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Introducing 3 new projects on Integration of Migrants and Refugees

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When the UIA Initiative was officially launched in 2015, the media headlines all over Europe were reporting dramatic stories of tens of thousands of refugees arriving in desperate conditions on the shores of Greece, Italy and Spain. With the majority of newly arrived refugees moving north and settling in the major urban areas mainly in Austria, Germany, Sweden and Netherlands, it appeared clear that their first welcome and, more importantly, their long term inclusion would have been an urban challenge, with municipalities called to act as frontrunners.
For European cities this new challenge (at least in terms of size and intensity) comes on top of the difficulties already faced concerning the integration of second and third generation migrants.
The urban relevance was quickly acknowledged at EU level.  A Partnership focusing on Inclusion of migrants and refugees was launched in the framework of the Urban Agenda for the EU in 2016. After few months of activities, all actors involved agreed that, even if migration policies are normally defined and implemented at national level, cities need to test radically new and bold solutions. It was clear that the traditional social and welfare services were not adapted. New solutions are desperately needed to face the magnitude and the specificities of the new situation (post-war traumatisms, social services already strongly pressured by austerity measures, risk of radicalization, raise of anti-migrants movements, etc.). New ideas and approaches are emerging thanks to the vitality of local NGOs, associations and simple citizens, but the political and financial climates were not particularly positive to support risky new experimentation in this specific policy area.
 
Created to share with urban authorities the risk to experiment untested solutions, UIA Initiative included the topic of Inclusion of Migrants and Refugees in the first 2 Call for Proposals and decided to invest almost 35 million Euro to support 7 of the most innovative solutions proposed by urban authorities and their local partners.
Readers of the UIA newsletter are already familiar with the approaches proposed by the four projects selected in the framework of the first Call for Proposals. The cities of Antwerp, Bologna, Vienna and Utrecht, together with their groups of committed local Stakeholders are progressing with the implementation of their activities. Feedbacks are extremely positive and the first success stories can be highlighted. The best way to stay up to date with these projects is to check regularly their webpages and read the Projects’ Journals produced every six months by their UIA Experts.

The second UIA Call for Proposals was launched at the end of 2016, when the numbers of new arrivals were slowly decreasing but with the questions of the effective long-term inclusion still dramatically unsolved. 41 proposals were submitted under the topic Inclusion of Migrants and Refugees and three new projects were approved. Only one (Athens) is explicitly targeting refugees while the other two (Coventry and Fuenlabrada) will be working with young second and third generation migrants.

When applying to the UIA Call, almost 13.000 refugees were estimated to be living in Athens. A large majority was inactive as are most of the local unemployed people. In the meantime, as consequence of the deep financial crises many local inhabitants have gradually moved out, leaving 30% of vacant flats in the center of Athens. These are the different dimension of the limbo that the municipality wants to cure, building upon the vibrant local civil society. Within “Curing the Limbo”, refugees receive affordable living spaces from the  available housing stock and in return they work for the public benefit, supporting the needs of the local community and participating in citizen-led activities that improve quality of life in Athenian neighborhoods. The support is completed by personalized training (including Greek language but also basic and soft skills) while owners of empty buildings will receive financial incentives and guarantees.
With Athens, UIA is now supporting five projects working directly with refugees, testing different solutions, looking at different aspects and different combinations of services for their long-term inclusion. We aim to bring soon these cities together in order to explore common lessons and messages to be shared with a wider audience of policy-makers and practitioners (a joint dissemination event will be organised in 2019).

Refugees are not the only individuals with different cultural, linguistic and religious background living in our cities and needing adapted and specific services. Since decades municipalities have been on the frontline to make sure that second and third generation migrants are fully integrated in our communities. However, looking at the level of social and spatial segregations afflicting these specific populations in almost all EU cities, the impression is that here, as in other policy areas, traditional policies and approaches have failed.

This is why the UIA Selection Committee was keen to give to the municipalities of Coventry and Fuenlabrada and their strong local partnerships the possibility to test radically new and complex solutions to help migrants in their inclusion trajectory but also to consider them as a real resource for cohesive and multi-cultural societies.
Coventry is a highly attractive destination for migrants in the UK and it is part of one of the most diverse region in the whole EU (West Midlands). The recent drastic cuts to the local budgets under UK government austerity measures left the City council with no other choice than to look for alternative solutions for the active inclusion of migrants. To fight against their chronic unemployment, to raise their awareness about rights and services (especially health services) but also to limit the raising prejudice and opposition from local populations, three local councils (Coventry, Wolverhampton and Birmingham) and very rich group of local actors decided to join forces. Together they will be testing a combination of training and upskilling activities, communication campaigns led by health champions, support for the creation of social enterprises (including mentoring and financial support) as well as empowerment of migrants as Citizens Journalists and Social Scientist to build together a new narrative about their positive contributions to local communities.

Located in the metropolitan area of Madrid, in the last four decades Fuenlabrada has seen its population almost tripled as result of an intense migratory process both national and international. The City is still struggling to recover from the financial downturn that has impacted particularly badly Spain and the unemployment rates remain dramatically high especially among low skilled young with migrant background. Thanks to UIA the municipality and the five partners will be addressing this challenge by testing the Business Challenges Labs approach. Groups of unemployed locals and migrants will work together to answer challenges defined by local business (definition of new products or services).  To do so young migrants will be trained and accompanied by other private companies strongly committed locally and they will access to cutting-edge technologies and technical tools that will be equipping the 2 labs to be designed and created as part of the UIA funding. The final aim is to provide young migrants with the skills required by the promising economic sectors in the area but also to foster self-entrepreneurship.

Athens, Coventry and Fuenlabrada will soon complete their Initiation Phase and will be able to start implementing the planned activities. They already have their own webpage where they will start soon publishing updates and news. UIA Experts for these projects are currently being recruited and will produce the first Projects' journals in October.