Dortmund joins European cities with a commitment to migrant integration

16 April 2024

The city of Dortmund recently signed the Integrating Cities Charter, reaffirming its commitment to the integration of migrants and the promotion of well-managed migration.

The Charter harnesses the duties and responsibilities of European cities as policy-makers, service providers, employers, and buyers of goods and services to embrace diversity.

Dortmund, a city with a long immigration history, recognises the vital role migrants play in shaping its identity and contributing to its prosperity. The city aims to strengthen existing migrant networks and organisations to foster a sense of togetherness and inclusivity among all residents.

In a world marked by increasing globalisation and population mobility, integrating migrants into local communities has emerged as a pressing concern for cities worldwide.

In an interview with Eurocities, Thomas Westphal, Mayor of Dortmund, walked us through the municipality’s journey towards integration.

“We are very pleased to join the Eurocities Integrating Cities Charter to gain new perspectives through intermunicipal exchange at European level, but also to be able to contribute with our input,” Westphal said. “We are convinced that we are on the right track and do not have to hide from the challenges, but that we can and must continue to improve. Thanks to communication and knowledge management at European level, the Charter gives us a great opportunity to learn a lot from each other, but also about ourselves.”

Dortmund was one of the latest cities to sign the Integrating Cities Charter, which has now reached 50 signatories. The Charter renews and updates European cities’ commitment to the integration of migrants and the promotion of well-managed migration. Why did the city decide to commit for better involvement of the migrant communities? What’s the added value of an increasingly diverse city?

Immigration has been a reality and normality in Dortmund for decades and has helped build our city, making it what it is today. There is also a long tradition of migrant organisations and networks from the migrant communities, which are already active in many municipal and local networks and strategies and help shape the city in civil society. We want to strengthen these existing structures in a targeted manner to translate this civic engagement into sustainable public visibility and political representation – developing a common identity, a sense of togetherness, in which every Dortmunder, regardless of their family history, feels included and supported, is a central task that drives us.

Thomas Westphal, Mayor of Dortmund

In addition, demographic development presents us with new challenges, but also provides us with opportunities. Dortmund is an ever-increasing city with a young population. These two factors allow us to look positively to the future of our city, especially given the increasingly present shortage of (skilled) workers in Germany. At the same time, there is still untapped potential in this regard, including in the labour market integration of (young) immigrants. Production, services and capital are increasingly moving globally and are internationally networked. A diverse and multilingual urban society can better use this global potential and directly affect national and international location comparisons. Here, too, the structural inclusion of migrant communities will be used successfully.

Participation in a European network and exchanging experience with major European cities on migration and participation provide the City of Dortmund with further strategic and technical added value in implementing its work.

The Charter states three goals for policy-makers: Actively communicate the city’s commitment to equal opportunities, ensure equal access and non-discrimination across all policies, and facilitate engagement from migrant communities in policy-making processes and remove barriers to participation. How does the city plan to do so, or has it done so, so far?

Our goal is to further develop, strengthen and realise the equal participation of people from different backgrounds in social, economic, cultural and political life in Dortmund. We have already implemented this self-image as part of numerous strategies, initiatives and memberships at federal, state and regional levels. For example, through the ‘Diversity Charter’, that aims to engage employers to create or promote a working environment in which all employees are valued and promoted equally, regardless of nationality, ethnic origin, religion or ideology, social background, disability, age, sexual orientation and identity. Or via the initiative ‘Diversity Unites! Intercultural opening as a success factor’, which made the North Rhine-Westphalia the first federal state to enshrine the obligation to open up the state administration to intercultural dialogue in law back in 2012. With this initiative, the state government wants to help ensure that intercultural diversity is seen as a strength in the partner organisations, that employees with a history of immigration are adequately represented in authorities, associations and companies, that equal opportunities are guaranteed in recruitment procedures and other personnel measures, that intercultural skills are better utilised in the working world and that managers and employees receive intercultural training.

Also, our cooperation ‘integration.intercommunal’ founded in 2008 focuses on demographic changes and the organisation of migration and integration processes, dealing with diversity and diversity-based HR management and the recruitment of employees with migration background.

At the same time, integration, migration, and participation are fundamentally important and critical components of the city’s administrative activities. This includes many strategic decisions and paradigms. Among other things, a municipal integration concept (“Masterplan Migration/Integration”) was developed around 15 years ago, which is currently being revised to strengthen the integration and participation of people with a migration background living here further. In addition, there is also Dortmund’s Overall Strategy for New Immigration, the Municipal Integration Management and the Service Center for Migration and Integration, which can be assigned to the coordination and management of new immigration. The goals mentioned earlier and opportunities for community participation already play an important role in these strategies.

Thomas Westphal, Mayor of Dortmund

The integration concept, which is currently being revised, is being developed on an interdisciplinary basis and therefore includes a wide range of specialist skills, as well as civil society skills in a subsequent step. As part of this process, we want to develop a collective identity that places economic and social integration and participation at the heart of municipal and entrepreneurial action. At this point, there are already conceptual parallels to the “Integrating Cities Charter”. On the other hand, the training and employment prospects of young people with a migrant background were explicitly identified as a strategic focus area that will be incorporated into the integration concept.

