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Original language: German
The management of migration and the integration of migrants are among the central challenges of this time in many regions of Europe. At the local level, this involves solving problems for various aspects of life from initial admission to housing, from childcare and school to training and further education, from the new language to vocational orientation and the recognition of qualifications to the workplace, from health care to social care and active participation in society. Finding answers to these diverse questions requires extensive resources, knowledge and exchange, and not least a great deal of goodwill.
Integration processes: learning from European partners
Many municipalities have their own concepts to find solutions for acute challenges along the respective local characteristics, as well as to develop long-term strategies for the integration and empowerment of migrants and refugees. These are often influenced by national or regional factors such as legal or financial frameworks. But how do municipalities in other European countries deal with the challenges? What can we learn from our European partners?
To this end, an alliance of municipalities and civil society organisations from several European countries joined forces in 2016 to work together on integration, acquire new knowledge and skills, exchange experiences on integration practices and find new solutions to integration challenges at European and local level.
From a cross-border alliance to a project with European funding
In the project, international conferences - combined with workshops, seminars and study visits on key topics of integration - are held in all participating countries. Participants are professional and voluntary representatives from politics and local administration as well as from non-profit organisations. This ensures that as many groups as possible involved in the integration process are represented in the exchange between participants.
The number of participants in the conferences is constantly high: about 40 international and 40 national guests have been welcomed at each of the previous events. "Europe for Citizens" also means that not only proven experts are represented in the conferences. The aim is to set learning processes in motion between all those involved in the integration process, regardless of their respective experiences and competences. Of course, migrants matter as participants - they are citizens as well as experts in their own field. Decision-makers from local politics who play a crucial role in the success of local integration are also important actors in the events.
Diversity and relevance of topics lead to constant high interest
In October 2018, a conference on unaccompanied minors took place in Cambridge, England. The aim of the conference was to share examples of good practice between actors involved in the care of unaccompanied minors. In addition to psychosocial issues, a central aspect of the conference was the discussion of ways of exerting political influence to improve the living conditions of refugee children and young people.
The Austrian conference on "Building Sustainable and Inclusive Communities" held in Graz in February 2019 showed various ways in which integration into local communities can be successful. A central result of the conference was the realization that successful integration is not limited to a certain size of community.
At a conference in Catoira/Spain in June 2019, the focus was put on migration and gender. The presentations dealt with a wide range of issues, from the particular challenges faced by migrant women in the labour market to the situation of LSBTI* refugees and the relationship between power and violence and its impact on different groups of migrants.
The theme of the conference in Vejle / Denmark in October 2019 was "1+1=3: Migration, cultural values and norms and how do we create a new common We? The main aim was to discuss commonalities and differences in value systems with migrants. Many methodical approaches from design thinking to meditative exercises were used. A short film about the conference shows some impressions (https://www.facebook.com/vifindk/videos/425904564739191/).
Next conference in March 2020 in Hannover
As part of this project, the VNB and the Agency for Adult and Continuing Education Lower Saxony (AEWB) will hold an international conference on "Innovative methods of vocational and linguistic qualification of migrant women" in Hanover on 18 March 2020. Thematic suggestions can still be made. At the end of the project there will be a conference of all partners involved with representatives of European institutions in May 2020 in Brussels.
All participants are aware that the integration of migrant women is a complex issue for which no standard solutions are available. However, the exchange of different actors made possible by the "Europe for Citizens" programme makes an important contribution to a better and deeper understanding of the situation in the respective partner countries and municipalities, and helps to reflect on one's own thoughts and actions.
About the author: For 20 years Tino Boubaris, project coordinator in the Association of Lower Saxony Education Initiatives (Verein Niedersächsischer Bildungsinitiativen e.V.), has worked in numerous European projects and networks in the field of adult learning and vocational education and training. He also acts as a consultant for associations and initiatives concerning, among other things, organisational and financial matters. He volunteers for the Lower Saxony Refugee Council (Flüchtlingsrat Niedersachsen) and as Chairman of the Association Bildungslabor e.V., which develops and implements innovative projects at the interface between art, culture, and education. Since 2017 he has been German ambassador for the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe (EPALE).
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