Working Conference on the Inclusion of Migrants and Refugees

©Jitske Schols

On the 10th and 11th of November, the EUKN in cooperation with the City of Amsterdam organised a working conference on the housing and reception of migrants and refugees in European cities. The conference was part of a bigger partnership between European cities, the EU  and other interest groups: the Partnership on the Inclusion of Migrants and Refugees. This partnership, established within the framework of the Urban Agenda for the EU, aims to involve European cities in EU regulations, give them better access to funding and facilitate knowledge sharing. This is especially important because 70% of the refugees in Europe find shelter in urban areas, and local governments are on the frontline when it comes to reception, housing, and integration.

The mayor of Amsterdam opened the conference emphasising cities should have solidarity for each other. According to him, cities that are receiving many refugees should get better access to European funds. Moreover, cities should make better use of the expertise and knowledge of NGOs, as these organisations play a major role in the reception and integration of refugees. Marc Calon, President of Housing Europe, gave a keynote on the importance of Housing for migrants and refugees. According to mr. Calon it is key that a society should never close its borders for migrants and refugees.  

On Friday Juan Diego Catalano, member of the city council of Palermo, presented Palermo’s approach to integration and reception of refugees in his keynote speech. He introduced the Council of Cultures which fosters cultural exchange and gives residents without an Italian passport the opportunity to exert moral and political power.

After the plenary session, participants were divided in four workshop groups dealing with reception and housing. Over 100 experts, policy makers, status holders and social workers from different countries and regions joined the debate and gave input to the discussions. Housing Europe and the Migration Policy Group identified several bottlenecks for each working group. The bottlenecks could be tackled by better funding, better knowledge exchange and better regulation. The working groups on housing focused on the accessibility of housing and capacity building while the working groups on reception focussed on health care and early integration.

As a part of the conference participants were invited to join a site visit in Amsterdam either to BOOST Ringdijk (reception) or Riekerhaven (housing). Riekerhaven is a mixed housing project accommodating young Dutch people and status holders. Boost Ringdijk is a work- and meeting space for refugees and local residents to get to know each other, and work together in developing programs and activities that can help to participate in society. Both projects are good examples of providing an alternative and creative way of receiving and housing refugees.

Some of the key outcomes of the conference were that cities should get more direct access to European funds and that funding should be more flexible both for cities and NGOs. Moreover, it was mentioned that certain legal regulations require improved clarity and adaption in order to provide a more comprehensive set of rules enabling social cohesion and integration. Another solution related to knowledge exchange was setting up online platforms to link cities with the same characteristics and challenges, but also to make better use of existing platforms and networks, such as URBACT or Eurocities’ Solidarity Cities.

More information about the outcomes of this conference will be communicated in the next weeks. To stay up-to-date with the Partnership on the Inclusion of Migrants and Refugees, please visit the website of the Urban Agenda for the EU.

Read the article that the City of Amsterdam published about this conference here (in Dutch).