Housing and participation

Policy recommendations for local authorities on the topics housing and participation

Based on a general analysis of the Specially Unknown interviews with refugees.

Summary of a first analysis on housing and participation

A first analysis of the interviews in the four countries (Belgium, Germany, France and Italy) concerning the topics of housing and participation shows, among other things, that many refugees fall in a black hole after the integration process in their country, because they are:

  1. Experiencing little space to investigate what they can do with their skills and the knowledge they have gained in the country of origin in the context of the new society;
  2. Have few opportunities to practice the new language in practice;
  3. Have not developed sufficient networks to allow their possible ideas and plans for building a new life to develop;
  4. Are not sufficiently aware of relevant social and cultural developments in their environment and feel excluded from them


The interviews also show that almost all refugees underline the importance of learning the language of their new country, that most of them feel an enormous drive to build a new life, and that the extent to which they feel they are co-owners of their environment has a major influence on their possibilities to actually shape that new life. Furthermore, no one appears to be able to let go of their past and focus solely on the future. It is precisely those people who succeed in establishing a link between their past and the present and who know how to use their qualities as relative outsiders, who appear to be the most successful and satisfied with their new existence.


The pathways to integration in the four countries are characterised by a strong emphasis on learning the new language and a limited focus on society. This orientation focuses on the rights and obligations of newcomers and the formal operation of a number of (bureaucratic) systems, social benefits, the permit system and the formal education system etc.), with little scope for getting to know other people’s concerns.


In the housing of status holders, little attention is generally paid to the connection with the neighbourhoods where they will come to live. As a result, as the experiences of ‘old’ status holders show, many of them feel rather isolated and without perspective.


In recent times, experience is gained in the four cities by various private neighbourhood initiatives who invest in the reception of asylum seekers. These experiences show that the acceptance of the newcomers is much greater when the district is actively involved in their reception. The interviews conducted by Specially Unknown show that this humane way of initial reception and the bonding with people from the neighbourhood determine the extent to which refugees feel welcome in the period thereafter and find it worthwhile to make an effort to actually participate in the new society. Experiences with occupant/private initiatives also show that it is sometimes difficult to maintain the involvement of (local) residents over a longer period of time. Over time, the initiatives that focused on initial reception will enter a new phase, in which there is a need for programmes and methods to further develop and perpetuate the cross-fertilisation between status holders and local residents.


Specially Unknown’s interviews show that among refugees who have lived in the relevant EU Member States for some time, there is an enormous involvement with the newcomers and that they are looking for ways to use their knowledge and experience for the benefit of the new status holders. It is striking that, so far, little use has been made of this knowledge and experience of people who not only know what it is like to build a new life as a refugee, but who also often still speak the language of the newcomers.


Recommendations for local authorities
  1. Do not place status holders arbitrarily in any neighbourhood. Consider which neighbourhoods have the capacity to accommodate newcomers.
  2. When housing status holders, ensure the involvement of the neighbourhood/neighbourhood residents. See whether there are, or can be, citizens’ initiatives that want to support the status holders in finding their way in the new society.
  3. Be aware that neighbourhood initiatives need different approaches and activities in different stages of the reception and integration process.
  4. Involve “old” migrants actively in the reception and integration of newcomers. They know from experience what migration also means emotionally, can often help to overcome language barriers and form a bridge to the new culture.