Medium and small cities and rural areas in Europe have increasingly found themselves addressing the needs of migrants and refugees and developing and implementing integration programmes for their newly arrived residents. This report explores the context in which, and the structures through which, these measures are implemented and the nature of the actions being undertaken. It also makes a number of overarching observations about these measures. Most research has tended to focus on large cities (and to a lesser degree on rural areas), often ignoring the experiences of small and medium sized cities. Similarly, networks and projects tended to involve large cities, although a number of recent networks and projects have started to re-shape this reality.
This research shows a relatively positive attitude by many of the cities examined to actively engage with migration generally and integration in particular. Migration is seen as a way to address some of the existing demographic and other challenges of the city and integration provides a way towards ensuring that migrants and refugees are actively contributing to their new homes.
The key findings of this research include:
● Migrants offer significant benefits to medium and small cities including by assisting in addressing depopulation and ensuring the viability of basic services as well as greater diversity and public relations opportunities.
● Cities, including medium and small cities have often been left to deal with issues that the national level has failed to address.
● Migrants also benefit from being in medium and small cities including by having access to closer networks and by benefiting from greater interaction with locals. While in some cases, this has turned into a negative, for the most part, it has had a positive impact on the migrants and their integration prospects.
●The short duration of stay by many migrants in medium and small cities is a concern regarding their integration. Many migrants seek to move to larger cities with greater employment opportunities. The desire to move away often hinders the efficacy of integration programmes.
● Medium and small cities are more adaptable to changing realities and provide opportunities to test new policy and programming approaches. This is supported by the reduction in institutional structures as well as the possibility to implement projects at a lower cost.
● Great diversity exists in the types of integration activities undertaken by medium and small cities. Many have focused on soft integration measures whilst promotion of language acquisition, cultural competencies and employability skills are also common activities.
● Financial support for integration measures is often difficult to secure and is limited. European Union funding in particular is often difficult to access for small and medium sized cities who do not have dedicated resources to submit applications and prepare reports. Reliance on volunteers negatively impacts the sustainability of activities although it does contribute to making integration a shared endeavour.
● Capacity, including in terms of financial and human resources, is often stretched very thin in medium and small cities especially as these are often left to deal with issues that the national level has been unable to address. Both formal and informal partnerships with civil society organisations have been critical in addressing the limited capacity of government.
● There are opportunities for integration in a number of geographically close towns and villages working together to share resources and service provision. Such interaction between local authorities is an element of success in integration provision.
● Whilst the proliferation of networks at the European level often renders it difficult for medium and small cities to engage actively (given limited time and resources), they have found their own solutions including through informal channels for sharing information and regional level networks.
● Greater coordination is needed between different services at the municipal level (often assisted by the personal connection between various actors in medium and small cities) as well as between different levels of government.
● Monitoring and evaluation, as well as sustainability of projects, remains limited. These are areas where further action is to be encouraged.
● Municipalities have different powers, competences and resources in different countries. There is a distinction, in various countries, between medium and small cities and their ability and willingness to engage with integration issues.
Recommendations for the European Committee of the Regions:
● Conduct an EU Wide Needs assessment, addressing the needs of medium, small and rural areas in the integration of migrants.
● Provide tailored capacity building support (in the form of training and financial assistance) to networks of small cities that have started to emerge in the field of migrant integration to further support their growth and their multiplier potential.
● Ensure, through the CoR Initiatives that the outcomes of small networks across Europe can be broadcast across the European Union for lessons to be learnt.
● Expand the programme of sharing good practices including by ensuring that the CoR provides the space – online and offline – for the sharing of good practices in a manner that is usable and accessible.
● Continue to advocate, on behalf of municipalities, for EU finding to be made more practically accessible.
● Consider addressing the needs of medium and small cities as well as rural areas separately from each other. The distinctive realities of each must not be underestimated.
● There is a clear need to further monitor integration in medium and small cities through the collection, analysis and dissemination of more segregated data that would also allow LRAs, NGOs, researchers and others to examine the integration outcomes at the local level. The Committee of the Regions and the Cities and Region for Integration initiative should help develop migration and integration indicators for the local level, and guidance for States and others on how best to implement these.