The event was organised in collaboration with Caritas Europa and Cittalia.

Jorge Nuño Mayer, Secretary General of Caritas Europa presented the main findings of the Caritas report Welcome! Migrants make Europe stronger (also available in French and German), which highlights the need to actively involve migrants in policies which concern them, to empower their ability to actively participate in society and to raise awareness of their positive contributions, as well as the need to find innovative solutions to today’s problems. It is essential to have a specific focus on the most vulnerable, to create partnerships at the local level – in order to be successful not all initiatives can be top down, and to put better monitoring in place.

Caritas Europa’s main recommendations to Member States include the importance of implementing national integration strategies, avoiding competition for economic resources, providing access to good quality healthcare and effective housing policies. They also consider it essential that migrants have access to education, that their rights are protected and that both they and the communities which they arrive into are empowered to actively contribute to society.

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The intergroup meeting was an occasion to share multiple best practice examples of integration projects which are working well.

Mark Wiggin, CEO of the Caritas Diocese of Salford in the UK, explained how Caritas has developed a community sponsorship model which allows individuals, with support and the corresponding legal framework, to collectively take responsibility for migrants. In Salford 25 people, fulfilling different roles, are responsible for one family and between them take care of providing housing, access to education and health care, language classes and trying to find access to employment.

Further details can be found below in the paper Community Sponsorship and the Resettlement of Refugees (Click here).

In Italy, as Leonardo Domenici, President of Cittalia, explained, the model which is proving to be highly successful involves the local authorities working together with local NGOs to provide holistic, integrated, reception programmes for migrants in Italy. There is a national network of local reception centres and integration projects, which respect the guidelines established by the Ministry of Interior and results in a presence in all but one of the regions of Italy. To complement and support the local projects undertaken there is a central service which manages the national data bank, monitors the local activities undertaken, provides technical assistance and advice to local projects and contributes to supporting awareness raising and information activities. Awareness of local information campaigns and local networks are an essential pillar of the Italian reception and integration programmes.

Further statistics and details of concrete projects which have been put in place can be found in his presentation (click here).

Caritas showed two videos detailing how their projects are having a concrete impact on migrants’ lives. Mr. Mousab Eloudi, a Tunisian living in Spain, now has his papers and has received formal horeca training that has enabled him to find a job that he loves in a restaurant in Barcelona. In another project in Vienna, Magdas Hotel, 20 refugees are employed and trained by 10 hotel experts in all the different sections of the hotel. The project aims on the one hand to provide refugees with a job to facilitate their integration, but also to provide them with the requisite training to enable them to work in any hotel in Europe in the future. Ms. Anita Arakelian, a Syrian working in Magdas Hotel explained that she was really enjoying her job and wanted to carry on learning about the different hotel sectors, and to learn Spanish.

George Joseph from Caritas Sweden focused on the significance of dialogue in addressing cultural barriers when talking about migration. In Gothenburg Caritas runs “spaces of dialogue” centres, which are forms of ‘open houses’ which welcome up to 100 participants – migrants, refugees and ethnic Swedes together – to discuss. The participants are very diverse, George Joseph recalled one recent meeting where 6 women took the floor. All had lost members of their family, either in their countries or during the journey to the EU. These women were Shia Muslim, Sunni Muslim, Orthodox Christian and Catholic Christians who had all come together to exchange about their experiences. They are able to overcome the religious boundaries which exist in their countries of origin. When asked what these women thought could be improved in Sweden they believe that there needs to be a more positive discourse about migrants, illustrating examples where they have succeeded in their goals, with individual solutions in their communities. For George Joseph government ministries and academic experts could learn a lot from coming to listen to grass root initiatives, such as the “spaces of dialogue”.

Agnese Papadia, from the European Commission, detailed some of the key elements in the Commission’s Action Plan on the integration of third country nationals which was published in June 2016. Integration is viewed as one of the strongest tools at our disposal to make migration a success. The Commission considers that successful migration must be a two-way process:  which brings benefits to the migrants and the communities where they live, which must go beyond economic benefits to also contribute to a more cohesive and fairer society.

In order to try and achieve this the Commission has three key action points. As well as working to try and have a constant dialogue with those who are active on the ground they also believe that it is important to:

– invest in integration – with increased resources and energy and contacts with a range of actors. EU level funding for integration has increased;

– build a more positive narrative about migration – for this to be possible individual communities play the most important role. It is important to invest in a counter narrative about integration and to publicise the successful examples across the EU;

– dialogue needs to be increased between actors at the different levels (national, local, civil society etc.)

During both the presentations and the question and answer session which followed many common issues were present in the positive examples presented:

– providing access to language learning is essential;

– providing a clear legal situation (the permanent right to remain rather than temporary residency) provides stability to migrants and removes a significant source of worry and enables them to focus on other issues;

– part of integration work needs to broach helping refugees overcome the trauma that they have suffered, and one size does not fit all. To take account of this Caritas Sweden has developed different tools for working with men and with women to address these issues for example.

Everyone present at the meeting is well aware of the fact that the successful integration of migrants is a large challenge for the EU but that there is a need to act and to provide a counter-discourse to that of the populists. All integration actions need to include and empower migrants to be able to play an active role in decisions taken about them and actions need to also involve local communities. Sharing experiences facilitates mutual understanding and creates strong bonds, the migrants become individuals in their new communities rather than statistics.