Countless reasons to join UNITES

27 June 2022

Led by Eurocities, the new UNITES (UrbaN InTEgration Strategies through co-design) project trains and supports local authorities in the co-creation of integration strategies.

Launched in early 2022, the initiative focuses on devising assimilation actions through a collaboration among stakeholders, migrants and eight participating cities: Athens, Bologna, Prague, Oulu, Dusseldorf, Grenoble and Zaragoza.

Eurocities spoke to officials from three of those municipalities to learn more about what drove them to UNITES, their most pressing migration issues and expectations from the project.

This article is the first of a two-part series.

Why is your city joining UNITES?

Düsseldorf_Burgplatz_Stairs © Düsseldorf Tourismus GmbH – Photo U. Otte


Dr. Stephan Keller, Mayor of Dusseldorf

Working with Eurocities in the past has brought us valuable experiences. In the field of integration, we have already participated in the project VALUES (Volunteering Activities to Leverage Urban and European Social integration of migrants) between 2019 and 2021 and we have found immense value in cooperating with other European cities in this field. Exchanging ideas with other professionals, learning about other cities’ challenges and strategies, looking at our own work from an outside perspective,  led us to a deeper understanding of our own challenges, but also of our skills and resources.

This process prompted us to be much more creative in the use of those resources; it also encouraged us to think and develop new and innovative strategies to improve our integration work.

The Municipal Integration Center, our main institution for integration policies, has just started to revise our integration approach. The UNITES project starts just at the right time.


Priyanka Sood, Diversity, Inclusion and Immigrant Integration Project Manager 
A view of Oulu

Oulu has a history of accepting and integrating immigrants, who move to the city for different reasons ranging from humanitarian to economic considerations.

The city understands the need for and the importance of sharing good practices with other municipalities; this is why we have been active in national integration-focused forums. We felt the need to network with experts from across Europe and to be a part of a larger pan-European network.

With UNITES, Oulu expects to develop stakeholder participation in integration policy and increase participation in policy planning.


Photo by Marcelo Rivas
Ángel Lorén, Councillor for Social Action and the Family at the City of Zaragoza

Diversity in all its forms is largely the sign of our times. Cultural, sociodemographic, economic and value transformations are leading to important changes in our ways of life and in our ways of relating. Homogeneity is increasingly an exception.

It is in cities where this diverse world is built, a 21st century’s world with all its wealth and potential, but also hurdles and tensions. Because of proximity, cities’ solutions have a direct affect on residents’ quality of life.

We share UNITES’ vision. On the one hand, the project will carry out research on best practices on social integration strategies across Europe. In addition, a digital training platform on integration strategies will be co-designed among all project partners.

This training is mainly aimed at professionals to technically improve their work by disseminating knowledge of transnational actions in the field of asylum, migration and integration. We believe that UNITES will allow us to update our knowledge and enrich our efforts by presenting different perspectives.

We share project’s goals that are aimed at: developing and implementing local integration strategies; reducing barriers and promoting access to basic services for third-country nationals; promoting the participation of migrants in the design and implementation of integration policies; promoting complementary pathways for people in need of protection; offering assistance, support and fostering the integration of third-country national victims of human trafficking; accompanying migrant children along the path to adulthood.

In addition, the project is led by Eurocities network which will ensure that many more integration professionals will benefit from the project’s conclusions.

What actions is your city implementing to foster migrant integration?

The city of Dusseldorf. Image by Pixabay


Dr. Stephan Keller, Mayor 

Ours is an international city. Fourty-two% of Dusseldorf residents have a migrant background, and almost 24 % have a foreign nationality. This means that working on integration is working for the whole city.

With the establishment of the Office for Migration and Integration in 2018, we are now able to take more intensive and qualitative action than before; this brings new opportunities, helps us to enhance cooperation activities and find practical solutions. Our city boasts a large number of actors in the integration field: public authorities, counselling institutions, welfare organisations, associations, as well as volunteers and civil society. We are therefore well-positioned, as shown by our rapid response to Ukrainian refugees.

Now, however, it is important to set a strategic course in tandem with all integration actors to question existing practices, bring innovation or forge new cooperation.

