“I don’t think people would know how to reach out”: Receiving communities’ understandings of refugee integration and the consequences for the integration processes and the psychosocial wellbeing of communities in County Durham, England.
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Background: Despite prevailing UK integration policy proclaiming that integration consists of diverse, multi directional processes that involve changes to both refugee and receiving communities (Home Office, 2019), there has been disproportionate focus on the integration experiences of refugees. The lack of research inquiry into receiving communities not only threatens placing the responsibility of integration onto refugee populations, but further undermines notions underpinning policy, such as that integration is contingent on ‘two-way’ approach, involving reciprocal interactions between both communities. Moreover, excluding local communities from integration processes can have significant implications for threatening the psychosocial wellbeing of both refugee and receiving communities, through exacerbating inter-groups tensions and undermining community efficacy. As such, to address this gap, the present study analyses personal insights, perceptions, and understandings of refugee integration processes at local level from receiving communities in the North-East of England. Methods: Employing a phenomenological approach, a small-scale qualitative study was conducted. This involved obtaining 15 semi-structured interviews from local community members who have lived in County Durham, England, for at least 2 years. To obtain a comprehensive understanding of integration at local level, 5 key informant interviews were also conducted with service providers working to support refugees across the region. Results: 3 higher order themes, and 1 sub-theme emerged from the analysis of the data. These included, ‘Refugee integration and social relations at local level,’ ‘Disenfranchisement of local communities,’ and the ‘Significance of cultural identity and heritage.’ The sub-theme identified was ‘Social media and integration – promising or dangerous development?’ Specifically, a disconnect between refugee services, refugees, and local communities was reported by participants, suggesting that there was inadequate operationalisation of the ‘two-way’ approach in practice. Indeed, this was further understood to undermine the psychosocial wellbeing of both refugee and receiving communities. Conclusions: The 20 participants in the present study revealed a significant disconnect between refugee services, refugee populations, and local community members in County Durham. This was perceived as 7 inconducive to psychosocial wellbeing, and indeed was understood as a barrier integration. To progress in facilitating integration of refugees, recognising local communities as active partners within integration processes is essential.