Whole-COMM Final Conference: Empowering small localities in the governance of asylum

Whole-COMM Final Conference
Empowering small localities in the governance of asylum. From crisis to community integration

17 May 2024, 9.00 – 13.00
at the European Committee of the Regions
Rue Belliard 101, 1040 Bruxelles
The conference was webstreamed online

The H2020 Whole-COMM project held its final event, the Final Conference “Empowering small localities in the governance of asylum. From crisis to community integration”. Hosted by the European Committee of the Regions on May 17th, 2024 in Brussels, this conference gathered policymakers, journalists, and researchers invested in enhancing migrant integration strategies in small localities across Europe.

During the half-day event we discussed the key findings of the projects, as well as practical recommendations for national and European policymakers. The event featured representatives of the European Commission, and of the European Committee of the Regions’ Cities and Regions for Integration of Migrants Initiative. Furthermore, the Conference fostered dialogue among stakeholders from various H2020 funded projects, such as WELCOMING SPACES, RE-ROOT, and MATILDE, and other international networks and organizations each offering unique insights into migrant integration dynamics in small towns and rural areas.

Event Highlights

Opening remarks

Emmanouil Dardoufas, Head of the CIVEX Unit at the European Committee of the Regions, and Tiziana Caponio, Principal Investigator of the Whole-COMM project, provided a comprehensive overview of the project’s goals and achievements. They emphasized the critical role of small localities in the governance of asylum and the importance of community-driven integration efforts. Dardoufas highlighted the European Committee of the Regions’ commitment to supporting these initiatives, while Caponio underscored the necessity of collaborative approaches involving local actors, policymakers, and researchers.

Results and policy recommendations

Andrea Pettrachin from Collegio Carlo Alberto presented Whole-COMM Final Policy Brief, underlining how building capacity in small localities is key in order to foster real social interactions and counter politicization, and Irene Ponzo from the International and European Forum on Migration shared insights from the Whole-COMM Strategy Paper. She stressed that European rural areas benefit significantly from the integration of migrants, who contribute not only to the local economy but also play vital roles in sustaining traditional food production and driving innovation in the agricultural sector, both as consumers and producers. 

Basak Yavcan, from Migration Policy Group, shared insights on the pilot index Mipex-L: “With our pilot index Mipex-L, we compared the local migrant integration policies of 39 small and medium-sized towns. We identified common challenges and shortcomings in policy development and demonstrated how improved integration policies lead to better social cohesion outcomes at the local level”. Sinem Yilmaz, elaborated on the toolbox’s features: “It offers tailored benchmarks, strategic planning aids, and a robust framework for self-evaluation and monitoring. By focusing on practical, evidence-based solutions, the Toolbox empowers local governments and organizations to implement innovative and inclusive strategies that are both effective and sustainable.”

The discussion continued with the insightful conversation with Annelies Zoomers, Welcoming Spaces project, Jussi Laine, MATILDE project, Karel Arnaut, ReROOT project.

Local experiences

Whole-COMM researchers Ilke Adam (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Blanca Garcés Mascareñas (CIDOB), Leila Hadj Abdou (European University Institute), Nahikari Irastroza (Malmö University), Elina Jonitz (Erasmus University Rotterdam), and Isabella Skrivanek (Danube University Krems) shared their findings regarding the challenges and best practices in migrant integration policies from various regions. Common issues highlighted included the lack of interaction between long-term residents and newcomers, and the discrimination migrants face when searching for housing.

Nahikari Irastroza discussed how, in Sweden, interactions between newcomers and long-term residents primarily occur in hobby associations, sports clubs, and organized leisure activities. Blanca Garcés Mascareñas highlighted the situation in Spain, where small towns often compete to attract wealthy populations while rejecting vulnerable individuals, including migrants, by not registering them in the Padrón Municipal. This practice forces vulnerable populations to concentrate in larger cities like Barcelona, exacerbating urban integration challenges. Isabella Skrivanek emphasized the importance of small funds for supporting grassroots integration initiatives in small municipalities, noting, “The availability of small funds is crucial for grassroots integration initiatives in small municipalities. EU funding can play an important role, especially when national and regional funding is not available.”

Policy Roundtable

The policy roundtable featured experts such as Anna Piccinni from Sciences Po Paris and representatives from the European Committee of the Regions, Prachi Metawala, from the United Cities and Local Governments, and representatives of the European Committee of the Regions, Cities and Regions for Integration Initiative Dace Vinovska and Pablo Torres Herrero.

Concluding remarks

The event concluded with final remarks by representatives from the European Commission Michail Moschovakos from DG Research and Innovation and Angelique Petrits from DG HOME. They emphasized the European Commission’s ongoing support for initiatives aimed at improving migrant integration in small localities, and highlighted the importance of continued collaboration and innovation in policy responses to ensure effective and inclusive integration practices.

Strategy paper: coming soon!

How to foster a whole-of-community approach, trigger innovative policy solutions in small towns and rural areas and acknowledge their specificities