Cities, Local Communities and Migrants: Why Diversity is Beneficial for Everyone

The Intercultural Cities programme assists cities around the world to promote integration.
  Date: Friday, February 2, 2018
By Kseniya Khovanova-Rubicondo, CoE's Intercultural Cities Programme Adviser

Cities and residents across Europe have been playing a crucial role in welcoming migrants, including refugees. Urban areas provide an opportunity to achieve economic independence and a sense of community. They have the facilities required to meet newcomers’ immediate needs, as well as offer opportunities for long-term social and economic integration.

 

The degree to which migrants are welcomed, integrated and included into local government’s policies and planning strongly impacts their level of empowerment and resilience to shocks. In a world where no country is immune to disasters, and urban areas may suffer the greatest impacts due to the concentration of population and assets, the integration of migrants in local level disaster risk reduction measures is key.

 

The Intercultural Cities (ICC) Programme of the Council of Europe works with city administrations all around the world to offer innovative policy practices, guidelines and tools to support cities in designing their own inclusive and sustainable approach to migrant and refugee integration by advocating for the diversity advantage approach.

 

The core aspects of the diversity advantage approach are its consideration for cultural differences and the importance to engage migrants in the receiving community’s social and economic life. This is achieved through the establishment of partnerships between various stakeholders, such as civil society organizations, local figures, migrant leaders and activists, just to name a few, for the purpose of opening a dialogue. This enables the building of official and unofficial networks for locals and newcomers to engage in a common discourse based on trust, respect and willingness to cooperate and to live together peacefully.

 

This has been the most broadly developed approach by the Council of Europe’s ICC Programme, which regards diversity not as a threat but as a benefit to cities, for both locals and migrants alike. Interculturality is an approach to cultural diversity that goes beyond the basis of equal opportunities and respect for existing ethnic and cultural differences with the view to expand to the pluralist transformation of urban and public spaces. In practical terms, this means recognizing the importance of diversity and the right of people from different cultures to participate in building a common identity that is defined by diversity, pluralism and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

 

Recognizing diverse cultures involves not only openly embracing diversity in official discourses, but also opening institutions to various participants, and ensuring that they are open and flexible enough to innovate based on the feedback given by individuals from different backgrounds. As Guideline 4 of the MICIC Guidelines highlights, migrants’ inclusion in prevention, preparedness and disaster response systems has the capacity to promote resilience. Migrants and civil society also have capacities and resources to contribute to local policies and plans. Their language abilities, first-hand knowledge of migrant populations, understanding of cultural norms, and ability to foster greater trust toward State authorities and other actors can be leveraged to create more comprehensive and effective systems and programmes.

 

Since 2008, the ICC Programme has been assisting the member cities of its international network to review their policies through an “intercultural lens”, and to develop comprehensive intercultural strategies to help manage diversity positively and to realize their advantage as a result of that diversity. The Programme provides a set of analytical and practical tools to help local administrations and stakeholders through the various stages of the process.

 

Along these lines, the ICC Programme is currently mapping projects on refugee inclusion in its 120 member cities in Europe and around the world. To learn more about the registered projects, visitors can “walk” around an interactive map. This year, the initiative was complemented by an on-line “Good Practice” platform that offers a selection of examples from ICC member-cities pursuing the intercultural approach in their work with refugees.

 

The most recent best practices were presented by the City of Cartagena, Spain, which launched the Refugee Welcome and Integration Network in May 2017 to address the needs of refugees and asylum seekers in its municipality. The Network was set up through a coordination board in order to provide an integrated and coordinated response to refugees’ needs. This was done by devising and implementing new procedures to achieve better cooperation between all actors and stakeholders involved in the reception, welcoming and integration of refugees in the political, educational, social, cultural and awareness-raising fields, in six major areas: social services, housing, education, health, training and employment, awareness raising and information.

                           

The German city of Erlangen is another example, where labour markets were opened up to refugees. The largest industrial manufacturing company in Europe, Siemens AG, launched a programme aimed at integrating refugees into its corporate structure. Since January 2015, the city of Erlangen along with Siemens, which has approximately 25,000 employees in its Erlangen branches, have been working hand in hand to provide internships for skilled asylum seekers. The aim was to create a win-win-win situation, as firstly, asylum seekers would receive work-place orientation and self-check their professional capacities. Secondly, it gives the employees a chance to also reflect on their biases towards migrants and refugees. Finally, the company itself benefits from the skills and experiences of qualified asylum seekers. Siemens has since expanded this programme to other sites in Germany. The company is currently offering internships to 100 refugees and has set up four six-month training programmes for young refugees, which includes German language courses, an introduction to German culture and customs, as well as vocational preparation. Several refugees have been employed by the company as a result of these trainings.

 

More examples of ICC members’ working with migrants and refugees are available on the “Good Practice” platform, which is meant to inspire and help other municipalities around the world, particularly in Europe, to respond to current challenges linked to large migrant and refugee flows  using the diversity advantage approach. By adopting such a procedure, cities will be able to develop policies that maximize the benefits of diversity not only for migrants, but also for local communities and cities themselves.

 

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Dr. Kseniya Khovanova-Rubicondo is a professional in the fields of public affairs and urban policy development (PhD, Chicago, MPA, California USA). The most part of her career she dedicated to urban economnic policy development, monitoring and diversity management. She occupied leading managerial and analytical positions at the top international organizations in the USA, Canada, Western and Eastern Europe. Since 2008, she has served as an expert and the evaluator of the Intercultural Cities Programme of the Council of Europe (CoE), contributed to the ICC Index development, and worked on a number of EC-supported initiatives.