Successes and forthcoming challenges from the pioneering asylum-seekers’ reception programme, Nausica

Successes and forthcoming challenges from the pioneering asylum-seekers’ reception programme, Nausica

Sat, 20/06/2020 - 08:10

Homera Rosetti

Asylum. After close to four years in operation, and as we commemorate World Refugee Day on 20 June, we are revising our supplementary municipal programme for comprehensive assistance to asylum seekers: the Nausica.

After close to four years in operation, and as we commemorate World Refugee Day on 20 June, we are revising our supplementary municipal programme for comprehensive assistance to asylum seekers: the Nausica.

It was towards the end of 2016, and under the framework of the ‘Barcelona, city of refuge’plan, that Barcelona City Council and several organisations began to work together to offer a solution to the gaps in the state system for helping applicants for international protection and, at the same time, show that another reception policy was possible. This led to the creation of Nausica, a programme offering comprehensive social assistance for people who have finished or been excluded from the state programme without having achieved an optimal level of independence to live in their host city.

The Nausica offers a series of distinct services suitable for the needs of users in an accommodation facility with temporary residential places including: cover for basic needs and a comprehensive and personalised work plan with an extensive catalogue of services that include social, psychological and professional support; language learning; legal, educational and employment guidance; and support in schooling for children and teenagers.

Marc Serra, the Councillor for Citizen Rights, Participation and Global Justice, explains why the Nausica programme is a pioneer in the Spanish State: ’it not only fills a gap where the local authority lacks jurisdiction but also, more importantly, does so from an empowering, non-paternalistic perspective, so that the programme’s users can achieve a maximum level of independence through accommodation and social and professional integration. And that is crucial for people who have had to flee their countries of origin and find themselves in very complex circumstances’.

On the table: what are this initiative’s successes and challenges? 

The Broll cooperative, which is run by Ariadna Fitó, a specialist in assessing public policies, has evaluated the results of the 2019 programme and provided a series of recommendations for helping to improve it.

A year on and the programme is achieving a positive and significant impact on the growing independence of the people it assists. The most notable data are the programme’s proportion of job placements (46%), even though they are so unstable that a large number of people have been leaving the Nausica, who are then subject to serious difficulties in accessing an independent dwelling.

Job places are reaching 46%, despite their instability

Nausica seeks independence for people applying for asylum in their host city, Barcelona. For a person to have their basic needs covered, the first step is for them to get a job. 46% of the facility’s working-age population have achieved at least one employment contract, a slightly higher percentage than in the 2017 analysis (+3.1).

But job instability in the labour market is very pronounced in this collective: 40% of the people who have succeeded in getting work in the formal market during their stay in the programme have done so for a maximum of three months. Only 2.5% have received employment contracts lasting longer than nine months (a percentage that has dropped from the 5% recorded in 2017). Because of the short-term nature of their employment contracts, 34% of the people who have worked while on the Nausica programme have signed at least two employment contracts. Add to that too the percentage that has remained fixed throughout the programme’s previous editions: 10% of working-age people in the facility who have worked in the informal economy.

46% have received new job placements, 2.5% with long-term employment contracts.

87.4% the job placements created during the stay on the Nausica programme are linked to the services sector such as restaurants and cafés, hotel and catering industry (cooks, dishwashers etc.) and unqualified workers (warehouse workers). A labour sector noted for its temporary and part-time employment which results in only 25% of the people who have worked in it reaching salaries equivalent to the minimum wage.

This is a double-sided coin, according to Fitó: ‘The programme has satisfactory job-placement rates, and even more when we take into account the complexity of the situations being dealt with, despite the fact that they are unstable jobs noted for being highly temporary, half-day or less, and with salaries too low for taking on an economically independent life in Barcelona’, she asserts.

One possible improvement to this reality would be, according to Fitó, ‘the involvement of companies to bring about continuous job placements, seeing that only non-intermittent work will promote economic stability in users. What the most successful job placement experiences of refugees have in common is the participation of companies in the programme, whether in training or job-skills acquisition or in subsequent recruitment’.

