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Working group migration & integration: Amsterdam meeting highlights


Counter narratives on migration was the topic of the meeting of the EUROCITIES working group migration & integration held in Amsterdam on 13-14 November. Read on for a summary of the event's discussions about different approaches and narratives in the context of migration, best practices and funding mechanisms for action at local level.

This last working group meeting of 2019 was well attended, with over 41 city experts from 18 cities across Europe as well as 37 policymakers and representatives of civil society organisations gathering in Amsterdam. The two-day meeting was held back to back with a ReSOMA launch event on 'building a comprehensive approach to integration funding'.

As well as providing a platform to share thoughts and experiences and identify good practices, the meeting also offered an opportunity for participants to get more information about the support available to cities for the integration of migrants at the local level.

Day 1: Building a comprehensive approach to integration funding

The Research Social Platform on Migration and Asylum (ReSOMA), of which we are a partner, has as its aim mobilising sustained, regular policy dialogue across Europe and facilitating policies based on evidence. During the first day of the meeting, working group members took part in the launch of ReSOMA research on the topic of integration funding in the next EU budget - also known as the multi-annual financial framework (MFF).

In the first session, representatives of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME) and the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL) introduced the new perspectives for migrant inclusion in different funding instruments.

The Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) was introduced by DG HOME's policy officer Agnese Papadia, who explained the difference between financing managed directly by the Commission on the one hand and funding overseen by national authorities on the other.

Marianne Doyen, policy officer at DG EMPL, provided more information about the European Social Fund (ESF+) whose grants are always managed in a shared manner. AMIF funding is aimed at short-term integration measures while the ESF+ covers medium- and long-term integration support.

Renger Visser, director of income support for the city of Amsterdam, gave examples of how EU funding had been used at the local level in projects on the labour market integration of status holders. Other services covered by EU funding include language and social orientation programmes to foster individuals’ familiarity with the city.

Following this political exchange, Alexander Wolffhardt, researcher for the Migration Policy Group/ReSOMA, presented his work on comprehensive EU support for migrant integration in the 2021 to 2027 MFF. A policy options brief summarising these proposals, which aim to make EU funding support for migrant integration more relevant for the long term, can be found here.

In the afternoon, city representatives discussed these topics and exchanged their ideas in small groups. Points were raised about the relationship between national programmes and EU programmes as well as the relevance of direct funding for cities. The partnership principle between the national and local level, and how this may impact the accessibility of funding, also gained attention.

Day 2: Counter narratives on migration

On the second day, attention focused on the role of cities in providing counter narratives to prevalent negative and restrictive discourses on migration at the EU and national levels.

Two issues were discussed in parallel sessions:

1)    cities taking action for the inclusion of Muslim communities and the prevention of discrimination

2)    cities as service providers for undocumented migrants.

In the first session, Tommaso Chiamparino, coordinator on combatting anti-Muslim hatred at the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers (DG JUST), affirmed the Commission’s commitment to working together with cities on this issue. He called on cities to share their best practices so that pathways of cooperation could be identified together.

Heleen Schools recounted the city of Amsterdam's long-term efforts to improve social cohesion, which include publicly taking a stand to combat discrimination against Muslims even if this goes against the general political climate.

Julia Trias Jurado from Barcelona introduced the city’s action plan against Islamophobia. This has been groundbreaking in implementing a participatory process built on recognising diversity, strengthening equality and supporting inter-cultural dialogue.

Following these local perspectives, Miltos Pavlou from the Fundamental Rights Agency and Benedetto Zacchiroli from the European Coalition of Cities Against Racism called on participants to overcome silos and cultivate real cooperation across different networks.

In the second session on undocumented migrants, Nicola Delvino from Oxford University presented the city initiative on migrants with irregular status in Europe (C-MISE). This project has identified a number of good practices at the local level in relation to the provision of services to migrants with irregular status. He stressed that these people are at particular risk of becoming homeless and need to be supported in their basic human rights by municipalities.

Michele Levoy, director of the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants, covered a number of issues ranging from the criminalisation of people and associations that help undocumented migrants to harmful terminology about people in an irregular situation and access to basic services.

Marc Serra Solé, Barcelona's vice mayor on immigration and rights, touched upon different actions designed to better integrate undocumented migrants in the city. These include ensuring access to services, registration in local neighbourhoods, housing, free legal advice and employment support.

Jan Braat of Utrecht stressed the need for multi-level governance between cities and the EU on issues such as the regularisation of undocumented migrants as well as options like voluntary return to countries of origin.

These different observations were brought together by a political panel including Rutger Groot Wassink, vice mayor of Amsterdam on social affairs, democratisation and diversity, Marc Serra and Julia Pascoet from the European Network Against Racism and Michele Levoy.

The speakers agreed on the need to promote and protect cohesion both within and between different cities. In doing so, networks can help to create synergies and identify areas where collaboration would be needed. Moreover, soft instruments such as political statements can be very useful in taking a structural and sustainable stand against racism and Islamophobia.

The panel also highlighted that, based on best practices identified by cities, all layers of public service should receive training about these issues. In parallel, external communications and awareness-raising among the general public have proved useful in pushing back discriminative discourses.