International Organization for Migration (IOM) as the coordinator of the EMN National Contact Point for the Slovak Republic organised a National EMN Conference on the Role of Municipalities in the Integration of Refugees held in Bratislava on 23 March 2017.
The conference aimed to bring good practice from selected EU Member States’ municipalities and provide a space for discussion and experience sharing in refugee integration with focus on accommodation, education, employment, socio-cultural orientation, involvement of local population and other important aspects. The conference was also devoted to current situation in local integration of refugees in Slovakia and to cooperation of stakeholders in this field.
Representatives of European municipalities (namely Åre in Sweden, Bzenec in the Czech Republic, Nuremberg in Germany and Vienna in Austria) as well as domestic experts took floor during the conference. The current European policy framework and possibilities of EU funding were introduced by a representative of the European Commission.
The Conference was targeted mainly at mayors of towns and villages, other representatives of Slovak municipalities, public and state administration, non-profit sector and international organisations. The Conference welcomed more than 60 participants.
The programme of the conference was divided into two panels during which experience in integration of beneficiaries of international protection in selected European municipalities and current situation in Slovakia were discussed. Panel discussions were preceded by the presentation of the European Commission representative as well as by opening speeches of the Director of the Migration Office of the Ministry of Interior of the Slovak Republic and Head of IOM Office in the Slovak Republic.
Opening of the conference
Head of IOM Office in the Slovak Republic, Zuzana Vatráľová, opened the conference and introduced the topic, aim, agenda and profile of the participants. IOM perceives the role of municipalities in refugee integration as important and topical also in Slovakia. Therefore this theme was selected together with the Migration Office of the Slovak Republic, which currently works on the preparation of state integration programme for this target group, as a topic of the national EMN conference. The conference also follows-up on previous activities in this field in Slovakia to enable mutual sharing of information and existing services. The number of persons with granted international protection in Slovakia are low but as she stressed, in the future the situation can change. Slovakia can make use of the current situation and prepare itself based also on good practice and lessons learned from other Member States. The examples from abroad were selected in a way so that they can be most usable or inspirational for the Slovak regions or towns.
Director of the Migration Office of the Ministry of Interior of the Slovak Republic, Bernard Priecel, subsequently expressed hope that outcomes of this event will support the active cooperation of state administration and municipalities in integration of refugees at local level. He sees the cooperation foremost in areas related to accommodation which is probably the most important element of integration. The prejudice that responsibility for migrants or refugees should be borne by the state has so far not been overcome, and it is the state’s task to change this perception mainly in relation to elected representatives of municipalities. He added that interlinked factors are behind the low number of refugees or asylum seekers – in the past Slovakia was not a destination country, Slovak economy was weak and until now a small diaspora has been living in the country. He accentuated Swedish approach and principles of care for asylum seekers. Slovakia should be more open to help people in need. The priority for Slovakia is foremost the vulnerable groups of migrants including children.
The role of the EU in refugee integration at local level: funding instruments and policies
The role of the EU in integration of refugees at local level, its policy framework and financial tools were introduced by a representative of the European Commission, Grzegorz Gajewski from Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME). He highlighted migration as an opportunity for the EU. Migration is a question of challenges but also of potential for local communities and social-economic development in the times when the EU needs to face complex demographic issues. Reluctance and opposition towards migration in the EU stems mostly from the lack of information and sharing of experience in integration processes which indeed can take longer time. According to different studies, it is less costly to invest in integration policies and actions than to finance consequences resulting from their lack. Among reasons why to act on migrant integration at EU level is the fact that the needs are cross-sector and need to be addressed in parallel as well as that EU Member States face common challenges but apply different approaches which enables knowledge and experience sharing too.
He continued with summarizing results of the EU cooperation on third-country nationals’ integration, specifically development of “Common Basic Principles” (2004) which together with “Action Plan for the Integration of Third Country Nationals” (June 2016) create EU policy framework in this field. Among practical results is monitoring of integration outcomes and creation of “European Website on Integration” containing information about policies, measures and funding in English, French and German. The Action Plan for the Integration of Third Country Nationals is based on cross-sectoral approach and targets all third-country nationals including refugees. The Action Plan contains 50 concrete actions to support Member States and other actors which can be divided according to five priority areas: pre-departure/pre-arrival, education, labour market integration and access to vocational training, access to basic services such as health and housing, active participation and social inclusion. For each priority area he specified activities which EU would like to support together with examples of measures or tools which have already been put in place.
