Refugee integration in Europe, a critical challenge.

Europe faces a migrant crisis as a consequence of the chronicle emergencies in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. Leading by example, the German authorities have announced an ambitious and generous program of formal welcome of refugees on its territory. Up to 1M asylum seekers are expected in Europe in 2015.

In this context it is essential to address basic needs such as food, shelter, and medical care;  local authorities as well as charities are providing them. But for refugees who arrive in reception centres after months of highly traumatic journeys and have been severely affected by the crisis (violence, loss, social breakdown), it is also essential to quickly take into account their psychosocial, educational and informational needs as they face these challenges of a return to a sense of normalcy in everyday life, with spaces to connect and reconnect as well as a stable work and school environment.

Refugees turn their efforts to navigating the administrative hurdles, then to job seeking or starting classes in a new language, often after months or even years of interruption in their education or carrier. Young adults who were often enrolled in higher education might be unable to find equivalence in European universities or make the choice to look for work to support their family, thus facing additional frustrations.

This context therefore demands a multilayered response, ensuring the quality of the services provided to enable a smooth insertion within the existing communities as refugees begin the complex process of integration into their new environment:

  • Navigating the new administrative processes and understand their rights and obligations
  • Fitting in with their host community, with a new language and different socio-cultural codes
  • Acquiring new skills or transferring existing ones
  • Reinventing and developing the capacity of local institutions

A large number of stakeholders are invested in helping the refugees as they take their first steps in Europe. Libraries and community centres have a central role to play in providing much needed services for information access, non formal education activities and shared spaces for interaction between groups.

However they suffer from a number of significant limitations:

  • As refugees arrive in a new environment, they will take a significant time to identify the institutions and services they can turn to. Providing that information is precisely the role of libraries. Yet as they are not at in the locations where the refugees are they cannot provide that service at the time when it is needed.
  • Libraries often suffer from an intimidating image, out of sync with the needs and interests, especially of young adults and the most vulnerable populations from under privilege socio-economic background.
  • And most significantly, they do not have the cultural resources for these new patrons, contents in Arabic, by Middle Eastern authors, about the region. These are precisely the contents that refugees will be seeking to find fight the sense of loss and uprooting.

It is therefore essential to empower them with the means to provide their services at the heart of where the refugee communities are. This includes the tools to be flexible and setup outreach activities, and tailored contents.

Description of the initiative

Libraries Without Borders has launched a European wide program to tackle challenges faced by refugee in accessing information, education and psychosocial support. It leverages the Ideas Box, a portable media center, to reach asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. This program is the result of two years of programming in refugee camps (Burundi, Jordan) and 8 years in France working with vulnerable communities (including migrants, unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers).

The Ideas Box

Created in 2013 by Libraries without Borders as a humanitarian response device for access to information, education and culture, Ideas Box is a portable media centre that unfolds on 100 square meters. It can accommodate an average of 70 people at a time, with an average of 500 people per day.

Fully furnished with table and chairs, with a 30 computers and tablets, 25 e-readers, hundreds of paper books, and numerous educational and recreative tools selected and adapted to the context of implementation, it becomes:

  • A hub for learning, capacity building;
  • A place of empowerment, where refugees can access the knowledge and information needed to successfully begin their integration;
  • A safe space for connecting with family (each Ideas Box is equipped with an internet connection, tablets and computers);
  • A community space where users and local stakeholders can meet up and design community-based solutions.

Ideas Box serves as a bridge between first services created for the crisis and the permanent institutions and places that they will share with the local population. Current projects show that users of Ideas Box show a significant interest in registering to public institutions such as libraries and job services. This ensure the sustainability of the programs especially as the emergency services are usually designed to be temporary.

The magnitude of the crisis calls for a structural response that is not limited to the provision of basic services to refugee populations. There is an urgent need to work towards cross-cutting strategies that integrate the competencies of stakeholders to address informational, psychosocial, educational and cultural issues in order to welcome the refugee populations during this integration period. In this context, the Ideas Box is a particularly relevant tool in the service of the refugee populations as well as their host community.


Overall objective

To enable a high quality and comprehensive response to arrival of refugees in Europe, in order to address their specific needs and prepare their professional, educational and social integration into their host community.

