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The EMBRACIN project, Small-scale hosting of refugees across Europe.

Source: Pixabay

As the humanitarian crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border unfolds and Afghan migrants seek asylum in western countries, the EU’s struggle on the matter of immigration has recently returned at center stage. Finding a lasting cooperation on migration crises has always been one of the most divisive aspects in European policymaking, due to the polarized attitude towards immigration among and within EU member states.

For many national governments the main aim is limited to the matter of preventing access to Europe and blocking migration routes, with 12 countries signing a letter on October 7th to demand the construction of border walls with EU funds.

A less political and divisive topic comes after the decision of who should and shouldn’t be allowed access to the EU. It is about how refugees should be hosted. The one thing the majority of member countries can agree upon, is that immigrants must be given the tools to integrate into European society fully and swiftly. Yet the question of how this can be done most effectively and efficiently remains largely unanswered.

In most cases the hosting of refugees looks something like this: years of procedures, high numbers of people in big centers with limited space and no possibilities for work or education.

These big scale hosting solutions aren’t only highly costly due to excessive overhead and organizational costs. They are also ineffective at integrating refugees and might have disruptive effects on local communities.

As the director of the Dutch council on immigration puts it: “Politicians have continuously tried to find a solution that actually never came.”

The EMBRACIN project is proposing small scale hosting as an effective alternative to the status quo. The acronym stands for Enhancing Migrants Bottom-up, Responsive and Citizen-led Integration in Europe. It started in 2020 with ten partners from eight different European countries and is Financed by the European Union as part of the Asylum Migration and Integration fund.

The project is bringing small scale hosting to life through the 6+6x6 model. The idea is quite simple. Migrants are hosted in groups of six people for every town of 5000 inhabitants, bigger towns host proportionately more groups. That is, a town of 20.000 hosts four groups of six people.

In the model, a team of six professionals closely follows the six refugees (hence why 6+6). The team is formed by a teacher, a lawyer, a cultural operator, a psychologist, a doctor, and a social assistant. Each of these teams of professionals are assigned six different groups of refugees (hence why 6+6x6) and assist them in everything they need. From learning the new countries’ language and culture, preparing the legal documents for citizenship to medical and mental assistance.

A clear schedule, divided into learning, volunteering and working allows for the refugees to be active and quickly learn the customs and culture of their new country. Adherence with the schedule is to be considered a requirement for remaining in the new country.

Financially speaking, the model is sustainable on the current national funds that are already available. Italy for example has made 30 euro per day available for every refugee. Which comes out at 5400 euros for each group of six. The model is designed with this size of financing in mind. However, many countries have allocated higher amounts to refugees. The Netherlands for example assigns 100 euro per day to each refugee.

We already have proof of the effectiveness of the model. In fact, it is based upon the personal experience of Mr. Antonio Calò. A philosophy and history high school teacher at a liceo classico (an Italian type of high school) in Treviso.

In 2015 while the world was in shock from reading about yet another accident in the Mediterranean Sea the professor, along with his wife Nicoletta and four children, decided to take concrete action. They did something unprecedented by welcoming six African immigrants in their own house. The process wasn’t easy, especially at the beginning, with many friends and neighbors being unsupportive of their decision. “I’ve always told everyone to come and see, many want to help when they realize there is no danger” He says in his book ‘It can be done’ “Even voters of Lega (a right anti-immigration party) came to help us, some brought food and others brought clothing”. This is arguably the biggest strength of the model; the closeness and small scale removes barriers and prejudice while fostering interest and integration.

Along with the help from local people, the six immigrants were followed by six professionals and were involved in all sorts of activities. Exactly how it is scripted in the 6+6x6 model.

Today Mr. Calò can proudly say that his six ‘children’, as he calls them, have made it. Each of them has a residency permit, a full-time job, a driver's license and their own home.

Mr. Calò’s efforts have been rewarded with many prizes. In 2015 President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, delivered to him the honor of officer of the order of merit of the Italian republic. Three years later he received the prize of “European citizen 2018”. Since then, support for the project has only been increasing and the 6+6x6 model might very well become the European standard.


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