An association run by former rugby professionals in the French wine-making region of Bordeaux is supporting the integration of refugees, through career training, work opportunities and regular sports sessions. In his former life, in Syria, Hussam worked as a journalist, and was an elite athlete. “I was the Syrian kickboxing champion three times”, he says. However, the conflict in the country put paid to his professional and sporting ambitions. “I was shot in the chest, and after that I stopped taking part in sports”.
Forced to leave , Hussam sought refuge in France, where he found employment in the vineyards of the Bordeaux region, working as a seasonal worker at Château Pédesclaux, which produces Pauillac, one of the famous Bordeaux “Grands Crus” fine wines. Hussam is one of dozens of refugees providing a vital service to an industry that often finds it hard to find enough labour at harvest time, a shortage that has become more serious since the COVID-19 pandemic saw travel restrictions making it much harder for migrant workers to enter the country.
Refugees in France
Ninety refugees helped bring in the grapes during the last harvest, and a further 15 took part in training for other viticulture-related jobs, such as tractor driving, which offer the possibility of year-round employment. Ovale Citoyen also offers training for a wide range of careers in the wine industry, as well as social and legal support.
Sport plays a central role, in part because Ovale Citoyen created by former professional rugby players from Union Bordeaux Bègles (the word ‘ovale’ refers to the oval shape of a rugby ball). The group also promotes football and boxing.
“Rugby has social values, values of the heart, and it seemed very important to us that refugees should be able to benefit from them,” says Jean François Puech, one of the Ovale Citoyen founders, explaining that the association advances social integration and the idea that everyone has a place on the field regardless of their social situation, their level of education or their physique. “Whatever a person’s origin, religion, sexual orientation or even their history, every human has the right to happiness”.
“Ovale Citoyen encouraged me to get back into sport”, says Hussam. “Rugby has given me many important things: It’s given me contact with the local community, new friends, and it’s given me hope”.
Rugby to the rescue
“There was a lot of uncertainty about our ability to find people to work among the vines, But the vines won’t wait for us” says Vincent Bache-Grabielsen, technical director of Château Pédesclaux. “We have to follow the cycle of the seasons”.
Searching for a solution, the vineyard turned to Ovale Citoyen, a local association that uses rugby (Bordeaux is not only a famous wine region, but also the heartland of French rugby) and other sports as a way of promoting team-building and inclusion.
Since the beginning of the COVID crisis, the association has also offered seasonal work to people in need, including refugees, in a project called “Drop in the Fields”, a play on words that refers to drop goals, a way of scoring points in rugby.
Integration involves a two-way process between refugees and their host communities. To build social cohesion, stability and security, it requires that communities are well-equipped to receive refugees, and that refugees get support to realize their potential in their new environments.
The ability for refugees to live and build futures for themselves wherever they are in Europe can contribute to an effective asylum system and reduce pressures for onward movement. Investing in the integration of refugees yields positive benefits for refugees as well as host communities, providing a sense of belonging and a future.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is greatly concerned that some States are creating barriers and deterrents to entry or pushing back people in need of protection. States need to put in place protection-sensitive border policies and practices, including measures to recognize whether individuals need international protection, as well as to identify people with specific needs, such as unaccompanied and separated children.
European integration of migrants and refugees
The successful integration of migrants is key to the future well-being, prosperity and cohesion of European societies. Although Member States are primarily responsible for integration, the EU supports national and local authorities with policy coordination, exchange of knowledge and financial resources.
A European approach to integration and inclusion
As emphasised in the new Pact on Migration and Asylum, successful integration and inclusion is an essential part of a well-managed and effective migration and asylum policy. It is also essential for social cohesion and for a dynamic economy that works for all.
The action plan proposes targeted and tailored support that takes into account individual characteristics that may present specific challenges to people with a migrant background, such as gender or religious background. Successful integration and inclusion depends both on early action and on long-term commitment.
EU key role in supporting Member States
Although national governments are primarily responsible for creating and implementing social policies, the EU plays a key role in supporting Member States through funding, developing guidance and fostering relevant partnerships. The main actions are:
- Integration of refugees – Inclusive education and training from early childhood to higher education, focusing on facilitating the recognition of qualifications and continued language learning, with support from EU funds.
- Improving employment opportunities and skills recognition to fully value the contribution of migrant communities, and women in particular, and ensure that they get support to reach their full potential. The Commission will work with social and economic partners and employers to promote labour market integration, support entrepreneurship and make it easier for employers to recognise and assess skills.
- Promoting access to health services, including mental healthcare, for people with a migrant background. In addition to dedicated EU funding, the action plan seeks to ensure people are informed about their rights and recognises the specific challenges faced by women, in particular during and after pregnancy. The action plan also supports Member States to exchange best practice.
- Access to adequate and affordable housing funded through the European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund Plus, Asylum and Migration Fund and Invest EU, as well as funding platforms to exchange of experience at local and regional level on fighting discrimination on the housing market and segregation.
EU is sharing and funding responsibility
The action plan gets EU funding and creates partnerships with all those involved: migrants, host communities, social and economic partners, civil society, local and regional authorities as well as the private sector. It will empower host communities and support their role in the design and implementation of integration measures and programmes, while also emphasising the responsibility of the people concerned in participating in the host society. It will seek to modernise access to services by using digital tools. Finally, it will improve the evidence base to help further development of policies and to ensure good monitoring of results.
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