Specific objective:

  1. Integration and empowerment: Providing an enabling environment to maximise the agency and autonomy of the refugees.

Expected outputs:

  • The Ideas Box becomes an interface and resource centre for refugees to access to key information on legal and administrative procedures and assistance.
  • It serves as a hub where the local community can get involved in helping the refugees’ integration, providing language tutoring, cultural activities and guidance.
  • Using the Ideas Box equipment, the refugees find creative ways to gain knowledge on their environment: GPS are used for mapping, cameras enable blogging and participatory film making

2. Capacity Building:
Prepare the return to work or school environment for refugees

Expected outputs:

  • The Ideas Box enables the provision of training and basic schooling for adults and children alike:
  • Vocational training,
  • Job seeking support through workshops on CVs and interviews,
  • School level assessments and tutoring prior to a return to formal education and as after school support

The Ideas Box creates a bridge with libraries and other community centres that can provide further assistance for job seekers and for non formal educational support.

3. Psychosocial support and building resilience : Addressing the specific consequences of the traumatic experiences of migrants.

Expected outputs:

  • The Ideas Box is a space for connectivity: refugees are able to charge mobile phones and use internet for emails, social media and video calls to family and friends. Reassuring those left behind and keeping up to date with kin is the building block for a renewed sense of security.
  • It is an attractive space for parents with their children as well as teenagers/young adults. They find tools adapted to their specific interests and needs, enabling a return to leisure activities, learning through playing and a safe environment to rebuild what was lost.

Nota: The psychosocial impact study of the Ideas Box implemented in Burundi has shown that it is a space where adults who have lost family members get involved to find a role in their community, and where children express their trauma through art and play.

Implementation of the initiative

9 Ideas Box have already been implemented for refugees in Burundi, Jordan, Ehtiopia and Lebanon. The projects were implemented in partnership with local authorities, UNHCR and international NGOs such as Save the Children, Care and IRC. Libraries without Borders provides on-going support, initial training and coordinated the implementation of the project as well as the design of activities and content curation.

LWB also has on-going conversation with partners in France, Germany, Italy, Greece and in the Balkans for Ideas Box implementations:

In France, LWB is already working with several refugees’ reception centres in the Paris area (no Ideas Box implemented for the moment but little libraries, participatory mapping projects, literacy courses, etc.). Several libraries have contacted us to explore possibilities of partnership on Ideas Box for refugees.

In Germany, LWB has submitted a proposal to the government for Ideas Box implementation in partnership with the Goethe Institute.

In Italy, in Greece and the Balkans, LWB is working with the Open Society Foundation/Europe and their partners (including Solidarity Now in Greece) to explore specific Ideas Box projects on the routes of the refugees to provide them quick and free access to the internet and quality information on their trip and administrative procedures, safe spaces where they can access contents in their language.

The projects will be different depending on whether the country is a transit country (like Greece) or a host country. In transit countries, the Ideas Box will be more focus on providing direct assistance to refugees like connectivity to the Internet, electric power supply mapping on services in the area, legal assistance, etc. In host countries, the box will provide more structural activities and services like non-formal education, vocational training, languages lessons, etc.

The Ideas Box has been created to be easily transferable to partners on the field. In France, Libraries Without Borders is already implementing Ideas Box for refugees with many types of partners:

  • Libraries: As with Calais libraries, LWB transfers Ideas Box to public libraries for outreach programs. Ideas Box are funded by the Cities and operated by the libraries’ teams. LWB give specific trainings for facilitation with foreign and non-native speakers patrons.
  • Refugees’ reception centre: In France, LWB works with Red Cross refugee’s reception centres that in most case lack tools and resources for migrants. The Ideas Box acts as a tremendous lever for ongoing activities like vocational training, non-formal education or legal assistance. In these cases, Ideas Box can be funded either by public or private funds.
  • Civil society/NGO: Ideas Box can also be operated directly by local or national NGO working in the refugee assistance field. The mobility of the box enables the partners to bring connectivity tools and training resources where the refugees are (directly in the street, parks or community centres for example).

