Integrating for a better Europe

19 April 2024

In a world marked by increasing globalisation and population mobility, integrating migrants into local communities has emerged as a pressing concern for cities worldwide. Across Europe, cities play an important role in providing sustainable integration pathways and creating welcoming societies for all. City leaders and their local administrations recognise that welcoming, integrating and co-living approaches should be supported and implemented by collaboration across all levels of government.

However, cities often highlight their difficulties in securing EU funding through national programmes, due to challenges such as political obstacles, when national and local governments belong to different political parties.

For that reason, and ahead of the 2024 European elections, local governments are calling for the various EU funding streams to be made more accessible, to reinforce local social services and to coordinate the response of civil society to welcoming refugees.

In addition, cities say that EU funding calls could be better tailored to realities on the ground, for instance, by supporting existing structures instead of mainly focusing on innovative approaches to integration.

In short, cities must be closely involved in EU and national responses to receiving refugees. Cities are eager to step up our contributions to the work of European and national governments by providing knowledge and practical experience in relation to the reception of refugees, as well sharing information and know-how between cities.

In the Eurocities manifesto, A better Europe starts in cities, we call on European institutions to support cities that are open to refugees of all backgrounds. This message is further underlined in the Eurocities migration policy paper, A better inclusion of migrants starts in cities

Two years of war in Ukraine

Since the beginning of Russia’s war in Ukraine, cities’ work has been crucial to ensuring the integration of the Ukrainian people. Cities have led efforts to welcome refugees, even though local budgets are stretched and more active help from national and European levels is needed.

In September 2023, EU Member States agreed to extend the Temporary Protection Directive for one more year, until March 2025. Activated in March 2022, the directive supports the integration of Ukrainian nationals by providing them with immediate access to essential services and the labour market.

According to the Council of the European Union, more than 4.2 million people from Ukraine benefited from the mechanism up to November 2023. The directive has undoubtedly had a hugely positive impact. Still, local authorities are concerned about what will happen when it runs out and how this will affect Ukrainians living in their cities.

In response to this issue, Eurocities and its network of 200 member cities from across Europe are calling with one voice for the EU and national governments to decide on the next steps required to ensure the residence and protection status of Ukrainian migrants. In addition to these short-term concerns, cities also face an emerging new challenge: transitioning from emergency responses to a more long-term integration strategy.

As a result, local governments demand that the EU’s next funding period, running until 2027, provides additional, accessible funding to support the integration of Ukrainian refugees in urban communities.

Integration for all

However, people settling in European cities come from various nationalities and cultures. All migrants and refugees need access to residence and work permits, housing, education, medical care and social welfare.

Cities also call for a more inclusive and ambitious Pact on Migration and Asylum that guarantees the non-discrimination and the safety of people fleeing their countries, as well as assuring support in resolving political conflicts or natural disasters that cause populations’ insecurity.

As stated in Eurocities migration policy paper, cities and civil society, stakeholders should be consulted by member states in the development of their national action plans for the implementation of the new legislation on the ground. Cities call on the EU and its member states to monitor the outcomes of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum that, once implemented, is likely to undermine human rights standards and European values.

To build cohesive asylum and migration policies that take local realities into account, cities must also be included as equal partners in cross-governance policy discussions, not only on the integration of Ukrainian beneficiaries of temporary protection but also on the protection of all refugees.

In the statement, ‘Caring Cities: Acting in solidarity with all refugees,’ launched in May 2022, Eurocities called for non-discriminatory, equal access to rights and protection for all refugees in Europe.

In line with that statement, our migration policy paper emphasises the need to uphold the universal right to asylum and states that the EU should ensure equal access to rights and protection for all refugees in Europe, regardless of their origins and identity, no matter the colour of their skin, their gender, sexual orientation or religion.

Connecting, uniting, consolidating

Cities work on integration strategies through, for example, their participation in AMIF projects such as CONNECTION, UNITES and CONSOLIDATE.  UNITES, running until the end of 2024, focuses on co-designing integration strategies with migrant communities settled in local environments.

For example, under the umbrella of UNITES, Grenoble put in place AGORA, a platform in which refugees give feedback on policies and actions that affect their lives in the city. Another partner city, Oulu, created a bridge between the council and the Ukrainian community with psychological support.

CONSOLIDATE kicked off this year to gather twelve municipalities that will work together in the field of migrant integration until 2027. The project aims to build up short-term emergency responses into fully-fledged strategies for integration through effective labour market integration, local support instruments towards housing autonomy and creating one-stop-shops, all addressed to migrant communities and refugees.

The insights gained through city-to-city collaboration in these projects provide valuable lessons for developing EU migration policy. Input from cities is crucial to developing policies that promote more open and inclusive societies where everyone, regardless of their background, is welcome.


Read Eurocities migration policy paper, A better inclusion of migrants starts in cities.