He subsequently drew attention to EU funding mechanisms in the field of migrant integration. Significant amount of funding available for integration is allocated under AMIF, ESF, ERDF (urban agenda) and Erasmus+ (for young people). For example, within AMIF fund there is 7 billion EUR allocated for 7-year period which is now being distributed to different actors in EU Member States. Local authorities and communities (civil society, social partners) need such financing and DG Home is making AMIF more available to this target group.
European Commission supports strengthened policy coordination as well as sharing of information and good practices, which includes stronger dialogue with local and regional authorities and civil society. Therefore the Commission set up the “European Integration Network” and “Partnership under the EU Urban Agenda on Integration”. All other information, framework documents as well as information on funding opportunities is available on the “European Website on Integration”.
The programme of the conference was divided into two panels during which experiences in integration of beneficiaries of international protection in selected European municipalities and current situation in Slovakia were discussed.
Panel I: Refugee integration by European municipalities in practice
Mattias Sjölundh & Martin Söderström, Åre municipality, Sweden
Mattias Sjölundh and Martin Söderström who are responsible for integration activities in Swedish municipality Åre which admitted and integrated in the country the largest number of refugees per capita shared their experiences with refugee integration. Åre is a tourist town in the northern Sweden with around 11,000 inhabitants, which due to its mountains annually welcomes around 500,000 visitors and together with them also around 1,000 seasonal workers. People living in this area are therefore used to welcome and host other people. Municipality has also more than 2,000 small businesses which can provide job opportunities for refugees too.
Municipality began to receive refugees in 2010. Each year the town admitted 150 refugees which is annual 1.4% increase in local population. Besides this it also received 100 unaccompanied minors and in 2015 in the times of sharp increase of asylum seekers the town was accommodating 1000 of them. The municipality did not experience the “crisis” as it had already prepared integration concept and its practical framework.
Subsequently they explained that their municipality perceives the integration of refugees not as a problem, but rather as a solution to their own problems which is mainly the bad demographic development, moving out of young people into the cities and lack of workers. Important motive is also the help to people in need as such who can build up their lives again in a new and safe environment and who will in return enrich the life and economy of the municipality. Based on practical examples they showed the importance of preparations before the arrival of refugees which requires a lot of field work (for example, informing and communicating further with inhabitants, neighbours, employers in the given location, with health care and educational institutions etc.). When refugees arrive, in order to facilitate integration the municipality uses experiences and language skills of former refugees who can serve as their role models too. After their stabilization, town’s new inhabitants devote their time to learning language and job seeking with assistance of municipal employees, all as part of their integration activities. After two years, 50 – 80% of refugees has a remunerated job. Some refugees study along with their job. Only a small percent of refugees receives social benefits from the state. Integration process is based on individual work with a refugee. During the first two years, integration activities are financed by the government, after that period the state support ends. The municipality tries to motivate refugees and create for them such environment so they do not leave but stay there to live.
Pavel Čejka, Bzenec municipality, Czech Republic
Long-standing mayor of a small town Bzenec with more than 4,000 inhabitants, Pavel Čejka, introduced several smaller integration activities which were organized by his municipality. He encountered the topic of immigration in 2005 when he responded to the ministry of interior’s call to admit Kazakh Czechs into the country. In Bzenec they accommodated one family of four, for whom the municipality selected an apartment in the town centre opposite to the town hall in order to facilitate integration. The town took care of also other integration aspects including children’s entry to school and intermediation of jobs to adults.
In 2009, the town admitted one family from Burma who, compared to the previous family, needed to familiriase themselves also with European realities and culture. Later on in 2013, this family helped to integrate another Burmese family. The state in that time contributed to infrastructure of the town which invested to water, sewerage, roads, but also to basic equipment of town’s apartments for refugees. After repeated flooding in 2014, the town decided to admit a family from Romania, an EU Member State.
The town had a positive experience with the integration of before-mentioned families. All of them (a total of 23 persons) gained their independence and do not require a special assistance from the municipality. The mayor stressed that the success laid in the town’s will to integrate these foreigners since the vetting of refugees and basic financing was carried out by the state. Integration of refugees in towns and villages should begin as soon as possible, that is why he considers the six-month period for initial integration in the Czech asylum facility as long and ineffective. Admission of refugees can be currently problematic mainly due to a negative perception shown in media and political discussions. For comparison he stated that 1,400 refugees came to the Czech Republic in 2006 and in 2016 it was 400.
