Exchanges on the Inclusion of Migrants and Refugees at the #EUWRC

Sally Kneeshaw

By Sally Kneeshaw, on November 2nd, 2016

> Read Sally Kneeshaw's articles

As previously reported on URBACT pages the European Union faces one of its gravest challenges with the biggest wave of migration since World War II, as people flee war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa. Cities are at the forefront of this challenge, many having to find ways to cope with large numbers of newcomers and support the short and long term integration of migrants and refugees. One of the pilot partnerships of the Urban Agenda of the EU is focussed on the issue and this blog post reports on its work so far, shared at a recent workshop.

The remit of the Urban Agenda is ‘to establish a more integrated approach to EU and national policies and legislation with a clear impact on urban areas’. Each partnership is tasked with identifying concrete actions at EU, national and local level providing guidance for improving

  • European Regulations
  • access to European funding
  • knowledge-sharing and inter-city co-operation.

urban agenda focus on improvement

In principle the partnerships represent a unique opportunity for coordinating urban actions between levels of government and civil society and sharing different knowledge. During the recent European Week of Regions and Cities the Partnership on Inclusion of Migrants and Refugees presented its first steps, including proposed thematic focus and roadmap. This was it first public event so far, and a lively debate ensued reflecting the complexities of such a huge challenge facing EU, with variations in nature, scope and solutions in different regions and cities. Experts, cities and EU policy makers shared their perspectives.

Supply of housing

The supply of housing is a fundamental issue for many cities receiving migrants. Different types of housing are needed, for instance more units designed for single people. Cities with good affordable housing policies already in place find it easier to adapt. Vienna is cited as a best practice case, because of the scale and quality of its social housing. The fact that EU funds have to target the most impoverished in terms of housing brings with it the risk of resentment from the native population. More flexibility with the EU funding rules would be welcome to allow cities to create better supply.

Settlement in city or rural locations

Many migrants, especially young people, will head for the bright lights big-city because this is where the jobs are. One mayor from a town in the Netherlands with a population of 12,000 recounted his experiences. He felt that a smaller town such as his is a particularly suitable destination for families and in fact many families from Syria have successfully settled there. One of the best interventions he had encouraged was peer support when older and more settled refugees and migrants help newcomers to integrate.
In Italy there have been conversations about the possibility of relocating refugees to shrinking rural towns and villages where there is plenty of vacant housing. This could also be an opportunity to re build rural economies, and is starting to happen, for instance in Sicily. It was pointed out that if this takes place it needs to be in areas where there are sufficient opportunities, infrastructure and services. Often those areas are deserted because of the very lack of opportunity. It was also pointed out that for refugees coming from cities it may not be appropriate, but other migrants originating from rural areas might embrace the opportunity to put their experience to good use to create or participate in rural economy businesses. Moritz Munderloh (City of Berlin) reported that these options are also under discussion in Germany, and that it is important to be open to all possibilities. Training centers and housing could be built outside of densely populated cities to give refugees the initial reception and services they need. But these options have to be carefully thought through in relation to spatial planning, urban density and other economic and environmental factors.

Speed of integration measures

Agnese Papadia (Policy Officer at DG Home Affairs and Migration) stressed the vital role of early intervention – to start working with refugees as soon as they arrive in order to get a positive snowball effect rather than a negative spiral caused by inertia, lack of stable housing, education and work. In order to achieve this some of the time delays around processing paperwork, often due to national or local regulations, need to be resolved, and this becomes as issue of multi-level governance. An example of solutions to get migrants into work fast was to promote quick skills recognition and vocationally based language learning. Schemes are up and running where existing skills can be rapidly assessed, for instance in cooking and construction, and additional language training given on the job.

A two-way process involving citizens

A representative of Ghent stressed that integration is a two-way process. The city had worked proactively on citizen awareness and education processes underpinned with strong political leadership. A platform of NGOs had coordinated citizen volunteering. It is also important that the media shared positive stories about the contributions of refugees and migrants, not just negative ones. One participant from Bulgaria raised the issue that in her experience the refugees did not want to integrate in her country because they basically want to keep moving to the north of Europe. The migrant inclusion challenge clearly has different facets and political narratives in different parts of the EU that need to addressed in different ways.
The individual needs, voices and talents of the migrants and refugees themselves need to be taken into account, both in policy making, for instance within the Partnership, and in practice on the ground. In partnerships and in strategies refugees’ perspectives need to be included, for instance through emerging and established bottom up networks.

Success Factors

When asked about key success factors Thomas Jézéquel, Policy Officer at Eurocities (which is part of the partnership), said that those cities that already had a strategy which included openness to newcomers, an understanding of the economic imperatives and a view of diversity as an asset to attract talent are the ones who have the most success in integrating migrants and refugees because they were already working on it and have the framework to do so. Of course new tools are needed as the situation changes too. A good example was given of Gdansk which, although it doesn’t have a large migrant population at the moment, wanted to prepare and had requested mentoring visits from Ghent and other cities to develop its own strategies.

The need for sharing between cities and member states

The workshop demonstrated that there is clearly a hunger for knowledge sharing between all actors, at national and city level. A representative of Norrkoping wanted to form networks with cities outside of Sweden. She had a good network with cities inside Sweden on their particular experiences with unaccompanied minors. Eurotowns was proposed as an active network active on social inclusion. Eurocities has a long track record and many good practice examples available through its Migrant Integration workstream. It has launched a new initiative Solidarity Cities in Athens this month.


The Urban Agenda Partnership: Work in Progress

At the end of the workshop participants voted on what they considered the top priorities out of the potential themes selected so far by the partnership as being:

  • Immediate start of integration programmes upon arrival
  • Reception and acceptance of refugees by locals
  • In terms of outcomes for the Partnership the most popular requests were:
  • Direct access for cities to EU funds for refugees (e.g. AMIF).
  • Stimulating knowledge exchange on best practices and exchange of staff.

Thomas Jézéquel ended on a positive note, reflecting that in the past year there has been more dialogue about migrant inclusion with more cities, member states and more parts of the European Commission than ever before. This puts the Partnership and other initiatives on a good path to achieve the objectives of a better coordinated approach.

Sabina Kekić, Advisor to the Mayor of Amsterdam on European Affairs and Coordinator of the Partnership, outlined the next activities and welcomed interested cities to get in touch to contribute to the roadmap.

From the URBACT perspective the Arrival Cities network will continue to feed into the Partnership and the upcoming call for Good Practices and Transfer Networks will provide opportunities for further city exchange on inclusion of migrant and refugees. The fundamental message that having a good strategy in place makes migrant inclusion more successful reinforces the URBACT approach of developing and implementing robust city plans.


The Partnership is coordinated by the City of Amsterdam together with European Commission DG Home. More information from Sabina Kekic

Next Partnership events:
17 October: Workshop Social Affairs Forum
10-11 November: Working Conference on Reception and Housing, Amsterdam
February 2017: Working Conference on Education and Work, Berlin

Urban agenda migration action plan



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