A UNITES story: Welcoming all migrants in Grenoble

20 February 2024

Abd Alrhman Marae fled Syria in 2014, three years after the breakout of the war. Now, he lives in Grenoble, but the journey to the French city was neither short nor easy.

Abd Alrhman and his family spent seven years in Turkey, navigating the complexities of adapting to a different culture, learning a new language and trying to build a sense of belonging.

Abd Alrhman Marae (white hoodie), during a meeting of the AGORA, Grenoble

“These seven years were not easy. You need to always be consistent in learning the language, integrating into the culture, while working on your stuff, especially when you are 18,” he explains. “It’s like a video game. You must play and unlock the language, the culture and friendships with people.”

The turning point came when the French Ambassador offered Abd Alrhman and his family an opportunity for a new beginning, after contacting several European countries.

They all arrived in the French city of Grenoble, determined to make it their permanent home. “What motivates me right now is I decided this will be my country of stability,” Abd Alrhman says. “I want to settle here, learn the language, and integrate into the culture. I want to learn about French people. I want to spend the rest of my life here.”

Voices of the unheard

Recognising the need for stability and a sense of belonging, he enrolled in a year-long French course, where he met Caroline, a Representative (Chargée de mission) from AGORA. Led by the municipal government, Grenoble Metropole, AGORA aims to improve the challenges refugees face in Grenoble by carrying out activities to give migrant communities a voice and breaking down the barriers they face.

For Abd Alrhman, the concept of refugees having a voice in decision-making was a revelation. Having come from countries with limited democratic structures, actively contributing to developing policies and projects resonated deeply with him. His enthusiasm for participating in AGORA is fuelled by his desire to help others who have faced similar challenges, he says.

AGORA meeting in Grenoble

The AGORA hosts regular meetings where participants discuss a range of topics, such as housing, language education, employment, and administration. For example, participants assessed the effectiveness of initiative’s French course for refugees, leading to valuable feedback and subsequent improvements.

“Many people complain about the course. It’s very short and only brings you to level A2, which is not enough to start working in France,” explains Abd Alrhman. To address the issue, his team created and distributed a survey to get feedback on this topic. After gathering the results, he met with representatives from the French Office for Immigration and Integration to provide feedback about their FLE language courses.

A centre for innovation, self-esteem and change

After this success, other participants in the AGORA did the same with subjects related to housing. They gathered feedback, including meeting residents in a housing centre to find out more about their living conditions. They also arranged for two social workers to visit the initiative to explain how the housing service functions.

Bureaucracy is also a hot topic for newcomers. “When they arrive in France, they don’t have any guide like what to do or where to start,” explains Abd Alrhman.

Participants at an AGORA meeting

A group in the AGORA works to find easier ways to communicate and disseminate useful information for those who have just arrived in the city. “We discuss having a guide, a website, or setting some panels in airports or bus or train stations,” explains Abd Alrhman.

A notable achievement for the first year of the AGORA is the inclusion of their findings, insights and proposals in the contract signed by Christophe Ferrari, President of Grenoble Metropole, which outlines rules and initiatives for the following year.

“They incorporated every problem we discussed concerning housing, working, education and languages into the contract. Certain laws will be set based on this,” says Abd Alrhman proudly.

Abd Alrhman has also participated in various public engagements, including television interviews, radio broadcasts and local sports festivals. These activities aim to raise awareness about refugees’ challenges and the important work AGORA is undertaking.

Cooperation and co-design

The development of the AGORA has been the result of significant collaboration and discussions between Grenoble Metropole and the city, several local associations and NGOs, and the metropolitan area’s migrant communities.

In France, the responsibility for migrant integration usually rests with the national government, but Grenoble Metropole has signed a three-year state contract which has allowed it to take local responsibility for the support given to vulnerable and minority groups in the area.

As a result, the Metropole has been able to use targeted state funds to improve the complex support services needed for the reception and integration of migrants, including the creation of the AGORA.

“Thanks to the knowledge of local associations, Grenoble Metropole managed to put the AGORA in place,” explains Céline Deslattes, Vice-President of Grenoble Metropole in charge of employment, insertion, youth and the reception of refugees, and Municipal Councillor in charge of the fight against extreme precariousness for the city of Grenoble.

“There was a first period where we reviewed the situation and decided what was needed, in collaboration with local associations that work in this field, taking into consideration the voice of local migrants and refugees.”

Céline Deslattes, Vice-President of Grenoble Metropole in charge of employment, insertion, youth and the reception of refugees

Deslattes adds: “The notions of hospitality, welcome and support are part of our roadmap for all our policies, whether metropolitan or linked to the city of Grenoble. The Metropole has found ways to show its capacity to act, the main one being its collaboration with local associations and the people they support.”

Key to building the increased capacity of Grenoble Metrople has been its involvement in the Eurocities-led UNITES (UrbaN InTEgration Strategies through co-design) project, which works to develop co-designed integration strategies among municipalities, NGOs and migrant communities based in several European cities.

The project has supported the Metropole to develop an integrated local strategy, as well as offering the opportunity to learn from the innovative initiatives in other European cities and implement them in Grenoble’s local communities.

“Thanks to the UNITES project, we have been able to see what is working in other cities and metropolitan areas and what can be done in terms of coordination,” says Deslattes. “I believe that this collective strength of European cities is essential, particularly given the political individualism that exists in some parts of Europe.”

As a result of the Grenoble Metropole’s innovative actions, they recently renewed their contract with the national government, which means they can continue to focus on the introduction of actions and activities that will make lasting improvements to the lives and migrants and support their integration.

They will work with the city government to guarantee long-term support and investment in accommodation, social support and language courses for migrants. There are 340 places available and to date they have mostly been supporting migrants from Syria and Ukraine.

“This is really part of a particular history of the territory, where we pride ourselves on our hospitality, welcome and support for all audiences,” states Deslattes.

The Metropole is now looking to the future, with the focus turning to how they can build on their work.

Deslattes says: “We want to set up a ‘House of Hospitality’ to strengthen our reception policy, with the input of all the associations and the people concerned.”


This story is part of a series of articles that presents the experiences of migrants, organisations and municipalities working under the UNITES project in Europe, co-funded by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF).

UNITES (UrbaN InTEgration Strategies through co-design) trains and accompanies local authorities to co-design integration strategies with other stakeholders and migrants.

UNITES works with eight cities to help them develop local integration strategies through co-design with stakeholders and migrants. In planning and implementing their actions, they will receive guidance from colleagues from other cities and migrant organisations in peer workshops and peer visits to each city.


Marta Buces Eurocities Writer
François Troussier Eurocities Writer