Thomas Müller, Nuremberg municipality, Germany
Thomas Müller, a member of the Coordination Group for Integration of the City of Nuremberg, talked about the city’s integration programme and focused on refugees. He introduced basic demographic data, the way of how migration and integration is anchored on the municipality level in Germany, admission criteria for refugees in Germany and practical implementation of integration measures in Nuremberg, including good practice in the following areas: language acquisition, housing, education, employment, social services and health care provision, socio-cultural orientation, working with the local community, volunteering and communication.
Nuremberg is after Munich the second largest city in Bavaria with more than 500,000 inhabitants, out of which more than 43% has migrant background as defined by the German legislation. 31% of all migrants comes from countries outside the EU. The number of refugees in Nuremberg is more than 8,000 (around 1%) mainly from Syria, Iraq and Ethiopia. 66% of refugees are young people of up to 30 years and around 70% of them are males. This diversity is mirrored also in the integration policy of the city. Integration of refugees is managed as a project by the mayor’s office which is in regular contact with cross-sectional committees and a coordination group for integration.
In 2015, the city had to deal with accommodating hundreds of arriving asylum seekers in short period of time and for this purpose used for example former hotels in the city. Majority of refugees lives currently in a shared accommodation which is rented and managed by the city. While seeking job or school, refugees receive individual counselling and assistance within the project “Stay”. The town is currently preparing a mobile application “Integreat” which will be providing refugees with needed information in various areas offline in seven languages from June 2017. He highlighted also mixture of volunteering activities which stem from the civil society and are an important element of integration in the city.
Ursula Eltayeb, Vienna municipality, Austria
Integration of refugees in the Austrian capital was discussed by Ursula Eltayeb who works at the Vienna Municipal Department of Integration and Diversity where she is responsible for funding integration projects and “StartWien” program for new immigrants. The Department employs around 60 persons who speak fluently 20 languages. Vienna has more than 1.8 million inhabitants out of whom 36% does not reside or were not born in Vienna and out of whom 50% has migrant background. In the present, the city registers 21,000 asylum seekers who make 1.1% out of total city population. This number includes around 70% males and around 6,000 children including 1,000 unaccompanied minors.
Integration concept of Vienna is based on welcoming culture which speeds up the integration process, and on measures for different needs of migrants. The program “StartWien” has existed since 2008 and was originally aimed at third-country nationals who came to Austria within family reunification. In 2011, it was extended to EU citizens and in 2015 also to asylum seekers and refugees. The program provides individual and complex socio-cultural orientation (including Austrian legislation, immigration law, rights, obligations, first steps in the country) in migrant’s first language if this is possible. The program currently covers 26 languages. Refugees are subsequently encouraged to learn German but at the same time maintaining of their languages is supported as well.
For young asylum seekers and refugees aged 15 – 21 years “StartWien Youth College“ was opened in summer 2016 which was attended by approximately 1,000 students after its launch. Half of the students is posted by labour offices and half by Vienna Social Fund. They can study German, English, Math, creative workshops etc. Besides information seminars which are also organized by the city directly in asylum facilities, seminars for volunteers are held by the city too. For volunteers the city created a separate portal. In the field of labour integration, the city is developing a database containing data about refugees (attained education, qualifications etc.) which will be shared with labour offices. The database should be launched until May 2017.
Panel II: Current state of play in refugee integration at local level in Slovakia
Mária Hanzlíková, Department of Foreigner Migration and Integration of the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of the Slovak Republic
The representative of the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of the SR (MOLSAF SR) Mária Hanzlíková introduced the tasks and competences of the MOLSAF SR, responsible for the policy making and preparation of the labour migration and foreigners’ integration concept. MOLSAF SR also coordinates the implementation of the integration policy in Slovakia. The main strategic document in this regards is the Integration Policy of the Slovak Republic. This document considers integration to be an active creation of the conditions for involvement of foreigners in the civic and political life on the local level. It recommends chairmen of the self-governing regions, the Chairman of the Association of Towns and Communities of Slovakia as well as the President of the Union of Towns and Cities in Slovakia to incorporate the integration policy into the action plans of the self-governing regions. Collecting sufficient information about foreigners living in the territory of each region, including statistics, is necessary. It would be also suitable for the self-governing regions to have their own regional integration concepts and support active involvement of foreigners in the life of the local community including political participation.
