify several challenges and potentials for improvement.
Lack of places where asylum seekers can meet and interact with locals is one such challenge. We are here particularly referring to informal places such as cultural events and libraries. Many reception centres are active organizers of cultural events, and this can also seem to be a positive way of presenting the reception centre in the local community. However, the study indicates that there are room for improvement related to the advertisement of such events.
Negative incidents associated with the reception centre can have a harmful effect on the relationship between centre and local community if it is not handled efficiently. In such cases it is important for the local management of reception centres to have an open and forthcoming approach to the local community so that the local community experiences a low threshold for contact.
The report indicates that lack of knowledge among the staff of reception centres regarding local conditions constitute a barrier for good interaction with the local community. Establishing local networks can thus be important if the staffs do not have this already. Such network could actively be used to create activities and initiatives for asylum seekers and thus create spaces for interaction with the local community. Local organizations such as the Red Cross and sports clubs seem particularly to be important partners. It is however important that the reception centres play an active role as facilitators, particularly in regard to spreading information about activities among asylum seekers connected to the centre. It might seem the facilitator role of reception centres today depend on the staff's personal motivation and attitudes as it is not considered a core component of running a reception centre. However, in cases where the centres do not fill the facilitator role adequately, this can be a key barrier to interaction with the local community.
Good relationships between reception centres and local community do not only depend on the local staff of the reception centres, but also on key actors in the local community who is willing to get involved. The report shows how such actors in certain cases have created more formal networks that facilitate contact between reception centres and local community.
Good interaction with local community requires certain know-how among the reception centre staff. The report points particularly to knowledge and understanding of local issues. In addition, the report indicates that competence in dealing with the media and building networks is of importance. Local media plays an important role spreading information and can thus have a significant impact on the way the relationship between reception centres and local communities develop. The study also shows that the municipalities and the reception centres primarily experience the response they get form local media regarding reception centres as good.
Competence in network-building is important as local groups and individuals can be a significant resource for the reception centres. It is thus important that the local managers of reception centres have an active and open approach to the local community to gain a good overview of key actors and potential allies.
Published by: Agder Research AS (now Norwegian Research Center AS (NORCE))
Commissioned by: UDI