Düsseldorf is building on a high level of good integration work, so the next step is to better understand the field of action, use resources in a more targeted way and make measures more effective.


Priyanka Sood, Diversity, Inclusion and Immigrant Integration Project Manager 
The city of Oulu. Photo by green ant on Unsplash

Our city has been receiving immigrants for decades and has well-developed integration services. Our 2014 integration strategy is updated and approved every four years.

Ouly engages on a regular basis with members of religious and ethnic minorities, and the Covid-19 pandemic enhanced community engagement.

Guiding principles of our integration programme include:

  • Offering services to all immigrants
  • Every child and young person has the right to develop, grow and pursue their dreams
  • Every Oulu resident has the opportunity to influence and participate in the city’s decision
  • Promoting interaction between different population groups

These principles are based on our municipality’s strategic goals and emphasise the equality and equal treatment of immigrants as residents.

Our integration program also aims at improving relations among locals, housing and the environment, leisure services, services for families with children, and services for young people and adults.

The scope of the Integration Program 2022-2025 has been expanded to meet different immigrant groups’ needs and to take into account Oulu’s strategic goals and development projects.

The strategy is planned together with a multidisciplinary team of experts from different fields: education, employment, social services, health services, business, housing, reception centres, management, early child development, NGOs, migrant community, national insurance agency and more.


Ángel Lorén, Councillor for Social Action and the Family at the City of Zaragoza

Our city has a good track record on immigrant integration and since 2006, Zaragoza it has been implementing different strategies. The current one is the “Municipal Plan for a Diverse and Intercultural Citizenship 2019-2022.”

Its Specialized Social Services have been focussing on three topics to achieve a global and integrated action:

  1. Attention and Social Advice Area. The goal is meet the personal, administrative, and social needs of the migrant population.
  2. Multiculturalism and Awareness Area: This includes a broad and permanent programme of activities to promote cultural exchanges, tolerance, respect while fighting xenophobia and racism.
  3. Participation Area. It enables the active participation of migrants and ethnic minorities through their own organisations and social entities.

Over the past few months, all our city’s resources and infrastructures have been mobilised to respond to the Ukraine migration emergency. Our actions include offering housing, legal and administrative guidance, financial support, interpretation services.

What are you expectation from  UNITES?  

The city of Zaragoza. Photo by Alvaro Calvo on Unsplash
Zaragoza. Photo by Alvaro Calvo


Dr. Stephan Keller, Mayor of Dusseldorf

Our main goal is to develop and implement a permanent cooperation structure in the field of integration policy. This should include all the main stakeholders and enable us to build on the working group’s experience, expertise, capacities and strengths. We especially want to build closer cooperation with migrant associations in Düsseldorf.

We aim to create a more inclusive identity that embraces and represents everyone in the city. We aim for an integration strategy that is informed by the needs and strengths of migrants and serves the well-being of the entire society.

The further development of our integration concept should, on the one hand, turn migrants into participants and, on the other hand, encourage participation.


Priyanka Sood, Diversity, Inclusion and Immigrant Integration Project Manager 

We expect to be able to share our good practices from integration strategy, multidisciplinary approach and stakeholder engagement.

We want to change hardened attitudes on integration and would like to take part in peer-learning workshops, city-to-city exchanges, thematic seminars and study tours. We aim to succeed in integrating Ukrainian refugees, and that is another important reason to take part in this project.


Ángel Lorén, Councillor for Social Action and the Family at the City of Zaragoza

Migration is an ever-changing phenomenon. Proper integration  is a challenge that requires innovative and creative responses. For us it’s very useful to share ideas about municipal management and learn from other cities’ best practices.

Being part of UNITES means learning about different perspectives, sharing knowledge about solutions and challenges that may be common to other municipalities.

The new EU Action Plan for Integration is based on the idea of integration as “a social process in which responsibility does not lie with one particular group, but rather with many.”

In order to put this idea into practice, our Action Plan  underlines the need to empower migrants to co-create and  participate in the design of integration measures.



Raphael Garcia Eurocities Writer