Madrid is the home of thousands of migrants from all over the world. From Afghan refugees to Colombians reuniting with family members, they all have to go through complicated bureaucracy to be able to settle, look for a job and find a better life. Since 2005, the city has been home to two offices dealing with migrants that, with 20 employees, do their best to help migrants navigate the Spanish bureaucracy and integrate into their host society.
The Oficinas Municipales de Información, Orientación y Acompañamiento para la Integración Social de la Población Inmigrante or Municipal Office of Information, Guidance and Support for the Social Integration of the Immigrant Population offer a series of services for the migrant population in Madrid, offering Spanish lessons and helping them tailor their CVs, legalise their diplomas, giving job-relate counselling, etc.
How the offices work
There are two offices, one in the north and the other in the south of the city, both in regions heavily populated by migrants and, in each region, a different profile of those seeking help: in the northern area, migrants are predominantly Spanish-speaking from the Americas, whereas in the south, they tend to come from the Philippines, India, Iraq, etc. Therefore, the south office opens on Sunday to welcome those who have more difficulty in navigating the bureaucracy in the Spanish language and need extra help.
The office doesn't reach people through advertising, it reaches them by word of mouth
Daniela Montes Arenas, Northern Officer Coordinator, explains that they have “two coordinators, one for each office, two administrative staff and a technical team, as well as a team of social workers and lawyers and a Spanish training area with qualified technicians trained in Spanish. We also offer a translation and interpretation service for the city services that depend on our area.”
The offices have been managed by La Rueca since 2011, an NGO founded in 1990 with the objective of helping the most vulnerable populations of Madrid.
In 2020, the offices welcomed over 30,000 people that took part in some of their activities, such as Spanish classes, job counselling, and workshops — from the basics of how to read and pay an electricity bill, and how to register with the city council, to how to apply for Spanish nationality and even dealing with mental health. Some of the activities are also held along with NGOs such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
One important characteristic of the service provided by the offices is, explains Arenas, that “the office doesn’t reach people through advertising, it reaches them by word of mouth. There is no institutional advertising, but there is a newsletter that is sent to social service centres,” that is then printed and shared. But most of the work is done by those who have benefited from their services and spread the news later.
Migrants follow a ‘route’, that is, they attend workshops, then they are referred to a technician who will follow them throughout the process. Also, “for the last two years, there has been social accompaniment, the social workers help people in social vulnerability. Especially referrals from hospitals. People with hearing and visual difficulties,” notes Arenas.
For the last two years there has been social accompaniment, the social workers help people in social vulnerability
“We have an average of nine workshops a month. They revolve a lot around the needs of the migrant population: How to present yourself in an interview, how to write a CV, how to get your studies recognised, how to detect false job offers on the internet, especially domestic service, etc.” explains Arenas. Then “they go to labour assistance technicians to assess what the migrants need,” receive all the information to find a job and are enrolled in Spanish classes or other services when needed. Professionals accompany the migrants throughout the entire process.
She adds that a big challenge for them is that “we receive a lot of young people between 18-25 years old, poor, in a street situation, who come to us for Spanish classes or for the regularisation, many from sub-Saharan Africa. When they leave the centres for minors, they leave in an irregular administrative situation or with a permit that does not authorise them to work,” and the offices have to help them the best way they can.
Integrating through CONNECTION
Like other cities all over Europe, Madrid’s doing its best to welcome migrants and refugees alike, giving them not only assistance in sorting their documents but also to find a job and building a career. Now Madrid has teamed up with Antwerp, Tampere, and Sofia in the European-funded CONNECTION project, led by Eurocities, to make integration more effective by learning from each other’s experiences. Members of the Employment Agency have recently visited Antwerp to learn from their experience.
“Thinking about the work we have done so far, all the work of bringing the city of Antwerp and us closer together is key to give us all the information about a working model that the city of Antwerp has, which they have arrived at after many years of reflection and how to improve their resources. The collaboration of the city council of Antwerp has been key for us, all the information they have given us,” said Belén Campillo, European Projects Coordinator of Madrid Municipality.
She also notes that “Antwerp has a model that has inspired us. Madrid can learn a lot from what Antwerp has done in terms of integration policies for migrants and refugees.”
Antwerp has a model that has inspired us. Madrid can learn a lot from what Antwerp has done in terms of integration policies for migrants and refugees.
Within the framework of CONNECTION, Madrid has prepared an action plan, the budget for which was approved in July, meaning the actions is already underway. The city is looking to create stronger channels of communication and cooperation between the Employment Office and the offices of attention to migrants.
Javier Sánchez, Technical Adviser for European Projects of the Madrid Employment Agency explains that they analysed the needs they had “to offer resources to migrants and we decided to focus on employment. We realised that even in the city council of Madrid we had two spaces, the offices that work with migrants and the employment agency that offers employment guidance, etc. and in the end, a large part of our clients are migrants because we have a work focused on the most vulnerable population. We noticed that the migration offices covered one part of the attention to migrants and we covered another, but there was no coordination.”
And this is where CONNECTION proves to be of great relevance to the city. Sánchez says that their idea is to create “a new channel, an application, more direct towards this group of migrants. A coordination mechanism to reach the end customer and reach the migrant.” In other words, the plan to be implemented envisages not only the expansion of dialogue and the facilitation of common projects, but also communication channels, websites, and even an app for mobile phones that promote the integration of two agencies that have complementary functions, but that, today, have little interaction.
CONNECTION’s role is “exactly to create this bridge between the offices and the employment agency,” adds Arenas. And that can be achieved by the formulation and implementation of both administrative tools and dialogue channels, reinforcing good practices also by learning about the experiences of other cities.
Through effective collaboration with other cities, sharing information and experiences, projects like the one in Madrid can help the city to empower its migrant population in a more efficient way.