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National asylum policies have an influence on refugees’ adaptation trajectories. What are the challenges facing these individuals when they come to their host country? And how do they cope with them? These questions are central to an article co-authored by Shiva Taghavi, Hédia Zannad and Emmanouela Mandalaki, three researchers at NEOMA.

Migration flows to Europe are on the rise due to the large number of conflicts that have broken out worldwide. Following the exodus of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan – and more recently Ukraine – the reception and acculturation of asylum seekers have become key concerns for the countries that take them in. France received the second highest number of asylum applications among EU nations in 2020, and 12% of the 89,400 requests met with a positive response. But how do these exiled individuals cope with the many and varied challenges that result from their relocation?

Navigating a sea of problems

The NEOMA researchers interviewed 19 refugees in France in an attempt to understand their socio-professional trajectories – pathways shaped by changes in career and social status. The authors help us understand how refugees integrate into society, and how social inequalities are reproduced or change. The research focuses on the identity reorganisation of exiled individuals based on their self-perceptions and the image they want to convey in their new environment. To put it another way, their new “social standing”.

The findings are consistent: career opportunities for refugees drop dramatically in their host country. In addition, they may experience economic and socio-political discrimination for many years after arriving. When it comes to integration, the French system encourages immigrants to sign up to the values of the Republic – liberty, equality, fraternity – and show respect for the principles of secularism rather than hold on to their culture of origin.

A range of adaptation strategies

The study shows that refugees employ a variety of “social navigation” strategies to get through the challenges they confront, including discrimination, and over other obstacles. The hurdles they face are administrative: problems obtaining refugee status, opening bank accounts or even renting accommodation. The difficulties facing refugees are also cultural and linguistic, which then restricts their access to skilled work, even if they have qualifications. In response, the study differentiates between three trajectories, which the authors describe as “adjusting”, “enhancing” and “detaching”. These are predicated on how the exiled individual deals with problems and develops a sense of belonging to the host society.

For instance, refugees who follow an adjusting trajectory prioritise acculturation via a strong attachment to the local culture and by minimising their ethnic status. They highlight their professional skills as a way of de-escalating discrimination. The refugee label is downgraded to extent it fades away and is “replaced” with the more important professional identity, reminding that refugees are first and foremost individuals and professionals.  Refugees following the enhancing trajectory, however, leverage their refugee status to build a more inclusive socio-professional identity mainly boarding on entrepreneurship journeys.

On the other hand, refugees who take a “detaching” trajectory often feel discriminated against by the French public or employers. And yet, they do not attempt to prove the inadequacy of the negative stereotypes they experience. Some of them then turn towards sectors that do not match their qualifications, and tend to work in insecure jobs that demand fewer social and cultural skills.

It’s noteworthy that these trajectories are not fixed, and individuals may move from one to another over time.

The vital role of NGOs

These trajectories are not frozen in time; they are dynamic, and refugees can switch from one pathway to another. How? The researchers point out that when individuals start to give their exile a “positive” meaning, they move closer to an adjusting or enhancing pathways. This process is made easier when they have trust in civil society, especially through the support given by non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The researchers observed that refugees draw more or less heavily on the material and intangible resources provided by NGOs depending on their individual trajectories. These resources include language courses and a diverse range of social or educational activities. More importantly, NGOs provide refugees with psychological resources such as hope, optimism, and resilience, to help them overcome the stigmatisation imposed by the society. Refugees who follow adjusting and enhancing pathways make greater use of this support.

How can civil society improve its response?

The researchers state that policy-makers and legislators should do more than simply provide the current resources to facilitate the integration of refugees. They suggest that the reception policies should factor in the specific needs of refugees regarding professional and career resources. Civil society could also offer more psychological and social support, for instance by diversifying the contact points in the host community.

We urgently need to have a better understanding of the socio-professional trajectories of refugees since heightened political tensions are giving rise to extensive international mobility. Future migrations resulting from climate change will accentuate this need.

Read more

Taghavi S., Zannad H., & Mandalaki E. (2024). Socio-Professional Trajectories of Refugees in France: An Identity Work Perspective. M@n@gement, 27(1), 57-75. https://doi.org/10.37725/mgmt.2024.7753