Cities and Regions for Integration

Integration of migrants and refugees is a priority for the European Committee of the Regions.
The #Regions4Integration Blog will bring you successful initiatives by town, cities and regions across EU. 
How do integration policies work in the everyday life of a smaller or a bigger town?
Is it through sport? Work placements? Language training?
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This blog is run by the European Committee of the Regions. 

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Oxford appoints its first 'migrant champion'

Oxford, home to the university and the BMW-made Mini, has just created the post of 'migrant champion', tasked with "working with migrants and refugees, helping them to access and connect with local services and advice centres, and ensuring their needs are considered and voices heard in council policy".

The first 'migrant champion' is herself a migrant, Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini, an Iranian refugee who arrived in the UK at the age of 13 and became a consultant anaesthetist at Oxford University Hospitals and now serves as a city councillor (for the Labour Party).

The decision by the city, which is a 'city of sanctuary' and sees itself as a 'welcoming place of safety for all…fleeing violence and persecution', secured national attention on 7 August, when a national broadcaster, ITV, spoke to Ms Djafari-Marbini and two refugees.

"Displacement is very traumatic in itself, but they may also have lost loved ones, they may have faced political persecution," Councillor Djafari-Marbini. "Just accessing our public services can be a real challenge in itself" for people arriving in a country where they do not speak the language or have family.

The short report highlights one way in which the city is trying to ease refugees' entry into the community and into employment – voluntary work at the Pitt Rivers Museum, which houses archaeological and anthropological collections given to the university. Sixty percent of the museum's volunteers are forced migrants.

The international nature of the university is well-known. Less known is how international the city's children are.

"Sixty percent of children born in Oxford have at least one parent who was born outside the UK," says Ms Djafari-Marbini. "So in effect we are all migrants. And that is why this role and our work in the council is really about making sure that we have a safe just place, and that we have human rights and dignity at the centre of everything that we do."


Migrants in rural areas face particular challenges

The European Committee of the Regions on 25 June held a workshop focused on the integration of immigrants into small communities, at which the European Commission's Joint Research Centre laid out preliminary findings of the first EU-wide statistical analysis of migrants living in rural areas.

The study is now out.

The findings are rich in detail, and bring to the fore many considerations for policymakers.

A summary of the findings highlights the importance of migrants to the EU's agricultural sector and to consumers – most of the strawberries and tomatoes that reach our tables, for example, have been cultivated thanks to the work of migrants. But the frequently short-term and irregular nature of their work contributes to a high rate of poverty (34% of migrants coming from outside the EU and living in rural areas are at risk of poverty) and unemployment (17%, compared with 8% for those born in the EU), which raises the question of how to satisfy the demand for labour in agriculture while avoiding exploitation. Geographical and social isolation, limited access to services and opportunities, and the sometimes limited capacity of rural local authorities compound the risks of social marginalisation.

The report concludes what special attention is needed when designing integration policies to address the particular precariousness and vulnerability experienced by migrants in rural areas.

The report also notes that most migrants go to cities (with Austria one of the countries where migration is a particularly urban phenomenon). However, there is evidence of a gradual rise in the percentage of migrants heading to the countryside, with a narrowing of the urban-rural gap between 2011 and 2017 in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Latvia, Estonia and Sweden. Three countries had more migrants working in agriculture than in other sectors – Spain, Italy, and Denmark – with the percentage rising in each of them between 2011 and 2017.

At the CoR's workshop, contributors noted that while migration into rural areas may mitigate depopulation, there is a risk that the cycle of closures (of schools, for example) and disinvestment in areas most affected by depopulation risk trapping newcomers on the margins of society. 


Roma Holocaust Memorial Day

Today, 2 August, is the European Roma Holocaust Memorial Day and the 75th anniversary of the extermination of the last remaining Roma in the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

During the Porajmos – a Romani word meaning 'the Devouring' – the Nazis killed over 500,000 Roma, the figure typically cited, though this estimate is regarded as conservative by some.

The ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau – viewable here – was attended by over 1,500 Romani people and representatives of international organisations, governments, and civil society, including the European commissioner for justice, Věra Jourová. In a statement released on 1 August, Commissioner Jourová and Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission, said: "The atrocities of the past stand as a reminder that equality and non-discrimination are values which cannot be taken as given. The memory of the horrors of the past must inspire us all to stand up for the values we believe in. To see every one of our fellow citizens as themselves, as individuals, and to wonder how we would feel if we were them. That is the lesson we have learned from our parents and grand-parents who experienced the darkest of times."

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) of the Council of Europe, Europe's leading human-rights organisation with 48 member states, held a conference at Jagiellonski University in Krakow to mark the anniversary, looking at ways in which the Porajmos is memoralised in historical narratives, the arts, in public spaces, and in politics. The thoughts of two participants can be watched here.

