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Housing for Migrants and Refugees in the UNECE Region: Challenges and practices



Major global phenomena, including international migration, have had a critical impact on the capacity of the housing sector to deliver adequate and affordable housing for all. With governments working to meet the housing need of the local population, migration is often seen as adding further pressure on public budgets.

The Geneva UN Charter on Sustainable Housing, endorsed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in 2015, is one of the key policy documents that guide the work of the UNECE Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management. In line with the main goal of the Charter to support member States in ensuring universal access to decent, adequate, affordable and healthy housing, especially for vulnerable groups like migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons and stateless persons, the Committee adopted a decision in 2016 to prepare a study on how countries are addressing the migration crisis through the provision of affordable housing.

The development of the study Housing for Migrants and Refugees in the UNECE Region: Challenges and practices began in 2016 and after a series of consultations and revisions, it was finalized in 2020.

The Committee approved the study and its contents at its eighty-first session in October 2020 (ECE/HBP/206, para 41).
The study is a compendium of best practices and illustrates that housing for migrants and refugees can positively support local communities and economies, and facilitate their integration.

Furthermore, the study highlights the key role of cities and local administrations in housing provision.

Executive Summary

Adequate housing was recognized as part of the right to an adequate standard of living in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Adequate housing may include characteristics related to, but not limited to, security of tenure, affordability, habitability, accessibility, location, cultural adequacy, and availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure.6 Global challenges, such as urbanization, migration, climate change, as well as the 2008 global financial crisis, have had a critical impact upon the capacity of the housing sector to deliver adequate housing for all.

The case studies presented in this publication were selected based on interviews with experts, literature reviews and contributions by governments of the member States of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). In selecting the case studies, authors attempted to ensure that the case studies present diverse housing solutions covering the whole housing continuum7 , going beyond emergency shelters. These case studies therefore demonstrate a wide range of good practices for providing affordable and adequate housing for migrants and refugees, which include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Revitalizing depopulated decaying urban neighbourhoods by renovating vacant houses and using them as housing for migrants and refugees (see case studies 1 and 2)

  • Addressing the depopulation of rural areas through providing housing for migrants and refugees in rural communities (see case studies 3-6)

  • Promoting diverse and sustainable communities through facilitating interaction between local communities and migrants and refugees, including through developing shared public spaces and activities to support integration of the migrants and refugees (see case studies 7-9)

  • Developing long-term, sustainable and cost-efficient housing solutions through housing construction and maintenance (see case studies 10-16)

  • Building affordable adequate housing through applying innovative architectural design for cheaper but high-quality, modular prefabricated housing (see case studies 17-22)

  • Generating additional resources for housing projects for migrants and refugees through partnerships between governments, non-governmental organizations and the private sector (see case studies 23-28).

The case studies demonstrate that access to housing plays a major role in the process of integration of migrants and refugees into a society, as housing location, accessibility, affordability and habitability, among other factors, have direct impact on the ability of inhabitants to seek employment and access education and healthcare.

The study concludes that most of the existing policies aiming to improve societal integration through housing solutions are often short/medium-term in focus. However, policies supporting housing provision can and should support the medium- and long-term integration of migrants and refugees.

The research conducted suggests that increased coordination between national and local governments through coherent housing policies and programmes can play a key role in addressing access to housing and integration challenges in differing local contexts.

The study demonstrates that while both integration and housing policies are primarily managed at the national level in the UNECE region, arrangements concerning social and economic accommodation of regular migrants frequently take place at the local level; they are planned and managed by local governments. Therefore, strengthening the capacity of local governments to manage housing provision for migrants and refugees is of utmost importance.

The study underlines the critical role of cities in housing migrants and refugees. Attracted by the labour markets, public services and the social capital cities offer, regular migrants and refugees are increasingly drawn towards urban areas, either as a transit hub or an actual destination.

Housing and immigration policies of UNECE member States are varied; experiences of migrants and refugees on reception, integration and access to housing may differ greatly between the countries as well as within the countries, depending on the capacity of each city, neighbourhood or even household. In addition, cultural and historical conditions should also be considered when designing strategies and programmes for housing migrants and refugees.
This study emphasizes the great extent to which the commitment and creativity of governments, cities, housing providers and civil society at large can have an impact in designing and delivering housing solutions. In this context, facilitating the exchange of knowledge and best practices on innovative housing initiatives can help in the successful social and economic integration of migrants and refugees in the UNECE region.

In line with this approach, the study advisesthat strategies should be designed to encourage the active participation of migrants and refugees in the planning and implementation of related housing projects as well as in housing management. This can take place, for example, through the creation of panels or advisory groupsfor housing construction or renovation projects, training and employment of migrants and refugees in local housing services, direct involvement of migrants and refugees in the provision or revitalization of buildings and awareness raising of the services they might be entitled to.

Through a range of innovative practices for the provision of housing for migrants and refugees adopted by public, private and non-profit organizations, including homeowner associations and housing cooperatives, this study calls for cooperation. Cooperation should engage all key stakeholders at the national, regional and local levels across different sectors and on different housing tenures and disciplines, to support integration and contribute to improved social cohesion and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.