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On 8th – 9th June 2017 international experts together with their Czech colleagues discussed their experiences of integration and cohabitation in European cities at the Clam-Gallase palace. The conference, called “Challenges of Integration – International Conference on the Integration of Foreigners in the City of Prague; Sharing Examples of Good Practice”, was organised by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in cooperation with the Prague Integration Centre and the Slovo 21 organisation. The conference was held under the auspices of the Prague City councillor Jan Wolf. It was attended by more than a hundred representatives of state administration, local city governments, city districts, integration centres, NGOs, and organisations which unite migrants.
Ondřej Mirovský, Chairman of the Commission of the Prague City Hall Council for the Integration of Foreigners and member of the Prague City Assembly, pointed out that Prague has always been a place where various cultures meet and that the life in the city has always been influenced by migration. Today, foreigners represent almost 15% of Prague’s inhabitants. The Prague City Council is well aware of this situation and that is why they have prepared the Policy of the City of Prague for the Integration of Foreign Nationals and established the Prague Integration Centre.
According to Jana Hajná, head of the Division of National Minorities and Foreigners, and Anca Covrigová, methodical expert of the Prague Integration Centre, the priorities and challenges of the integration policy include a deeper involvement of city districts in local level integration, enhancing cooperation with Prague schools and extending integration activities targeted towards the majority society.
The key part of the Prague conference consisted of sharing international experience, innovative approaches and examples of good practice, in particular on a local level.
Ramón Palomino García, director of the Madrid Mayoral Cabinet and the Council for Justice, Social Rights and Employment, pointed out that just like Prague and other European cities, Madrid has seen a significant increase in foreign inhabitants. Within a single generation there has been a natural increase in the number of migrants from 1% to 19% of Madrid’s three million inhabitants. Migrants come first and foremost from Latin American countries and from Romania. In his presentation, Mr. García focused on the spectre of social measures which has been introduced in Madrid. These measures are universal and everyone living in the city has equal access to them. They are provided on the local, regional, national and international level by the public administration, the private sector, the civic society as well as NGOs within their social services. There are also special programmes for migrants which help raise awareness as well as centres for immigrants where migrants are also employed as social workers providing counselling. It is very important that there are intercultural field workers in the areas of Madrid where longstanding residents live together with newcomers. All Madrid inhabitants also have the opportunity to meet through their representatives at the regular Forum for Dialogue and Coexistence.
In the Finnish capital there are more than 600 thousand inhabitants, 13% of which are migrants. Similar to Madrid, in Helsinki they do not talk about the integration of migrants but about the mutual cohabitation of all inhabitants of the city without distinction. Young people from minority cultural backgrounds do not have the same opportunities as the local population which makes them more vulnerable.
The Helsinki City Hall was represented by their programme manager Irma Sippola. In her presentation, she paid the most attention to young migrants and to the innovative solutions which help them. She introduced projects which help young migrants without work experience to find job opportunities. These projects include training in professional speaking and “learning by teaching” sessions thanks to which young migrants do much better in school. Parents of young migrants are provided with information about the Finnish education system. There is also a project aimed at crime prevention which influences young migrants through their peers and their opinions. Worries of the Helsinki residents that the standard and quality of social services provided to them could actually go down led to the development of a special project: elderly Finnish people have been paired with young unemployed migrants. This project prevents xenophobia and apart from enabling young and elderly people to spend their free time together and to get to know each other, it gives migrants an opportunity to improve their language skills and also to make some money. Publishing and presenting stories about migrants has proved to be good practice.
Czech integration experts were very much impressed by the attitude of the Dutch city of Tilburg. The city in the south of the country has recently been assigned 1,500 refugees who are now living in the local asylum facility and waiting for the offices to process their applications for international protection. The councillors of the city of two hundred thousand inhabitants decided to get actively involved in the process of accepting these people, so that their integration and cohabitation with local people was as successful as possible. Above all, Tilburg wants to prevent migrants from wasting their time waiting in asylum facilities and to avoid breaking the fragile social ties which migrants establish at one place but which they lose again when they have to move somewhere else in the Netherlands. The programme manager Krista van der Heijden presented an innovative model according to which the whole process from acceptance of a migrant until their integration is set at one place. The process is also very fast and comprehensive. That is why Tilburg provides migrants with a personal approach and customised integration programmes. To prevent local people from being xenophobic, the city has been calling public debates. Representatives of the city assembly – including the mayor – and trained professionals actively discuss the issues with local people on the streets. There are lunches and dinners organised where the local people and newcomers can get to know each other. Tilburg also uses personal stories of refugees including videos capturing their stories, which enable all inhabitants of the city to meet them.
The panel of international presentations was concluded by Craig Dundas from the Canadian embassy in Vienna. His main topics were Canada’s controlled approach to migration and the integration of foreigners and the structure of the private sponsorship programme for migrants. He introduced the well-functioning model of citizens’ involvement in the admission and integration of migrants into Canadian society. Individual sponsors help integrate the newcomers, which has proved a very efficient approach.
In the panel discussion, Lenka Šafránková Pavlíčková and Tomáš Jurčík from the Brno City Hall’s Division of Social Integration mentioned that in Brno they also do their best to treat foreigners as clients belonging to any of the groups of city inhabitants. What they see as key is eliminating intercultural barriers within public institutions.
Pilsen had to adequately respond to a significant increase in foreign workers several years ago. Their policy included what is called emergency projects. In the end, Pilsen has developed a functional system of communication and services in cooperation with state institutions and NGOs. Alena Hynková, head of the Division of Social Services, and Aleš Průša, head of the Division of Security and Crime Prevention pointed out that Pilsen had been constantly dealing with new challenges, such as looking into issues and conflicts of migrant workers from the EU, especially Romania and Bulgaria.
František Bradáč, representative of the Prague 14 City District, used his years of experience to talk about the influence of city district offices on specific initiatives conducted by experts who put foreigners’ integration into practice on a local level. Jan Janoušek from the Division of the Mayor’s Office deals with similar challenges in the Prague 4 City District. According to Mr. Janoušek, the integration agenda needs to be included in the policy of local administrations in order to work efficiently.
Tomáš Taich represented the Prague 7 City District’s Integration of Foreigners and National Minorities Division. His main concern was the search of suitable forms of active communication and raising awareness of foreigners by the city hall.
The workshop called “Instruments and Experience for Successful Integration” was organised by the Prague Integration Centre, which had invited experts from the Cologne Institute for Intercultural Competence. The German lecturers had a discussion with representatives from Czech integration centres, state administration, local governments and NGOs about the specifics of individual target groups within the context of intercultural competences and strategies as well as instruments for approaching them.
The second workshop called “The Process of Foreigners’ Integration – about Migrants and with Migrants” was organised by Slovo 21. Participants of this workshop looked into the topics of the integration process, cohabitation, and migrants’ active participation. The issues discussed in the form of moderated questions and answers included the role of municipalities and city districts, the role of NGOs in the creation of local projects and strategies, the active participation of migrants in local politics, the integration of disadvantaged people, and the prevention of xenophobia.
This article was published in Slovo – bulletin pro cizince a o cizincích, a Czech magazine focused on the issues of foreigners, No. 3/2017. To learn more, see www.slovo21.cz.