Brief Report


On 12-13 November 2001, the 5th European Conference on the Integration of Refugees “Furthering the Spirit of Tampere” took place in Helsinki, Finland. The Conference was organised by the Regional Office of IOM in Helsinki in close cooperation with the European Commission (European Refugee Fund), the Finnish Ministry of Labour, the Swedish Integration Board, the Swedish Migration Board and the European Council on Refugees and Exiles. The European Refugee Fund has been the main contributor to the Conference.


The conference brought together all major actors of refugee integration in the European Union - refugee NGOs, national governmental officials and politicians, community and social partners, international organisations, the media and academia – to tackle jointly challenges related to integration of refugees in today’s Europe. The conference aimed to highlight particular areas where additional efforts were needed, and to facilitate innovative proposals for practical steps of action. In particular, every effort was made to ensure strong participation of refugee NGOs, so that the voice of refugees themselves was well heard and taken into account when designing national integration policies and measures.


The conference provided participants with a regional perspective and an opportunity to exchange information, promote best practices and generate new insights through informed discussion and shared experience. It built on the findings of four previous European refugee integration conferences to ensure continuity and promoted further cooperation in the multi-faceted and fast-moving field of refugee integration in today’s dynamic Europe.


The event attracted over 180 participants from EU Member States. The agenda comprised two plenary sessions and five workshops addressing the key issues related to the integration of refugees in Europe. The insights and recommendations generated at the workshops gave further momentum to practical measure of the integration of refugees in the European Union. In particular, the Conference enhanced dialogue between politicians, researchers, civil servants, NGOs and other experts in the field from all the participating countries, thus leading to the closer cooperation and networking between the participants, and furthering new important initiatives in this area.


The title of the Conference referred to the Spirit of Tampere, which gave a credit to Finland’s role in tackling refugee reception and integration in the European Union, as well the joint efforts of all EU Member States in implementing the ambitious provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty of creating “an area of freedom, security and justice.” Effective integration of refugees is an important element part of this vision, and was the main area addressed by the Conference.



The inauguration part of the Conference started at the House of Estates with a brief video on the integration of refugees in the European Union. In his welcome speech, Mr Jose-Angel Oropeza, IOM Regional Representative, stressed that “the devastating terrorist attacks of 11 September brought some changes to the international migration environment, with most governments considering strengthening border security and the adoption of enhanced security measures to prevent terrorism. While this may result in temporary changes in migratory patterns, fundamental migratory push and pull factors are unlikely to change”. He also indicated that international migration contributed to creating societies with cultural and ethnic diversity. As people of different cultures interact with each other, they face different belief systems, values, customs, patterns of behaviour and social relations. The process of integration involves adaptation on the part of both the migrant and the receiving population and that further efforts should be done both by receiving societies and refugee and migrant communities to allow a smooth process of integration.


Ms Tarja Filatov, Minister of Labour of Finland, indicated in her welcome remarks that the Spirit of Tampere, as the title of the Conference refers to, is indeed symbolic in a number of ways. The Tampere Summit clearly demonstrated that justice and home affairs issues have to be tackled by concerted efforts of all EU Member States, while maintaining a practical approach ensuring that the ambitious provisions of creating an area of freedom, security and justice become reality. Successful integration of refugees is an indispensable part of this vision. In Tampere we committed ourselves to fair treatment of third country nationals legally residing on our territory, and called for a more rigorous policy in granting them rights and obligations comparable to those of our citizens. The Minister also concluded that at Tampere the EU Member States “promised to promote non-discrimination in economic, social and cultural life as well as to develop measures to combat racism and xenophobia. The Minister stressed that the integration of refugees was “a two-way process and therefore the responsibility equally rests on both the newcomer as well as the host society. Successful integration is unthinkable in the atmosphere of hostility, suspicion or racism. Therefore, our integration measures can succeed only with mutual and full commitment of all actors involved”.


Mr Juhani Sormunen, Deputy Head of EU Delegation in Finland, welcomed participants and elaborated on current EU developments in crystallising a common framework for addressing asylum issues and refugee integration in the context of deepening European integration.


Ms Essak Batulo, Finnish Refugee of the Year, highlighted from her personal experience that that integration of refugees ought to start from the very first day when a newcomer arrives at his host country. Ms Batulo, a Somali refugee herself, stated that “as from our part as the so called Target Group, I wish that we could find in good spirits new ways in equal co-operation to develop.


The plenary session continued with key speakers who included Ms Mervi Virtanen, Finnish Director of the Ministry of Labour, Mr Andreas Calgren, Director General of the Swedish Integration Board and Mr Andrew Gregg from the World University Services. They respectively addressed the Finnish and Swedish models of integration as well as refugee integration in the European context from an NGO perspective.


The opening session was followed by five working groups which constituted the heart of the Conference, being the main part where major issues related to the integration of refugees in Europe were addressed in detailed and practical manner. At this year’s Conference, five specific areas were identified as key issues in addressing the Conference goals, taking into account the diverse interest and areas of expertise of the audience:

·      Furthering refugee integration: projects v long-term integration measures

·      Identity and image: refugee perception and self-perception

·      Meeting a new culture and society: gender, family and minority issues

·      Citizenship and naturalisation: the legal dimensions of successful integration?

·      Refugees facing the changes in EU labour markets: implications to integration.


Conclusion and recommendation that emanates from the working groups were presented at the closing plenary session on 13 November 2001. With an audience coming from Governments, NGOs, refugee community organisations, and international organisations with various perspectives, the Conference succeeded in setting forth the balanced recommendations derived from five Working Groups where participants shared concerns, information, best practices as well as high level of innovative ideas to facilitate the integration of refugees and migrants in the host societies.


The insights and results of the working groups clearly demonstrated that sustainable integration of refugees in Europe was inherently linked to addressing the causes of under-employment, social and cultural integration. More ambitious initiatives were also raised and recommended on more sensitive issues such as citizenship, freedom of movement, political rights, etc. The Conference also noted that the tolerance was more essential than ever before, especially after the tragedy of 11 September 2002. Tolerance has to be promoted in all part of the society: between individuals and at the family and community levels. Tolerance promotion and the shaping of attitudes of openness, mutual listening and solidarity should take place in schools and universities, and in the workplace. The press and other mass media are in a position to play a critical role in facilitating free and open dialogue and discussion, disseminating the values of tolerance, and highlighting the dangers of indifference towards the rise in intolerant groups and ideologies.


In addition to the agenda of the Conference, a cultural and social programme was organised, in order to promote and consolidate working contacts between refugee NGOs, governmental participants and other actors in the field of refugee integration. On 11 November, the participants were hosted by the International Cultural Centre Caisa for an international cultural party with the participation of Jambedula Cultural Group and the Caisa band. On 12 November, a reception was offered by the Lord Mayor of the City of Helsinki. In addition, visits to the Reception Centre of Helsinki were arranged so participants could have first hand experience on the practical arrangements for the reception and reintegration of refugees in Finland.