Published on August 16, 2022
The impact of a management approach in line with market logic is increasingly felt, including in migrant aid schemes. This is what Giorgia Trasciani explains in a comparative approach between France and Italy.
In the last two decades, we have seen a dramatic increase of Third Sector OrganizationsThe third sector refers to all economic activities which, at the intersection of the private and public sectors, develop according to the logic of the social economy (nonprofit, cooperative and … Continue reading (TSOs) providing assistance to asylum seekers and refugees. In terms of legitimacy, TSOs have been recognised as particularly suitable to fill the space left empty by the public sector, because these organisations are driven by values and not profit. Furthermore, the so-called “migration crisis” has demanded a huge effort in the field from the third sector. On the other hand, the mechanisms of selection of “management bodies” through competition has created a perverse dynamic, giving life to a real “business of assistance”.Giulia Galera, « Verso l’inclusione sociale: dall’accoglienza all’autonomia », Welfare Oggi, n° 3, 2016, pp. 32–37. Furthermore, very stringent contracts have represented a concrete threat in terms of mission-drift dynamics, in a sector characterised by the solid dichotomy of “care and control”.Lisa Borrelli et Giorgia Trasciani, « “I like to work with people” – Everyday stories and reflections from street-level workers in the migration regime on what motivates their tasks », … Continue reading Along with the expansion of the so-termed “migration industry”,Ruben Andersson, Illegality, Inc.: Clandestine migration and the business of bordering Europe, University of California Press, 2014. we can detect increasing confusion and difficulties with the ascription of responsibility and accountability, but also more deep-seated struggles concerning the effectiveness and failings of bureaucratic restructuring and managerial approaches.Per Lægreid and Tom Christensen (eds.), Transcending New Public Management. The Transformation of Public Sector Reforms, Routledge, 2007.
The reception system
When migrants arrive in Europe, they have to create a dossier with their personal information in order to receive the authorisation to settle in one of the European countries. During this period, they are – although it is not always the case – supposed to be accomodated in temporary shelters. In recent years, we have observed a systematic rise in reception instruments, including emergency structures, in order to differentiate and receive specific target groups (asylum seekers, Dubliners,A person to whom the so-called Dublin Regulation applies. According to the criteria of this European regulation, a “Dubliner” person is obliged to lodge his or her asylum application in the first … Continue reading isolated young males, families, etc.). In these structures, they are also supposed to receive a number of facilities: to be informed about their rights and opportunities to be given medical assistance and, sometimes, psychological support. These structures are financed through public funding but mostly managed by TSOs, such as associations in France and cooperative sociali in Italy.
Evolution of public funding
TSOs have long been involved in delivering public services, but the nature of the relationships between the sector and the State has been framed differently at different times.Rob Macmillan, The third sector delivering public services: an evidence review, Third Sector Research Centre, Working Paper 20, July 2010. Whilst the State continues to be one of the most important financers of TSOs, particularly concerning social services, in most European countries, there is evidence that funding allocation practices have changed, in particular a greater use of contracts rather than grants and more competitive selection processes such as calls for proposals and tenders.
Governments imposed market logic where it was absent until then in order to benefit from the competitive pressures exerted and, in turn, make the public service more efficient. With the aim of forcing providers to compete in providing the best-quality service at the lowest price, the so-called quasi-market was established.Sorin Dan and Rhys Andrews, “Market-type mechanisms and public service equity: A review of experiences in European public services”, Public Organization Review, vol. 16, n° 3, September 2016, … Continue reading This shift to procurement and contracting made TSOs alter their behaviour and, in order to compete, increasing attention has been paid to the adoption of private-sector organisational structures and principles.
As mentioned by Prouteau and Tchernonog,Lionel Prouteau et Viviane Tchernonog, « Évolutions et transformations des financements publics des associations », Revue française d’administration publique, vol. 163, n 3, 2017, … Continue reading these kinds of mechanisms favour large, structured organisations, which not only have specific departments for fundraising, but also the human resources necessary for work specialisation and cost cutting.