Dortmund has a long history of integration and a clear willingness to work towards the integration of all migrants are refugees in the city. Proof of this commitment can be seen in the Integrating Cities projects. The city has been part of CONNECTION until 2022 and just joined CONSOLIDATE, the new Eurocities migration project that will run until 2027. What does the city want to achieve through this involvement? And what have been the takeaways and learnings from CONNECTION?

As part of the CONNECTION project, Dortmund worked with the cities of Athens, Stockholm and Cluj-Napoca to design one-stop shops as an integrated response to integration needs. The call for projects at the time perfectly matched the city’s efforts to establish a migrant service centre. We gained important insights into the concrete implementation of our Service Center for Migration and Integration (MigraDo) from the joint exchange within the framework of CONNECTION, as both Athens and Stockholm already had similar structures. In addition to reflecting on our open questions, the digitalisation of services in Athens and the conceptual focus on the empowerment of clients in Stockholm were particularly important aspects that were incorporated into our considerations. Even after the end of the project, the colleagues from Dortmund and Stockholm are still in close contact to discuss the planned further development of MigraDo.

The example of CONNECTION clarifies that topics such as integration and migration do not stop at national borders and that similar issues are being considered across Europe. Therefore, it makes sense to participate in discussions and learn from each other. This is precisely where we see the great added value of these projects.

Our vision of integration is one where all city residents can develop their full potential and have an equal chance of a life of safety and dignity. Cities conceive integration policies within a broader framework of diversity and equality, encompassing ethnic origin and religion, gender, sexual orientation, age and disability, and many have developed dedicated integration strategies. How can a city ensure that all of these are implemented? What could help municipalities in achieving those goals?

Integration, diversity and participation of all citizens affect not only the city of Dortmund, but also every municipality, every federal state and the state, but are ultimately implemented at municipal level. Therefore, a regular exchange of best practice examples, creativity, but also sufficient human and financial resources are essential for municipalities to master the increasing number of challenges. Legal foundations such as the Participation and Integration Act of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which take care of the coordination of municipal integration tasks, are fundamental to anchor the municipal tasks of integration policy in the long term and secure the most long-term funding possible.

Thomas Westphal, Mayor of Dortmund

In our federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, there have been Integration Centers in almost every municipality or district since 2013 based on the Participation and Integration Act of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia. There are now 54 centres in the region, including Dortmund. The functions of the centres include integration through education and integration as a cross-sectional task. In addition, we implement numerous state projects, such as the programme to promote the integration and participation of refugees and new immigrants in the municipalities, the municipal integration management, or a pool of voluntary translators.

Administration, politics and civil society have been implementing comprehensive strategies, action plans and opportunities for participation and representation in the city of Dortmund for many years. This also includes focusing on the respective topics and target groups and – in addition to the strategies mentioned above – setting up full-time coordination offices, for example. In addition to the Municipal Integration Center, these include the political body of the Integration Council, the Disability Policy Network and the coordination offices for “Diversity, Tolerance and Democracy”, “Loneliness”, “Inclusion” and “LGBTIQ*”.

As the city administration, we want to work together with civil society to develop a vision in which Dortmund is anchored in people’s minds as a “city of neighborhoods”. A vision that gives rise to a collective identity with which all citizens of the city can identify. A city where it doesn’t matter where you come from, but where you want to go.

Is there any other municipality that has maybe inspired Dortmund for their work in co-design or integration strategies? If so, can you explain what initiatives they have successfully implemented?

As mentioned previously, we were able to gain important insights into the concrete implementation of our MigraDo from Athens and Stockholm in exchanges within the framework of CONNECTION. The digitalisation of services in Athens and the conceptual focus on empowering clients in Stockholm were particularly important aspects that were incorporated into our considerations.

As part of regular networking meetings between the municipalities with municipal integration centers, experiences and best practice examples are of course also exchanged so that the municipalities can learn from each other directly.

By embracing the principles outlined in the Charter, Dortmund sets a powerful example for urban environments around the world. It demonstrates that the path to social harmony begins with embracing diversity and upholding the rights and dignity of all residents.

The Integrating Cities Charter lists specific commitments for local politicians and city officials. Developed within the Eurocities AMIF project DIVE, it was launched and signed by 17 European Mayors at the Integrating Cities IV conference in London in February 2010. As of March 2024, 50 cities have signed it.

Dortmund has participated in migrant integration projects such as CONNECTION (2019-2022) and recently joined CONSOLIDATE (2024-2027). CONSOLIDATE aims to build short-term emergency responses into fully-fledged integration strategies through effective labour market integration, local support instruments towards housing autonomy, and one-stop shops, all addressed to migrant communities and refugees. Eurocities also works in UNITES to ensure the co-design of integration strategies at the local level.

The German city will also participate in the next Integrating Cities Conference, which will take place in Bologna next October. Dortmund, along with Bologna and Dusseldorf, will participate in the signing ceremony. 




Marta Buces Eurocities Writer