However, according to the MOLSAF SR, the attitude of the self-governing regions towards the integration policy is limited at the moment due to a lack of interest in the topic. One of the activities in this field is the project of Kosice self-governing region ‘Travel map of managed (legal) migration’ which encompasses an overview of the foreigners legally residing within the region. Another example is Nitra self-governing region, active in socio- cultural integration. As the European dimension, Mária Hanzlíková mentioned the Action Plan on the Integration of Third-Country’ Nationals and related Conclusions of the Council of the EU, adopted in December 2016 during the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU. These is an outline for Member States how to approach the integration of the third-country nationals in the first place. The Action Plan includes sections on pre- and post-arrival measures, the section of education, labour market integration, access to vocational training, social inclusion and more.
With regards to the finance within the current multiannual financial framework of the AMIF for the period 2014-2020, Member States have allocated more than 765 million EUR on the the third-country nationals’ integration. The Slovak Republic has allocated 5 285 893 EUR on the specific aim of integration and legal migration, as a part of which also the active involvement of the actors on local and regional level into the integration process of individuals (especially in the field of housing, social security, education of children, land-use planning and building order) is envisaged. Enhancing the communication in between the central state administration and local administration as well as fully fledged involvement of migrants into the political and social life on the local level is, according to the MOLSAF SR, considered the most crucial.
Petra Achbergerová, Migration Office of the Ministry of Interior of the SR
In her presentation, the representative of the Migration Office of the MoI SR, Petra Achbergerová informed about the activities of the MO MoI SR. Among its main responsibilities belongs asylum and migration policy making and implementation, legislation in the field of asylum (i.e. Act on Asylum), reception of the asylum seekers, management of the three reception facilities, deciding upon (non)granting asylum or subsidiary protection. MO MoI SR cooperates with the municipalities in the international protection issues already during the reception of the applicants, as the reception facilities for asylum seekers are based in Humenné, Opatovská Nová Ves and Rohovce.
As already mentioned, the integration of the foreigners is under the auspices of MOLSAF SR. MO MoI SR cooperates in this field when it comes to persons with granted international protection . Annually, cca. 200 people are in the process of integration in Slovakia. The integration project is financed via AMIF and its implementer is a nongovernmental organisation. State is responsible for healthcare and one-off contribution amounting to one-and-half of the monthly living subsistence. MO MoI SR also carries out the quality control of the integration projects.
Petra Achbergerová also highlighted the need to develop a coordinated effort for effective integration of these people. Accepting the responsibility for the policy and active search for solutions is the best way to prevent and eradicate the potential safety risks, often mentioned in this context. MO MoI SR checks the health condition of the applicants already during the asylum procedure in the reception centre, so the persons leaving are not infectious. International protection in Slovakia is thus given only to persons not posing a safety risk.
Currently, financing from the funds shows to be insufficient. In 2015, the Slovak Republic adopted a government resolution on the preparation of the state integration program, based on which the state will guarantee a financial minimum allocated for integration of these people. The program has been in preparation since the last year and the deadline for its elaboration was moved to the end of 2017.
In the framework of the systemic measures, MO MoI SR wishes to develop cooperation with municipalities. MO MoI SR would appreciate if a special officer familiar with the topic able to communicate with MO MoI SR would be selected in the municipalities to deal (at least partially) with this agenda.
Petra Achbergerová also touched upon those topics in which the cooperation with municipalities is the most crucial. The biggest issue to deal with is accommodation. Social housing, low-rent housing or ideally private housing provided by municipalities could be a solution. Another critical topic is employment. Persons granted asylum or subsidiary protection do not need work permit and belong to the category of disadvantaged job seekers on the labour market which could facilitate their employment. Municipalities could also help with the employment of these people in local companies, with unpaid traineeships, requalification courses, especially in the beginning of the integration process. In the field of education, municipalities (especially the smaller ones outside Bratislava and Košice region) could aid with placing the children in the schools and kindergartens. MO MoI SR can support teachers in schools, kindergartens where these children are placed via the MO MoI SR officers or with the contracted NGO.
MO MoI SR can support municipalities in other ways as well, e.g. capacity-building, translation of official paper forms, training the workers, knowledge exchange regarding the integration on local level by inviting foreign guests, by discussion with school or healthcare workers etc. Municipalities have an irreplaceable role in forming the public opinion and deconstructing stereotypes. Municipalities should take into account also foreigners in their strategic documents. Significant asset would be creation of an integrated office at the municipalities for helping the foreigners with housing, education and employment.
