For every city, migrant integration comes with its challenges, but any city that might consider these hurdles insurmountable should look to the walled Cypriot capital of Nicosia. This city, with a population of 200,000, almost half of whom are migrants, is one that has clung hard to this goal in the face of every adversity.
In Cyprus, social policy is the exclusive competence of the national government, meaning that Nicosia can only run its social policy initiatives through a foundation, the Nicosia Municipality Multifunctional Foundation (NMMF). This endeavour to support vulnerable groups cannot formulate an annual budget, depending as it does upon a fusion of funds from the EU, the state, the city, donations and charity events.
It also faces an inconsistent national policy which is not outlined in any defined strategy. On top of this, projects piloted by the NMMF, when they are successful, are often put to open tenders by the state, the terms of which explicitly exclude local authorities from participation.
A double-edged sword
One such project, which has been running for seven years, is ‘New channels for the integration of third country nationals in the local community.’ The programme works together with migrant-run organisations to support social care for adults and children, intercultural exchange and cultural expression, and sports participation.
Its great success has been a double-edged sword: replication by many other Cypriot municipalities means that less funds are available for the original programme. Meanwhile parts of the programme are now being put up for tender among private companies by the state, running the risk of unravelling years of effort in building ties and trust between the local government and local migrant organisations.
Despite all this, Nicosia continues to run, assist and involve itself in a slew of integration efforts. These include the international project MINGLE, which facilitates mixing and mentoring between migrants and locals; RISE, a centre supporting local knowledge and technology transfer; the HR Development Authority which provides training and work experience; and the Cyprus Refugee Council, which has set up a web platform where vulnerable members of society can post their CV and find job offers.
Migrants are also creating their own initiatives, such as MYCYradio, the first ever community station in Cyprus, which offers a voice to all communities. It airs programmes in several languages and is working to help others create radio stations for their own communities.
A way forward
As part of the project CITIES GROW, Nicosia is working together with the city of Helsinki, sharing experience and developing an action plan. On the advice of its partner, Nicosia is going to thoroughly map its migrant population – data is essential for progress, for coordinating sparse resources and arguing for new policies. This means not only numbers and origins, but also needs and skills.
It will also work to mitigate the two major problems that migrants identify upon consultation: The first is providing language classes, dividing them into categories such as intensive versus vocational, to evade the ‘double funding’ rule. This rule has prevented the city from funding much needed language training as these, though insufficiently, are already funded by other initiatives. The second is improving public transport so that vulnerable groups can commute to jobs and job opportunities without a great deal of difficulty.
Finally, Nicosia will redouble its efforts to find collaborations with national departments, such as the ministry of the interior; with volunteers, for example in the provision of language classes; with international companies; and with small and micro-businesses, for example by providing unused offices or buildings for them to run their operations from.
Whatever the method, Nicosia is a city that is determined to create opportunities for its people, native or foreign-born, and to become a thriving and united capital once again.