Maggio 30, 2019

The role of cities in the integration of migrants and refugees

With the number of migrants and refugees living in urban areas in Europe constantly rising, cities are becoming key in solving the challenges of their integration. The four Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) cities Antwerp, Vienna, Utrecht and Bologna are paving the way to implementing innovative methods for better managing integration in their cities. The projects have identified four key aspects that could bring an added value to the role that cities can play in tackling the challenge of integration of migrants and refugees in our society. These will be explored further at the UIA workshop on the Integration of Migrants and Refugees on 12 and 13 June in Antwerp


What is the optimal and sustainable intensity of personalized case management and support services that can increase chances of integration?         

When designing an integration path and defining key actions such as reception, training, work, legal assistance, health care and social mediation, the type of management needed is frequently determined by the framework conditions and by a project itself. Nevertheless, it is necessary to define the intensity of the approaches; how to integrate their effects and how to deliver a sustainable and viable model. Management model design should take into account all the assets that will be faced along the project path, from the economics and human resources commitment, to the flexibility of adjustments when the project is running already.

It seems from the experiences of Antwerp, Utrecht, Bologna and Vienna, that projects where a good ratio has been set amongst the approaches, and where ideal solutions have been reached, do not turn out to be feasible and sustainable outside of a fund giving system.

It is consequently clear that analysing, structuring, knowing the specific political context and sharing management approaches between projects is more than necessary to help set the best personalized and feasible strategy.


  1. How important is the physical dimension of co-housing and combination with new types of reception and social centres in these interventions?

How the integration services are organised in an area can play an important role in supporting refugees and asylum seekers to integrate faster and better. Each of the projects has chosen a different configuration of its co-housing arrangements combined with a range of services which are either onsite in the neighbourhoods or further afield. The configurations developed by the UIA cities of Antwerp, Bologna, Vienna and Utrecht can be compared and contrasted with migrant one-stop shops developed in the Member States and specifically with good practices in Lisbon and Porto supported by the Portuguese government working closely with each of the cities. The contrast here is between service coordination in the one-stop shops and the focus on living, working and socialising together and with the host community developed in the UIA projects.  For many refugees, the experience of the first years is of being in limbo while dealing with endless bureaucracy.  This speaks to the need for a multilevel approach between cities and their Member States in which the administrative processes are well coordinated while the best use is made of ‘limbo’ time to enable people to become settled in communities in the cities.  To some extent this is variable geometry with the need to explore the benefits of each configuration.


  1. What role can the engagement of stakeholders and citizens play in leveraging public opinion and political support?

The success of policies for the reception of asylum seekers and refugees depends on many factors. Some are more of an “internal” nature, such as starting from a good diagnosis and getting the methodology and its implementation right. But more “external” aspects related to public opinion and the level of political commitment can also influence, especially in contexts where there is an increase in support for populist anti-immigration discourse in practically all of Europe. The engagement of diverse stakeholders and citizens in general in the design and implementation of these policies, apart from being able to improve their effectiveness, can also be useful in countering negative narratives and reinforcing political support. But who are the actors and what are the engagement strategies that are most effective in achieving these objectives?


  1. What kind of multi-level governance organisation is required to address the challenge of integration of migrants and refugees effectively?


The integration of migrants and refugees is defined by an entanglement between different levels of authorities. Cities are suggested to develop, and to implement, concrete integration measures which ideally should be in line with national or even supranational policies. In practice, however, the implementation of specific measures is not friction-free, and this does not only refer to the fact that the actors involved – public authorities at different levels, institutions, civil society organisations, associations, not least the targeted population – follow different interests; they may also define and perceive situations differently, differ in their way of functioning, or vary in terms of time perspectives. Most city-led projects have to grapple with the gap between the political intent of representatives of local and national governments; the focus of project partners/stakeholders and social workers involved in the project; and the real needs of the target group. How is it possible though to find a balance between these different interests and perspectives?








This article has been put together by experts employed by the UIA Initiative in liaison with UIA Permanent Secretariat in preparation for the UIA event as mentioned above.



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