Milan Muška, Association of Towns and Communities of Slovakia
The Association of Towns and Communities of Slovakia, was represented at the conference by its executive chairman Milan Muška. In his introduction, he highlighted the importance of a realistic view of this issue. The situation, when compared with the past, has changed and people are subjected to a variety of influences also due to politicians, media and social networks.
The competences of the municipalities are defined. Sometimes it is difficult to influence the extent to which mayors are willing to cooperate. In this regard, it would therefore be necessary to search for those mayors, who are willing to cooperate and create a functional viable and sustainable system of relations.
The present legal as well as economic system in the Slovak Republic does not allow implementation of these policies in wider range and ensure its financing. Milan Muška considers it useful to expand the competencies of the MO MoI SR also to other issues, as it is not realistic to ask the mayors for establishing new offices or positions. In such case this could be considered a mixing of competences of the state administration and municipalities. If the competences in the field of migration, social care and employment are in the hands of an existing authority/ministry, we should seek the space and capacity there. Subsequently, if necessary and appropriate, there will be no problem with delegating this already prepared function on the local level.
In the second part of his presentation, Milan Muška touched upon the project implemented by the Association of Towns and Communities of Slovakia in cooperation with the professional public aimed at showing how foreigners live among us. However during its implementation a precarious situation occurred when citizens of two cities initiated a referendum for the appeal of the mayors fearing that they would plan to build refugee camps in their municipality. This clearly shows the need to communicate the topics with public. Slovak citizens are facing various populist narratives and questions with which also members of municipal councils and mayors are confronted. This results in not opening the topic at all due to concerns of losing popularity.
Cooperation between the state administration and municipality is necessary also on the strategic level. Milan Muška concluded by asking the MO MoI SR for sharing with the Association of Towns and Communities of Slovakia any sort of relevant information, scientific article, guidance or regulation, strategy, manuals or public call that would be supporting the cause. This would be then shared with mayors and their municipalities. He also promised practical cooperation of his other colleagues. Association of Towns and Communities of Slovakia is open towards seeking solutions that would support the creation of a network of those who are willing to enrol in the process and have suitable capacities and environment as well as the support from the citizen, which is a crucial thing on the local level.
Tomáš Bauer, ADRA Slovakia / OZ Marginal
The following speaker was Tomáš Bauer representing OZ Marginal and ADRA Slovakia, which has been implementing the integration project for beneficiaries of international protection in Slovakia since December 2016. Due to AMIF, the project can be implemented throughout the 3-year period, while its territorial scope of implementation includes the whole of Slovakia (two offices are located in Bratislava and one in Košice). The target group are persons who have been granted asylum or subsidiary protection. These numbers are low, usually around dozens of people annually. The situation with integration remains complicated as clients often come back. This project builds upon the previous ones. The weakness of the whole system in Slovakia is that similar projects are constantly being recycled and thus cover the lack of systemic solutions, policies, activities and finances of the state. The state integration programme is long-awaited as currently there is no integrated safe net for these people.
Refugees in Slovakia are mostly of Cuban, Syrian, Iraqi, Afghani, Ukrainian or Libyan origin. Since the last year, a relocation program under the auspices of the MO MoI SR has been ongoing, based on which refugees are relocated to Slovakia from Italy and Greece. The profile of the target group has changed compared to last years and remains very variable. In the past among the clients were mostly men able to learn the language and become independent within couple of months. Currently, the majority is made up of vulnerable groups- mothers with children, elderly or sick people, etc. Integration in these cases is much more challenging and constitutes a greater burden on field workers. Many people cannot work and are not entitled to receive pension.
Regarding the cooperation with the municipalities Tomáš Bauer mentioned that it would be appreciated if municipalities could select a worker who would deal with social affairs of this group of people. In the beginning s/he could work together with the organisation and MO MoI SR and later independently.
The OZ Marginal and ADRA Slovakia workers provide support for these people up until the moment they become independent. This being usually social work, help with finding accommodation, psychological and legal counselling, help with communication with the authorities, etc. At the same time organisation provides Slovak language courses and socio-cultural orientation, as well as provides material and financial aid.