German-speakers may wish to listen to the short, seven-minute testament of a survivor, Else Baker, produced by the City of Hamburg and its memorial site, Hannoverscher Bahnhof. Below, in a three-minute film produced by the UK's Channel 4, Roma actor Oliver Malik performs a poem by Valdemar Kalinin, who was born in Belarus and won the Hiroshima Prize for Peace and Culture in 2002.

The Roma are Europe’s largest ethnic minority, estimated at 10-12 million. Roma Holocaust Memorial Day has been marked only since 2009.

The Council of Europe, which has a series of factsheets on Roma history, has found that the various forms of discrimination against Roma and Sinti, ranging from school segregation and hate crimes, are perpetuating the marginalisation of Roma communities and pose serious obstacles for any policy initiatives to improve their situation. Speaking at the European Committee of the Regions in April 2019, Domenica Ghidei Biidu of ECRI cited recommendations given to Poland and Lithuania as examples of actions that municipalities can become more inclusive environments for Roma.

In 2011, the European Commission called for national strategies for Roma integration; in a midterm review of the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020, published in 2017, the Commission found only "unequal and modest" improvements in education, employment, health and housing.

The EU's Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) has detailed the obstacles faced by Roma, and in 2018 published a survey that found that 36% of Roma in nine EU states had been victims of hate-motivated harassment and 41% of discrimination in the five years before the survey. The FRA has also found that the percentage of Roma children receiving segregated schooling rose from 10% in 2011 to 15% in 2016, that one-fifth of Roma faces discrimination using public transport or while shopping and relaxing, and that one-third continue to live in housing with no tap water inside.

Random Acts

Integration project up for EU award

Each October, the European Week of Regions and Cities – co-organised by the European Commission and the European Committee of the Regions – hosts the RegioStars award ceremony for the most innovative, regional projects. The names of this year's 24 finalists, all of them chosen by the European public, were published in mid-July – and one of the 24 is a cross-border project for the integration of migrants.

EUMINT was set up in 2018, with EU funding via the Interreg Italy-Austria programme, to strengthen institutional cross-border cooperation between Italy and Austria – two countries that have received a large number of migrants, particularly in recent years – in order to tackle social, economic, political and cultural challenges connected to migration. To ease immigrants' integration into local communities and labour markets, the EUMINT team has designed and held numerous workshops and skill-building exercises for politicians, non-government workers and the general public, as well as for asylum-seekers and refugees themselves.

The results so far include tools that help test the skills of asylum-seekers and refugees. These tools are being developed and tested in local communities in all the border regions taking part in the project: Kärnten and Tirol on the Austrian side of the border, and Südtirol-Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Veneto, and Trentino in Italy.

The value of tools and measures is enhanced by being developed collaboratively across regions, the project hopes. But, in addition, the EUMINT emphasises that it is of prime importance to have common and coherent integration measures in border regions – and particularly for asylum-seekers and refugees.

Based on 44 stakeholder interviews and four cross-border visits to gain insights into integration projects, the project team will now organise an international workshop to promote dialogue and develop ideas on migrant integration. A board game “The house of values” has been developed, which is composed of interactive teaching methods on common European values. In addition, 80 encounters between with asylum-seekers, refugees and the local population, all focused on common values, have been organised. The EUMINT team will also provide a practice-oriented manual on the potential of cross-border cooperation in the field of integration.

The project has a very active Facebook and Twitter page (@EUMINTproject) that, as well as showing its work, showcases examples of integration in these Italian and Austrian regions, including the case of an Ethiopian woman who now tends to 180 goats and produces cheese in a mountain village in Trentino. The website of the EUMINT project is:

If you would like to support its nomination for a RegioStars award, voting remains open until 9 September via this page. It is one of five finalists in the category "combatting inequalities and poverty".

EUMINT's board game,
EUMINT's board game, "The house of values", in use.   credit: Courtesy of EUMINT

How important was integration in the European Parliament elections?

The European Parliament has just produced the first results of its post-electoral survey on the nature and interests of voters in May's European elections. It has plenty to interest anyone who follows European politics – showing, for instance, that the little-noticed gender gap persists (fewer women than men vote in European elections) – as well as information about the importance attached to immigration as an issue.

In just two countries – Belgium and Malta – was immigration the most commonly mentioned reason for voting (respondents could give multiple answers) and, overall, migration was – at 34% – the fifth most cited reason for voting, behind 'the economy and growth' (44%), 'combating climate change and protecting the environment' (37%), 'promoting human rights and democracy' (37%), and 'the way the EU should be working in the future' (36%).