Resources dedicated to the initiative

Financial sources

Budget dedicated to the Action: 685 000€

Main sources of income: Company foundations, City budgets, Ministry of culture

Human resources dedicated to the initiative

10 (partnership managers, project managers, content curators, activities facilitators)


Number of refugees reached by the initiative: the Ideas Box can host up to 70 people at a time and can serve in reception centres or communities of up to 5 000 people.

  1. Urban programs in France and in the US:

The program began in Spring 2015 and a first impact assessment is currently under way. Initial results show concrete achievements in:

  • support for language learning through access to tutorials and resources,
  • support for job seekers: workshops for interviews and writing resumes were implemented with the support of university students,
  • access to public services: migrants were informed of the library and public services they could sign-up for and a significant number of them have registered for library membership, especially to continue accessing the language learning resources,
  • Community building, by involving the local populations as volunteers and participants in the activities.

2. Refugee camps (Burundi, Jordan)

After 2 years of implementation in refugee camps in Burundi then Jordan, the Ideas Box shows significant results particularly in terms of:

  • Education improvement with non-formal and informal, blended learning and IT integration: teachers and students are now regular patrons of the community centre, and are actively participating and requesting new contents, helping bring continuous improvement to the Ideas Box,
  • Child protection: the camps where the Ideas Box is setup provided very few if any specific activities for children outside of the often part time school time. The Ideas Box is now a reference point to which parents readily bring their children.
  • Community building and attractiveness: the Ideas Box is a central node where people meet and share information. It has increased the capacity of outreach of the programs implemented by NGOs such as Save the Children, at the same time it enabling them to attract people and identify the most vulnerable population;
  • Trauma alleviation and peace building: the Box support psychologists with tools and resources (as games, videos, project-based activities) in their daily work. In the particularly traumatic context of the Syrian crisis, drawing and group activities in the community centre help re-establish a sense of normalcy. It is a safe space where children, parents and members of the community can express their fears, rebuild hope and reconnect with each other. In Burundi, a psychiatrist specializing in humanitarian contexts and trauma conducted a psychosocial evaluation.

Full reports can be found here:

Critical success factors

  • Multiple partnerships: bringing on board: publish agents (libraries, social services), civil society (volunteers, local social organisations specialised on the target groups)
  • Training and on-going support
  • Quality of contents and flexibility: language learning courses, proactively searching for new contents
  • Internet access: is the first point of interest for the migrants and refugees.

Biggest obstacles

  • Information sourcing: more content needs to be created and shared on the administrative hurdles of refugees, and it needs to be designed to be used directly by them and not social workers. This is the type of content that our program can disseminate.
  • Partnership management: a partnership model needs to be designed to adapt to the constraints and time frames of each organisation.
  • Programming in public spaces: getting authorizations
  • Mobilizing and training volunteers, especially during holidays.

The organisation

Created in France in 2007 by historian Patrick Weil, Bibliothèques Sans Frontières / Libraries Without Borders (LWB) is one of the leading international organizations working in culture-and knowledge-based development around the world.
In both development and humanitarian contexts, LWB’s aim is to provide access to information and culture for all by providing support to libraries in France and in 20 other countries worldwide

Since 2012, LWB has been developing several digital content projects in both educational sectors (MOOC, collaborative learning, etc.) and professional fields (specialized digital libraries, etc.). LWB has supported more than 300 libraries throughout the world since its inception.

  1. Expertise in humanitarian & emergency situations

Since 2014, Libraries Without Borders has been working on Ideas Box implementations in the countries affected by the Syrian crisis. A content selection committee, of publishers, academics and NGOs worked on the curation of resources for the projects. An Ideas Box is currently implemented in Azraq, a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. The results are extremely promising, with education and psychosocial support identified as key results. 2 other Ideas Box are already in preparation to be implemented in a community centre in Amman, a city facing a tremendous influx of Syrian refugees, as well as another in a school in Lebanon.

2. Work with refugees in France

Libraries Without Borders has been working on addressing the challenges faced by refugees and the institutions that serve them, with programs in 20 countries including in Europe. In France, LWB designed programs specifically for asylum seeker and migrant centres in the Paris region. These programs include:

  • The set-up of multicultural libraries,
  • The creation of insertion workshops for language learning and job seeking (a program called “Turn the Page”),
  • Participatory mapping projects with unaccompanied migrant minors to support their insertion in their new environment.



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