Finally, Tomáš Bauer highlighted the need for systemic solutions when considering the current status quo. Increasing the interest of the state and each department in ownership of this agenda and willingness to deal with the necessary changes is one of the solutions. The three-year-project implementation cycle is a very positive step forward. On the other hand, among the weaknesses we can count the fact that the contacts with individual workers willing to cooperate, however well-established, are not systematised and thus a risk of their discontinuance persists with personal changes in the offices and municipalities. Churches and volunteers have an indispensable role in the projects. He also praised good cooperation with the offices of labour, social affairs and family, especially regarding the help with tools for the category of disadvantaged job seekers on the labour market.
Among the topics that require systemic changes is also access of these persons to financial support (currently only the allowance in material need), incorporation of the persons with subsidiary protection into the public health system, access of children to education, access to employment, and cooperation with the employers.
Michaela Pobudová, Who Will Help? Initiative
Michaela Pobudová from the ‘Who Will Help?’ Initiative introduced the activities of the initiative as well as possibilities of cooperation and support in relation to the municipalities. This initiative was founded in 2015 by establishing a website, where founders searched for 1000 volunteers to aid with resettling 100 refugee families from Iraq and Syria. Also thank to the media coverage of the topic, large number of people responded to the initiative and offered help. As the government position towards the topic was negative, the founder decided to use the network of volunteers for creating a volunteer organisation that would help foreigners with integration. Presently the initiative’s work is based on several pillars. The first pillar is a volunteering programme implemented in 4 cities where the integration office are. The volunteers teach Slovak language and conversation, help with baby-sitting, job search or finding accommodation. The second pillar is connected to education and professional development. In 2015 IT course was organized in cooperation with the company Accenture. It is planned to re-organise this course in the close future and add language courses. Michaela Pobudová mentioned that the initiative’s work is supplementary to the existing services. They cooperate with ADRA Slovakia and OZ Marginal and try to provide such services that the original integration services provider is not capable of. The third pillar is a community pillar and includes common activities of refugees and Slovak citizens where these people have the chance to meet, get to know each other and communicate. These activities are currently only in Bratislava where ‘Who Will Help?’ resides.
Next, Michaela Pobudová focused on the volunteering programme and introduced the possibilities of its usage in order to help the municipalities with integration of refugees on the local level. Volunteers are citizens of the specific city or village who are ready to help. They are multipliers in their communities and have the first contact with the refugee. They are able to pass on their experience. A volunteer becomes a part of the social network of the refugee and keeps it coherent and viable which is necessary for lowering the risk of marginalization. A volunteer is often closer to the refugee than the social worker who is a professional and keeps his/her distance. For the municipalities aiming at reducing the barriers that exist in the cities, volunteers can actually be a very good option how to do so. Volunteers are often creative and come up with effective low-cost solutions. In order to keep such system running, it is important to ensure professionalism and quality. A volunteer has to have realistic expectations, get a training and be ready for a person coming from a different culture. It is thus handy to have a psychologist for the volunteers group and deal with the potential issues.
Initiative can help the municipalities by creating a volunteering group in their territory so it would be autonomous and completely in the hands of the municipality. Cities and towns can be on the other hand helpful by e.g. expressing the support through marketing and promotion, sharing information about recruiting the volunteers or promo of certain events. Providing place for training and courses can also be very helpful. Another way to help would be to designate a municipality worker who would take over the task of the coordinator of the volunteers group and be also the contact point in the city for e.g. ¼ of his/her working time.
Elena Gallová Kriglerová, Centre for the Research of Ethnicity and Culture (CVEK)
The last guest of this panel, Elena Gallová-Krieglerová from the Centre of the Research for Ethnicity and Culture (CVEK) that carries out research about minority and migrants’ integration presented the results of their research showing how important the role of municipality is in the integration process. It is crucial to explain to municipalities the benefits of migrants’ integration for the society, city/town and migrants themselves. According to Elena Gallová Kriglerová migrants and refugees integrate the best when they feel welcome. This is possible to achieve on the local level. A person never integrates in the state but in the community, neighbourhood, etc.
