The European Social Network (ESN) has aimed to identify and understand the impact that the refugee crisis has had on local public social services and their communities across Europe. Over recent months, we asked our members in an online survey how the refugee crisis has impacted their services and communities. ESN also addressed some of the responses provided by public social services at a session in the 24th European Social Services Conference and devoted one session at the launch of our report on investing in children’s services to unaccompanied minors. On the basis of these responses, we have published our briefing paper 'The impact of the refugee crisis on local public social services in Europe.'

Key findings 

The results of ESN’s work reflected what was already known about the refugee crisis and how it impacted some states more than others. While social services in most parts of Europe have not been affected at all, others, particularly in Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Finland, Hungary and Austria have struggled to provide for the sudden, unexpected rise in the number of people requiring services.

Dispersal policies to distribute refugees/asylum seekers more evenly across the country are in place only in some European countries. The increased numbers put an extreme burden on all the authorities involved. In some cases, refugees are placed into accommodation with poor living conditions, they experience delayed emergency healthcare and a lack of child-friendly spaces. Furthermore, each country is very different in its approach to facilitating the integration of refugees. For instance, access to the labour market may be granted either immediately or from three to nine months after applying for asylum depending on the country. Less than half of the countries surveyed gave refugee’s access to social care for people with disabilities and only gave limited access to healthcare (e.g. emergency care).

In the case of child protection, in Greece children are kept in police custody, due to the lack of appropriate children’s homes. In Sweden, 25% of unaccompanied children have disappeared from accommodation centres, placing children at risk of human trafficking. On a positive note, there have been many volunteer based projects set up across Europe to try and integrate newly arrived refugees. However, due to lack of personnel and resources, public authorities have had to reject some of these projects.

Forty-five per cent reported that the lack of qualified staff had an impact on their organisation. Many respondents said that local public social services needed more financial support due to the increased workload, along with information and training because of challenges they had not encountered before. While many organisations have tried to set up new services, respondents felt that their country/region did not have a coherent enough strategy in place to respond to the crisis.

Next steps

We are now publishing this paper, which summarises some of the key challenges that social services have been facing over the past year. It stresses the need for further research into the main issues surrounding the services provided to refugees and for monitoring local organisations closely over the next year to document how they respond to newcomers.