November 26, 2018


November 26, 2018

Migration is a fact in all of our cities, but how we react determines the rest.
At the eighth Integrating Cities Conference (ICC VIII), 180 delegates met in Milan to unlock the social and economic potential that migration holds. Discussion ranged from the vital role of data, to how to secure funding, how cities can work with volunteers, sensitivity to gender, working with undocumented migrants and minors, and fighting the negative narrative around migration. Central strands that wove through all these topics were how the European and local level can cooperate to make integration successful, and how best to harness the economic potential that migrants bring to local labour markets.

Politicians and representatives of cities and of the European Commission, as well as academia, NGOs and experts dealing with migration, used the two-day conference to put their heads together and find the most effective means to unite new and incumbent members of our communities.

Help not hurdles

Opening the conference, Olivier Onidi, deputy director-general of security in the European Commission, asked “Why create hurdles for people in danger when we could bring them safety?” and declared that “Cities must work together with national government and EU level to find what works.” It was in this spirit that the conference went on.

The morning was filled with insights from different areas of migration work. Anna Lisa Boni of EUROCITIES emphasised city to city collaboration as the most effective method of delivering success on integration, allowing local leaders to get a practical picture of what works. Charlina Vitcheva, deputy director general of the Joint Research Centre, focused in on the role of data, and the work that the Commission is doing to make this data available to cities through the Knowledge Centre on Migration and Demography. Colleen Thouez of the Open Society Foundations’ International Migration Initiative pointed out the invaluable role of cities in contributing to national and international policy, in particular with their contributions to the Global Compact for Migration.

Cities commit to integrate

Two new cities, the cities of Thessaloniki and Turin, added their signatures to the Integrating Cities Charter. Now boasting 39 signatory cities, from as far west as Dublin, and as far east as Nicosia, the Charter commits cities to provide equal opportunities for all residents, including migrants, not only in the cities’ capacity as policy makers, but also as service providers, employers and buyers of goods.

The results of eight focused workshops and five best practice examples kicked off the second day’s debate on key challenges and solutions for integration at local level. A key challenge noted by Pierfrancesco Majorino, deputy mayor of Milan for social affairs, is making services immediately accessible to migrants.

This sentiment was reiterated by Andreas Germershausen, Berlin Senate commissioner for integration and migration, and Lola Lopez, Barcelona commissioner for immigration, interculturality and diversity. For cities, everyone on their territory is a citizen, and should be treated as such. City services should not be seen as privileges afforded only to a certain class of residents. Services solve concrete problems and the whole city is better off when everyone can receive them.

New narratives

Mr Germershausen, along with Asher Craig, Bristol deputy mayor with responsibility for communities, events and equalities, further stressed the need to change the narrative around migration, even down to the words we choose. Should we talk about migrants moving to ‘host’ countries and cities, when the way they are treated is often less than hospitable? Michele Levoy, director at Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants, pointed to how problematic terms like ‘illegal’ are when applied to human beings. Rather than taking a defensive stance on migration, the city ought to assert its value.

Namaring Abkr, of the European migrant advisory board, pointed out that the days of assuming European authorities know ‘what’s best’ for migrants need to come to an end – decision making about migrants must include migrants. It is vital to steer clear of tokenism, Mrs Abkr emphasised, and make sure that migrants and migrant groups are invested with real power.

Cities need support and recognition

After a little time to digest these viewpoints, a second panel convened to look towards the future, and how the European and local level can cooperate for integration.

Eleftherios Papagiannakis, deputy mayor of Athens, pointed to all the work that cities are doing to make successful integration a reality. Athens is increasing housing provision, temporary accommodation, tailored education and training programmes to name but a few. Cities are innovating to do more with less, and, in the words of Thomas Fabian, deputy mayor of Leipzig, “Cities have shown that they are prepared to meet, and capable of meeting, migration challenges of the last few years.”

Mr Fabian also pointed out that migrants are just one of many vulnerable groups in our cities, that the most successful attempts at integration will be those that are extended to all such groups. “If we want to fight racism and xenophobia” he said, “we need to understand where these feelings come from.”

Cooperation is key

The need for closer cooperation between European and local level was affirmed by all. Both Laura Corrado, head of unit Legal Migration and Integration, Directorate General Migration and Home Affairs, and Raquel Cortes-Herrera, deputy head of unit Disability and Inclusion, Directorate General Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion of European Commission said that cities have a central role in integration efforts. Mrs Cortes-Herrera pointed out that cities are key players whose contributions must be recognised in international agreements, such as the Pillar of Social Rights. Mrs Corrado stated that the Commission aims to achieve a more structural relationship with city administrations on matters of integration and migration.

Cities are solving integration issues right now and have been doing so for years. Events like ICC VIII, highlight the need for international solidarity, mutual and European support, and information exchange. With these in place Europe will be able to begin to see the so-called migration ‘crisis’ as a migration opportunity.

To discover more about the Integrating Cities Conference VIII, including images, documents, and findings from the workshops, please go to

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