The election saw a big rise in turnout, to the highest level in 20 years. This was the first increase in turnout in 40 years, and the upturn was widespread, with 19 countries reporting increases. A mobilisation was found across the spectrum, with right-leaning voters (+12 percentage points) proving slightly keener to come to the polls than left-leaning voters (+11 points) and centrists (+7 points). Voters aged 55 or more were again the most likely to vote (55%) and voted in higher numbers than in 2014 (52%), but the increase was substantially greater among voters aged 24 and under (+14 points, to 42%) and aged between 25 and 39 (+12 points, to 47%).

Read the results here and the European Parliament's press release here.


“Volunteering was discovering myself” – migrant integration in Bristol with VALUES


EUROCITIES, the network of major European cities, has long demonstrated its commitment to integrating migrants and migrant communities in European cities, in part – since 2006 – through its Integrating Cities process. Integrating Cities is a partnership with the European Commission to promote local-level implementation of the Common Basic Principles on Integration adopted by the EU in 2004. We offered EUROCITIES a chance to show its initiative in action, through a recent example.

Here is what Richard Williams of MigrationWork wrote about the benefits and challenges of giving former users of the local-council services responsibility for the running and oversight of projects:


“Volunteering was discovering myself. If young refugees and migrants understand what volunteering gives you, they would all do it,” Mo, a young man from Eritrea told us. He is a volunteer support worker for resettled refugees. His was just one of many stories we heard on our trip to Bristol to find out how cities and volunteer organisations can work together for migrant integration.

Our cluster of cities – Toulouse, Turin, Nuremberg and Bristol – are working on a benchmark on ‘Mobilising volunteers to engage the young migrant population in community life.’ We are part of the EU-funded project VALUES, ‘Volunteering Activities to Leverage Urban and European Social integration of migrants.’ The project is led by EUROCITIES and supported by the European Volunteer Centre and my organisation, MigrationWork.

From our initial research to develop a draft benchmark, it was clear that ‘mobilising volunteers’ would be understood to include young migrants, as well as non-migrants. Consequently, one of the seven ‘Key Factors’ in our draft benchmark is, ‘The city encourages and supports young migrants to get involved as volunteers’.

It became clear at the first meeting of our cluster in Brussels that our group of cities felt that it was crucial that projects and activities should be developed and implemented in partnership with young migrants and suggested that a key factor about city plans and strategies for young people should not only take into account the needs of young migrants, but should be ‘co-produced’ by them. Following our visit Bristol, we will be looking at the extent to which the city meets this benchmark.

When we visited Bristol, the visitors were very interested in the extent to which former service users had been involved in developing services and projects, were running them and were even responsible for their oversight, all the while as volunteers.

On our first night, we visited the Station, a converted fire station, where we met people who ran a music project and youth club for young refugees and migrants. We heard that young migrants sat on their management committee. We met a young man who had attended the youth club and had come back to offer free haircuts.

We visited a Welcome Café run by Bristol Refugee Rights (BRR), where we heard that BRR aimed for 50% of their volunteers to be ‘members’. The group thought that calling service users ‘members’ afforded people dignity and helped create an atmosphere of inclusion and welcome. This NGO also requires that at least one of the trustees on its board be a refugee or migrant ‘member’.

One NGO we met urgently needed to replace two staff who had recently left. The rest of their staff team lacked the necessary skills and knowledge. They thought that the solution might lie in the young people whom they were supporting. Some were on the verge of being too old to continue to be eligible for support; volunteering would be a way for them to stay on.

We learned that young migrant volunteers can help fill employment gaps and bring valuable specific knowledge (home-country culture, the trauma that refugees and migrants may have experienced and the particular challenges of arriving in a new place). They can also help services reach young people from within their own culture. They may, though, face particular barriers to volunteering – for example, having to go to school or college, or, as asylum-seekers, not having the right to work.

Young volunteers play a role in Bristol's reception of resettled refugees. Emma from Creative Youth Network reminded us that Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child gives children the right to have a voice in all matters affecting them. This means that children and young people should have a say in the development and running of any services for children that are run by or commissioned by a local authority.

For some of our group, the visit had been an eye-opener: seeing young migrants as assets, rather than passive recipients of services was a revelation. “Until now I saw young people as targets of services," one city representative said. "Now, I see them as active people who need to be involved.”

Follow VALUES and our other integration projects at and @integratingCTs

A migrant's journey is hard enough, but did you ever think of those who  face the long and risky road with disabilities? How are they assisted once they arrive?
The AMiD project (Access to services for Migrants with Disabilities) has supported since 2018 an efficient management of the reception and integration of asylum seekers and migrants with disabilities in the EU. The Association of European Regions is one of the main partners in this initiative.

SAVE THE DATE: The AMiD project's final conference will take place on 5 November 2019 in Brussels not only to reveal its results but also to give an analysis on how it could be maintained and show its added value. 

European Committee of the Regions member Manuel Pleguezuelos reports from the seminar "Integration of migrants and Refugees in small territories"