What’s this all about?

I’ve been granted a WCMT Travel Scholarship to travel to Europe to look at how housing can impact refugee integration. But why do I think that’s important?

Since 2015, there has been an unprecedented interest in refugee issues. Much of the political and public focus has been on refugee flight, particularly across the Mediterranean, and how states deal with the ‘crisis’ of mass movement. However, four years on, whilst new arrivals to Europe may be decreasing, many who arrived on the continent in 2015/16 remain in mainland Europe, either as refugees, people still seeking asylum, or in limbo following a negative decision. It is important that researchers and policy makers investigate the post-arrival experiences of people seeking refugee protection in Europe. Critically, we must investigate how the actions of national governments, local governments and communities can positively and negatively affect the experiences of refugees once they arrive in Europe.

The refugee crisis in Europe is a fundamentally urban phenomenon – 60% of the world’s refugees are in urban areas. Similarly, concerns around housing are often seen through an urban lens – there is a lack of affordable housing in inner city areas where people can find work. Cities can be understood as places of intersection where refugee integration and housing policy could collide: it’s an issue of space.

This project wants to better understand the experiences of housing for ASR in four European cities; investigate how formal and formal housing provision for people seeking asylum and refugees (ASR) can promote long-term community integration; and explore how different models of formal and informal provision can be transformative for resident communities, newly arrived people, and for long-term social housing provision.

This project will focus on Greece, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands because they represent different parts of refugee flight – as points of arrival and destination in Europe – and because they are heavily involved in current discussions about refugees in Europe.

The cities have been selected because they have strong ideas as cities of welcome – either through membership of Solidarity cities (Eurocities), or have existing innovative housing models for people seeking asylum. For example: Hamburg has used devolved powers given to city-states within Germany to pilot new housing models for asylum seekers; and Amsterdam hosts a project where students cohabit with refugees in order to share skills and resources. This project aims to critically analyse how different housing models in these cities can move beyond providing ‘reception’ to supporting long-term community integration.

Considering housing and refugee integration at a city level also allows us to step away from dominant national narratives around migration. State-driven hospitality works on the given premise that the space is owned by its nationals and ‘given’ to new arrivals – loaned, gifted and often temporary. Looking at how housing and integration is experienced at a city level allows the project to consider the role of local actors in creating better conditions for integration.

Innovative housing models can mobile alternative frameworks to understand the relationship between new arrivals and the nation-state. They can help us move away from the frame of hospitality, towards ideas of co-creation and making new spaces. This can be articulated in various ways, such as co-housing, collaborative living, reclaiming private space, or reimagining existing housing models.

This project aims to move beyond an understanding of of housing as shelter, towards housing and home, and aims to consider how housing can be used to build better integrated communities. Fundamentally, this project wants to look at the intersection between people, space and a sense of place: between new arrivals and resident communities, housing and home.