Furthermore, a process of business-like evolution of nonprofit organisations has been observed, so-called marketisation. Marketisation refers to TSOs’ increasingly market-type relationships with stakeholders or, from a macro perspective, to market-type relationships gradually penetrating a country’s welfare system.Angela M. Eikenberry and Jodie Drapal Kluver, “The marketization of the nonprofit sector: Civil society at risk?”, Public Administration Review, vol. 64, no. 3, March 2004, pp. 132–140. TSOs evolved in a business-like sense in order to survive.
Two cases: Italy and France
The recent decades have witnessed accelerated reforms – aiming at privatisation and marketisation – that have been introduced through approaches based on the principles of efficiency and cost reduction (following the New Public Management approach). The market-oriented evolution of the migrant reception sector and the business-like approach of the TSOs involved in it have both been very evident, also because of the swift implementation of reforms and the silent public opinion response. Let’s take the case of France and Italy.
In both countries, until the early 2000s, TSOs were directly publicly funded. The mechanism was bottom-up: local TSOs detected problems in the field and then applied for funding. The system was based on the co-construction of social policies and interaction between stakeholders.
Nowadays, through calls for proposals and tenders, public authorities set very specific requirements to win contracts (top-down approach), imposing specific daily tasks to organisations and funding only listed services. The criteria can be:
- the optimisation and reduction of prices, as mentioned into the inter-ministerial document L’hébergement et la prise en charge financière des demandeurs d’asile [Hosting and financial support for asylum seekers],Laurent Vachey et al., L’hébergement et la prise en charge financière des demandeurs d’asile, rapport public de l’Inspection générale des affaires sociales, l’inspection générale de … Continue reading where the purpose of significant budgetary savings through the homogenisation of practices in the different centres is clearly mentioned;
- the introduction of performance indicators, that are based on number of people leaving reception centres, with financial penalties if standards are not respected;
- the minimum staff-to-migrant ratio of between 1:15 and 1:20 imposed by contracts, which depends on the structure in France;
- a clearly mentioned preference for large structures, able to respond to all the demands proposed by the call, instead of a number of small centres.
An attempt to assess the situation
Economic pressure due to relatively short-term contracts shrank the room for manoeuvre of the third sector in France and Italy, which then had to change face in order to respond to tenders and calls for proposals. This revealed to be particularly problematic for TSOs operating in the migration sector. Policies, which aim to control migration flow, do not often coincide with the original mission of organisations (universal care and support). The co-production process is not the dominant modus operandi in most cases; instead a top-down approach is observed.
Furthermore, competition between organisations is based on several aspects. There is competition between organisations (associations or cooperatives) in order to win public procurement contracts and to maintain the services already put in place and stay in operation. But there is also competition between different reception structures. At the same time, the competition mechanism makes it difficult to collaborate and create networks of resistance against the new migration policies. The creation of big structures, such as the asylum seekers reception centre (centri di accoglienza richiedenti asilo – CARA) in Italy or Prahda (programme d’accueil et d’hébergement des demandeurs d’asile) in France, yields perverse results. While we can observe a reduction in the number of structures, the size of actors able to create economies of scale is growing. Through tenders and public contracts, prices set by public authorities continue to decrease as well as the number of services offered in the structures.
Under strong institutional pressure, organisations are pushed to assimilate business-like behaviour (priorities given to efficiency, effectiveness and economics) to survive. The progressive transformation of the reception centres is becoming increasingly clear. Each tender is always more detailed, leaving very little leeway to the organisation appointed for managing the centres. The social workers are always less free to help and support people through the integration process. Instead their work is more related to form filling, bureaucracy and control. The market orientation of the sector also results in organisational and increased control over structures and their goals.
This evolution leads to a shift from reception and integration structures to control, selection and expulsion structures. Some actors are trying to resist but are finding it extremely difficult to reverse this trend in the name of which market mechanisms have undermined a reception policy worthy of the name.