Shelters and housing

Shelters and housing

The C-MISE Guidance provides extensive information on practices that municipalities across Europe have adopted to provide access to shelter and housing to irregular migrants. These practices may offer a blueprint for other local authorities promoting access to shelter and housing to irregular migrants.

Irregular migrants may be in a precarious financial situation, as they are not allowed to work, cannot receive social benefits, and often resort to low-paid work in the informal economy that may not provide them with sufficient income to afford housing. Additionally, those who can afford it face a variety of legal or administrative obstacles in accessing housing, as some national legislation may, for instance, impose sanctions on landlords for renting to irregular migrants. Access to public shelters or assistance with housing may also be hindered by requirements to show a residence permit or other documentation that irregular migrants cannot produce, such as a social security number. Only rarely do state-owned homeless shelters admit migrants in an irregular situation.

Municipalities can play an important role in facilitating or hindering access to locally-administered shelters, as rules on admission to shelters and housing may be set and are often implemented at the local level. Municipalities may need to provide a shelter to their de-facto residents, irrespective of their migration status, to preserve the respect of fundamental rights and dignity of anyone within their territory. To address homelessness and its related negative consequences such as crime, prostitution or substance abuse, municipalities may need to address the accommodation needs of all residents without alternative options.

Municipalities may thus facilitate access to temporary and night shelters for the homeless as well as provide housing facilities on a longer-term basis, often accompanied by legal counselling and case-management with the aim of finding a solution to migrants’ irregularity and related homelessness. Local authorities can significantly reduce homelessness among irregular migrants, by simply not requiring the production of a residence permit as a requirement to access municipal shelters and by removing immigration checks within shelters where they are not necessary or required by national law. Alternatively, they may also fund or reimburse NGOs for the provision of shelters to irregular migrants, or support initiatives assisting irregular migrants’ access to the private housing market. The provision of accommodation to irregular migrants may also be matched with programmes supporting migrants’ path out of irregularity, through regularisation or cooperation on voluntary returns.

If you want to learn more about local initiatives in this area, follow the link below and access the C-MISE Guidance (pages P38-43).

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed new challenges for local authorities in the area of shelters and housing, including in terms of capacity and new sanitary needs. The pandemic required the provision of shelters to an increasing number of individuals to allow for social distancing and the respect of national lockdown measures for homeless individuals. In addition, the economic fallout and the crash of the informal labour market has led a significant number of previously self-sufficient irregular migrants to request public assistance for basic needs, including food and shelters. Migrants may not receive full assistance to return to their countries of origin, given the various travel restrictions. The need to ensure social distancing also required a restructuring of existing shelters’ models. The release from detention of irregular migrants without alternative accommodation has also meant at times that local authorities had to take over the responsibility of sheltering of these individuals.

More information on local initiatives adopted to face the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic in the area of shelters and housing can be found in the C-MISE COVID-19 briefing (P. 17-21). 

For more information on the practices presented in the guidance of the COVID-19 briefing, you can also contact the C-MISE team at: