Achieving symbiosis, Riga visits Barcelona through CITIES GROW on 17-19 October


Migrants arriving in a new city often have the same question: How can I work? The desire to rapidly create a symbiotic dynamic between new arrivals and their new environment is one that cities naturally share.

Migrants arriving in a new city often have the same question: How can I work? The desire to rapidly create a symbiotic dynamic between new arrivals and their new environment is one that cities naturally share. Through the CITIES GROW project,  Riga met Barcelona in a three days study visit to see first hands city’s policies, activities and practices in place on integration of migrants through. A representative from UNHCR Thessaloniki also participated in the study visit which was coordinated by EUROCITIES and facilitated by the expert Sue Lukes of MigrationWork.
An unlikely pair
Barcelona and Riga may seem an unlikely pair. Barcelona has high levels of diversity and, thanks in no small part to ‘Living Together’, the city’s intercultural policy, levels of cultural and ethnic cohesion are on the up. Employment levels have been quite low since the crash, which took a great toll on the national economy. Further, their post-Franco context predisposes them against parties with a xenophobic platform.
Conversely, though Riga’s migrant policy is ahead of national policy, the limited experience of migration flow and the post-soviet context can make people slightly more wary of foreigners. While their levels of employment are very high, diversity in the labour market is comparatively low. How could two so different cities benefit from a knowledge exchange? Stick with us through Riga’s visit to Barcelona to find out.
Howdy, partner
As a healthy labour market can only be the result of collaboration between citizens, corporations and government, public-private partnerships are an obvious way of facilitating equitable employment opportunities. AMIC is one of many organisations working in such a partnership, the Service Centre for Immigrants, Emigrants and Refugees (SAIER).
Though 90% financed by the city, only SAIER’s director is a civil servant, the other 67, including three psychologists dealing with trauma, are provided by organisations such as the Associació d'Ajuda Mútua d'Immigrants a Catalunya (AMIC), the Red Cross, and trade unions. At the front desk, staff with special intercultural training can tackle migrant’s cases using a wide variety of languages, increasingly necessary as the last five years have seen customer numbers rising from 11,800 to 18,000!
How do you train those migrants in need of greater skill specificity, and in what areas? Again, the input of employers is vital here, which is why another municipal agency, Barcelona Activa, works in coordination with business associations, educational institutions and experts to design its vocational training. Unlike the previous two organisations, Barcelona Activa works not only with migrants, but with all residents of the municipality, with the aim of promoting policies that will foster employment while boosting diversity and solidarity.
One of us
Like Barcelona Activa, the city programme Labora does not target migrants specifically, but embeds this element of its activities in a service available to all residents of Barcelona. The idea here is that all residents are treated as citizens, a strategy which helps to prevent ill feeling against migrants amongst the unemployed.
The takeaways
What did Riga, so differently situated, gain from touring and learning about these programmes? First and foremost, they were struck by the importance of involving pre-existing organisations and networks, tapping into capacities and resources already present locally. Getting in bed with entities already present on the ground would also be a step towards ascertaining both the volume and needs of the migrant population, data which serves as an essential foundation for concrete action.
After this, the centrality of training, requalification, and especially skill recognition to the success of any potential programme was taken deeply to heart. Riga saw that recognising the skills that migrants are ready to bring to the table is at the core of labour market integration.
Finally, Riga took on the importance of fostering IT skills and cross-departmental collaboration, two central areas which Barcelona has met with many challenges in implementing. Taking the Labora programme as a starting point, with its city-wide one stop shops, Riga will now tweak this model in order to suit their own context.
Find the  full article in the Integrating Cities website

For more information on the CITIES GROW project visit CITIES GROW
Contact: Salvatore Sofia