New integration plan hopes to get refugees working

With few immigrants and refugees finding work after more than a decade in the country, the government has launched a new programme to help them find work – but many are skeptical about its chances of success

Unemployed refugees and immigrants will be given a helping hand under new initiatives revealed by the government on Wednesday.

According to the employer’s association, DA, only in four refugees and immigrants who arrived in Denmark between 2000 and 2003 were employed in 2013.

“Refugees should not become clients,” said PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt when presenting the plan – entitled Everyone Should Contribute – referring to the high level of welfare spent supporting the-out-of-work group.

Speaking to a political conference in Aalborg this week, economy minister Morten Østergaard said the labour market participation of refugees and immigrants is at least in part a failure by local councils, who are tasked with leading unemployed toward the labour market.

“There are considerably large differences in the success of municipalities in placing refugees in jobs or training. No one can say that the effort is good enough,” Østergaard said.

Focus on skills
Costing 128 million kroner in 2015, the initiatives include programmes that target newly arrived immigrants and help them quickly into the labour market. If a job can’t be found for them, they can only accept benefits if they also participate in internships or traineeships, or accept so-called ‘useful jobs’ – menial labour jobs created by the councils.

Another strategy will be to focus more on working with the skills and qualifications that new arrivals already have. Those without qualifications will be streamlined into work, while those arriving with psychological or physical trauma should be given better interdisciplinary help.

The PM also stressed that the individuals in question also shoulder a large amount of responsibility for getting back into work. “Refugees should take the work that is there. If they cannot get a proper job, then they should do something for the service they receive,” she said.

Opposition party Venstre supported the government’s emphasis on local councils’ role in integrating refugees into work, but said that changes were needed for them to accept the new plan,

“What is missing, if Venstre is to be on board, are higher incentives for individuals. They should not be given full benefits from the moment they arrive in Denmark and receive their residents permits,” said integration spokesperson Martin Geertsen told Ritzau.

The Danish Refugee Council, on the other hand, praised the government’s emphasis on helping refugees into work by focussing on their existing qualifications and skills.

“The new integration plan is promising as it sets focus on getting refugees into the workplace according to what they can do as opposed to what they cannot,” DRC secretary general, Andreas Kramm said.

Skeptical reception
There is good reason to be cynical about the potential success of Wednesday’s plan. According to Kristeligt Dagblad, it is the 21 political plan to improve the integration of immigrants and refugees since 1999.

With so many still out of work, the success of the programmes must have been limited, admits Torben Tranæs from the Rockwool Foundation, who is concerned about its impact on public finances.

“If such a large portion of the population is [out of work] we will have trouble maintaining tax-financed welfare in the way we have done,” Tranæs told Politiken.

DA is also skeptical about the initiatives chances of success.

“When refugees arrive in Denmark, they look forward to joining a well-orgainsed country where they can safely send their children to school while the parents work,” CEO Jørgen Neergaard Larsen wrote in a press release.

“But before the dream becomes a reality, far too many have become passive through an unstructured welfare system in which the economic benefit to work rather than take benefits, is too low.” M


By Henry Richards

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