Language skills

Coming to Catalonia is understanding our multilingual society. The 2019 Nausica programme’s assessment showed the programme’s continued imbalance of cover in Catalan language learning, although the percentage dropped by 15% compared to 2017. In 2019, 62% of the training was in Spanish and 38% in Catalan.

Some of the programme’s users continue to justify this owing to the difficulties of learning two languages and prioritise the use of Spanish, arguing that they had already started training in it. As they progress along the programme, practically all users manage to understand Spanish (97%), 51.5% can speak it and 44.6% can write it.  As for Catalan, the results are very good: in 2017 36.7% of users left the programme understanding Catalan; in 2019, more than half of the people assisted understood it (52.5%).

If we analyse the gender gap, we can see the persistently higher levels of knowledge of languages at the start of the programme among men than women (Spanish and Catalan), an inequality that is significantly reduced during the stay in the programme. Such is the case too that on leaving the programme, men and women reach the same level of knowledge of Spanish, whereas a higher percentage of women than men end up understanding Catalan (+12.1%). 59.1% of women leave the programme understanding Catalan, compared to 47% of men.

Language skills are basic for job placements, and some figures demonstrate that: those who do not understand Spanish receive no job placements, while 59% of those who understand Catalan find a job.

The struggle for creating personal and social independence 

Bringing life to the host city is not just an economic and employment dimension. We also need to bear in mind the personal and social angle, which is the key to success.

Here the data are also encouraging, given that, on finishing the programme, the Nausica’s beneficiaries increase their personal independence and double their social independence. 

It should also be pointed out, however, that the Nausica’s service accumulates low-independence profiles, year after year, not just personal ones but social and economic ones too, of users with more difficulties leaving: these are individuals with serious difficulties in achieving independence and who fall into a state of withdrawal.

People have been observed going through processes where they lose their personal and social independence, especially among men who are more prone to going through a withdrawal stage: less acceptance of responsibility and more passive attitudes towards improving their situation.

In spite all that, the overall figures are good: after three months on the programme, close to 75% of its users have optimal levels of personal independence, 44% of social independence and 21% economic independence.

On leaving the programme, future challenges and how the COVID-19 crisis will affect them

As for those leaving the programme, at least half do so for having achieved independence (the figure is identical to that for 2017). Only 5.6% leave through expulsion (a percentage that has dropped considerably, compared to that for 2017, which was 19%). Among those who leave, the individual profile figure is higher: 14.2% more successful departures in independence than in family units.

Once they are out of the programme, one of the persistent challenges that concerns them is the difficulty in connecting to the social services. Only 31% of those leaving the programme have optimal links to social services centres, and scarce or non-existent connection of users to centres affects 69% of the people assisted in the facility. Staff at the Councillor’s office are aware of this: ‘Users’ connections to the social services before they leave the programme are an issue we have yet to deal with although we will be getting to work on it more easily in this term of office given that we are part of the same Area of Social Rights’, Serra points out.

The programme is a success although some gaps have appeared owing, in part, to the way that the employment and social system is configured in Barcelona. Councillor Marc Serra explains, ‘there are issues that very clearly have to be examined and which we are already working on, such as effectively coordinating the aims of civil society when it comes to receiving refugees under more active support programmes, which may go together with the need for increasing group intervention and community participation, studying the possibility of companies taking part in the programme or the need for a longer stay in the programme’.

The future in June 2020, what is more, is uncertain, thanks to the global pandemic we have been seeing over the last few months. How will it affect Barcelona’s citizens and, more specifically, its asylum seekers? According to Serra, ‘it’s still too early to predict how the economic and social crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the most vulnerable groups, seeing that we’ve still got to find out how far-reaching this crisis is ultimately going to be, but Barcelona City Council is very clear about what its priority has to be in such a context, which is safeguarding the rights of all the city’s residents, including its asylum seekers and refugees, and to enable their accompaniment towards an optimal level of personal, social and economic independence’.