EU countries warned of 'lost generation' of young refugees
Europe is in danger of creating a "lost generation" of young refugees who have fled war and persecution in their countries, the EU's rights agency says.
The Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) said it had identified serious challenges in integrating people aged between 16 and 24 across the EU.
It has urged member states to speed up asylum procedures, simplify family reunification and provide more housing.
From 2015 to 2018, almost two million people received protection in the EU.
Based on interviews with refugees and frontline staff in Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Sweden, the FRA released a report on Tuesday highlighting "serious obstacles" for young people seeking asylum across the bloc.
It has called on countries to implement "smart investments" to help encourage successful integration.
"This report aims to contribute to reflection on how to achieve this, thus making sure that a whole generation will not be lost," it reads.
Among the issues raised was that young people were being made homeless and forced to live on the streets in some cases while their asylum applications were dealt with - a process that could take months.
An improvement on the provision of mental healthcare for traumatised young refugees was also needed, the FRA said, adding that providing young people with education services was fundamental.
The FRA urges EU countries to tackle these issues, reporting the following:
- Asylum: It takes an average of two years to complete the process for a residence permit. More financial and human resources are needed to process claims more quickly
- Housing: Many asylum seekers, including families, have had to live in poor conditions, sleeping in tents, shipping containers, camps and at sports facilities. Refugee housing policies must be able to deal with "large-scale arrivals" properly
- Mental health: Traumatised refugees are often unable to sleep, drink or eat properly as they wait to be processed, it says. Swift and efficient identification, referral and treatment are needed - including training for frontline workers
- Education: Some children wait a year to attend school. Asylum applicants should be granted early access to education, vocational training and employment to prevent them turning to a life of crime
- Family reunification: People face a drawn-out, complex and expensive procedure - providing numerous documents and travelling across war-torn countries - if they want to bring their families. Family reunification is recognised as one of the key mechanisms for better integration of migrants and refugees. Quick, affordable family reunification will help dissuade asylum seekers from using people smugglers
The FRA report has also highlighted some good local policy initiatives and calls on EU states to learn from each other and give young refugees an adequate chance in life.
Among the initiatives mentioned by the FRA are:
- Austria: In Vienna, the city government financially supports individual housing for asylum applicants upon arrival. The FRA says this is the best housing arrangement to foster integration and does not require alternatives to be found when asylum is granted
- Italy: In Milan, police staff dedicate one day a week to asylum claims lodged by children. Allowing all administrative steps - including photo identification - to be done in a day
- Germany: The country has developed an app - run by people who have fled their own countries - that uses multimedia such as video to answer questions about life in Germany: asylum, housing, health, employment and childcare. It is part-financed by private companies
- Sweden: Aims to make 25% of all vacant flats available for international protection services - families and and unaccompanied young people will have priority
- France: In Marseille, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) has been set up to rent accommodation and then sublet it at an affordable price to those in need. The NGO also provides social support to help individuals become independent
More than two-and-a-half million people applied for international protection in the EU between 2015 and 2016, according to the European statistics agency, Eurostat.
The number of those applying for asylum has decreased since then, with the latest figures for 2018 totalling almost 650,000.
Asylum applications in the European Union
Top 10 member states
Most of those seeking asylum came from countries in the Middle East, Africa or South Asia.
Many reached Germany, Sweden, France and Austria, while others remained in their first countries of arrival, Italy and Greece.