ESN Publication: the impact of the refugee crisis on social services in Europe

A new publication by the ESN (The European Social Network) has delved deeper into the impact that the refugee crisis has had on local public services and their communities across Europe. The results of the ESN questionnaire among its own members, reflected that the refugee crisis impacted some states more than others. While social services in most parts of Europe have not been affected, several countries have struggled to provide for the unexpected rise in the number of people requiring public services.


The ESN publication reports that the lack of qualified staff had an impact on organisation questioned in the survey. In order to face new challenges that have appeared due to the refugee crisis, training, information and financial support have become commonly heard requests. While many organisations have tried to set up new services, the report mentions that respondents felt that their country/region did not have a coherent enough strategy in place to respond to the crisis. Responses as described in the report also show mixed feelings towards the crisis. 

The ESN publication mentions housing and the great number of unaccompanied minors as two straining issues. Housing conditions and availability tend to vary widely among EU countries. Unaccompanied minors pose a serious challenge due to their need for education, healthcare, child support and again, housing. In general, approaches towards the refugee crisis tend to vary, especially when it comes to housing conditions, access to healthcare and accessibility of the labour market.

Several local approaches such as in the Netherlands and Sweden have been focused on letting refugees feel welcome. Both countries have seen examples of a buddy programme, where a volunteer supports a refugee in getting used to its new surroundings. In general though, the ESN publication mentions the lack of both a coherent and coordinated strategy in every public policy area and an integrated services approach to address the arrival and integration of the refugees. This also shows that a stronger EU-wide approach could have led to a more supportive ground to welcome and integrate refugees. As is, social services are not always adequately prepared and supported to aid in the refugee crisis.

Looking ahead, the ESN expects that housing, language barriers, services for unaccompanied minors and information services (for receiving parties) will remain challenging issues. If not for new immigrants arriving in 2016, it remains of vital importance to continuously support the refugees that have entered Europe last year. The publication concludes that there is still need for further research into the main issues surrounding the services provided to refugees. The ESN suggests to continiously monitor local organisations and countries to document how they respond to newcomers. 


The European Social Network is a UK-based network for local public services in Europe, bringing together over 120 organisations in 35 countries on topics such as health, welfare, education, employment and housing. The full ESN publication can be read here