In this case it is not only about migrants but more about the whole cohabitation. In Slovakia the trust among the people is very low, the same could be said about the trust towards institutions. We can see increasing social tensions and extremism and it is the local policies especially that can help build social cohesion. Each locality has its own context and therefore it is not possible to only work on the central level but always take into consideration the historical, political, social and economic situation in specific locality and adjust the local policies. Municipality has a unique possibility to coordinate also variety of actors on the local level. Also, a lot of competences are transferred from the state level to the municipality. Municipality is always the closest to the citizens and therefore should be the first to care about them. Participation in political and civic life is also very important; foreigners with permanent residence in the locality should have the active and passive voting right – i.e. could become a part of the community and influence issues on on the local level, which is essential for social cohesion. The change of the perspective from problem through challenge to opportunity is something that will help to look at the topic more effectively than we are used to. The voice of the migrants is important, they should be the ones to whom we should speak about the integration. The same goes for municipality, it knows its citizens the best and it can ask them about their opinions the best. When it comes to the social tensions and negative attitude of the citizens it is again the municipality who should know (maybe with the help of other actors such as volunteers and professionals) how to mediate the conflicts and should prepare the citizens for the fact that we are living in ever more diverse world. Abroad and in Slovakia too it appears to be more effective to have inclusive policies not targeting exclusively one group of citizen.
Subsequently, she spoke about the project for which the Association of Towns and Communities of Slovakia approached CVEK when preparing the local strategies on integration of migrants with the municipalities. Association of Towns and Communities of Slovakia has brought trustworthiness into the project and has helped the implemented policies to succeed. During the two-year project, 7 municipalities were chosen to work on the creation of the local integration policies. Together they created a so called “inspiremat” with 30-35 measures that would be included in the integration policies. Each municipality has chosen, accordingly to its needs and local context, which measures would be implemented in its region. However, the 2015 “refugee hysteria” and its media coverage has had a negative impact on the project. Despite all this, in 5 out of 7 municipalities these measures were implemented in the end. Unfortunately, with the termination of the financing of the project it was only possible to carry out those measure that did not need significant financial coverage.
She concluded by highlighting that municipalities cannot work on the integration without the support of the state. Association of Towns and Communities of Slovakia can be a significant player in this field. Town and cities trust the association and it is therefore a reliable partner for implementation of the activities. She considers necessary for the government to adopt the agenda on the state level. State should give a framework, coverage, basic coordination, finance and support the municipalities not only financially but also in terms of expertise. For this it should either use its own capacities or the capacities of the NGOs. Municipalities have crucial role but without the support of the state they will not only lack interest in the topic but also know-how.
Head of the IOM Office in Slovakia, Zuzana Vatráľová concluded by thanking the guests and presenters for valuable inputs and praised the fact that the whole event and discussions were dedicated to how we can help and connect our capacities. This is one of the reasons why we should move on with the topic and search for solutions within this topic in Slovakia. If there is a direct communication of the actors and they can talk about what works and what does not work and at the same time pursue willingness to cooperate, it creates space for enhancement and search for common solutions. IOM will support this process and organisation of more of such fruitful meetings in this regards as well as activities in the framework of the EMN, of which it is the coordinator in Slovakia.
Prepared by: International Organisation for Migration (IOM), June 2017
Programme – EMN conference The Role of Municipalities in the Integration of Refugees (440 kB)
Information about the speakers (535 kB)
Action Plan on the Integration of the Third-Country Nationals (376 kB)
Urban agenda for the EU (566 kB)
Photo gallery from the event:
Photo Gallery to the EMN National Conference The Role of Municipalities in the Integration of Refugees
Presentations from the EMN Conference for download:
Download all (9,44 MB)
Petra Achbergerová – Migration Office and the cooperation with municipalities (Migračný úrad a spolupráca so samosprávami) (1,51 MB)
Tomáš Bauer – Project Step 3 (Projekt Step 3) (721 kB)
Pavel Čejka – Integration of refugees in Bzenec municipality (845 kB)
Grzegorz Gajewski – The integration of third-country nationals: challenges and priorities from an EU perspective (650 kB)
Elena Gallová Kriglerová – The role of municipalities in integration of migrants (Úloha samospráv v integrácii migrantov) (485 kB)
Mária Hanzlíková – Integration of foreigners at local level (Integrácia cudzincov na lokálnej úrovni) (747 kB)
Thomas Müller – Refugee integration in practice by the example of the City of Nuremberg, Germany (811 kB)
Michaela Pobudová – (Initiative Who will help?: Cooperation with municipalities (Iniciatíva Kto pomôže?: Spolupráca so samosprávami) (3,02 MB)
Mattias Sjölundh, Martin Söderström – Integration in Åre, Sweden (1,76 MB)
 Persons who have been granted asylum or subsidiary protection.