The EU- Belong conference that took place in Gdańsk from 14 – 15 June 2023 gathered several stakeholders and civil servants from Poland and various countries in Europe. The aim was to exchange good practices on housing policies as a key component for intercultural societies, as well as understanding current challenges faced by the region of Pomerania when it comes to the war in Ukraine and the accommodation of refugees.
Regions across Europe are currently facing a widespread housing crisis, which touches upon several aspects of human rights, dignity, and equality. In this context, vulnerable groups, including people with a migratory background, are especially hit by the crisis facing difficulties in accessing housing. Moreover, beyond it being a human right, access to affordable housing is an essential parameter for other aspects related to inclusion (for instance labour market integration) and it increases the probability of pursuing education. It is also a key determinant of health.
The need to address this challenge has been voiced by several regions and especially by Pomorskie Voivedoship (PL), which since the start of the war in Ukraine has witnessed an unparalleled rise in the number of refugees and growing concerns in ensuring appropriate accommodation. Such concerns have been amplified now that Ukrainian refugees have to pay for their accommodation, thus leading to a concrete risk of homelessness.
This is why the Assembly of European Regions and Pomorskie Voivedoship co-organised the first EU-Belong Knowledge Sharing Event to address the housing crisis. The aim was for the region to share what they have already implemented and tested. The second objective was to gather community expertise and innovative projects, as well as solutions from other regions and international organisations, especially those part of the EU-Belong project.
Learning about inclusion in Pomorskie Voivedoship: Study Visits across the region
The event started with a study visit at the Marshall’s Office of the Pomorskie Voivodeship. It gave a space for conversations about various initiatives of integration of Ukrainian migrants in the regional communities. The initiatives showed that an intercultural approach creates a place for all people in society. And that cultural exchanges can truly enrich a community.
Agnieszka Zabłocka (Deputy Director of the Regional Center for Social Policy (ROPS)) spoke about the work of Pomeranian migration policy unit related to housing. The other speakers of this morning included Jacek Bendykowski (President of the Board of Gdansk Foundation), Karolina Stubińska (President of Centrum Wsparcia Imigrantów i Imigrantek) and Łukasz Samborski (RC Foundation Director). They introduced 3 regional projects in the framework of inclusion and Ukrainian refugees.
The second study visit took place in the Baltic Sea Cultural Centre with focus on the importance of intercultural activities to create an inclusive community in Gdanks. Finally, the study visit to the European Solidarity Centre was organised to enrich knowledge in the Polish history since the Second World War. These two visits increased the understanding of the current regional context.
Inclusive housing policies: international perspectives & regional good practices
On the second day, the exchanges continued at the Marshal’s Office with two round tables opened by Mieczysław Struk, Marshal Of Pomorskie Voivodship, and AER’s Secretary General Christian Spahr.
During the first round table discussion, the speakers shared European and international perspectives on inclusive housing for cohesive societies. The panel included Giuliana Benedetto (DG Home), Marlen Niubó Edeler (Generality of Catalonia and representing the AER Intercultural Regions Network), Elisabeth Franzen (City of Bergen & on behalf Intercultural Cities Programme of the Council of Europe), and Maciej Duszczyk (Centre for Migration Research of the University of Warsaw).
The second round table discussion gave space for EU- Belong consortium experts to speak about good practices of development and implementation of inclusive housing policies in their own regions. This session showed the different approaches of housing policies around Europe. Additionally, national policy and cultural differences influence how successful certain inclusive housing policies can be. This round table consisted of Marzio Barbieri (Emilia-Romagna Region), Virginia Eraso & Patricia Moreno (Navarra), Piotr Olech (Pomerania region), Giulia Boldrini (ANCI Toscana), and Laura Guijarro (Catalonia).
Institutional meeting with Pomorskie Voivodeship and municipalities
The event presented an important occasion to explore relevant areas of cooperation between the AER and the Pomroskie Voivedoship. In this context, AERs Secretary General Christian Spahr and Marlen Niubó Edeler (Generality of Catalonia and representing the AER Intercultural Regions Network) met with representatives from the region and the local administrations.
Topics for discussion were the AER and its core initiatives in the field of inclusion, with the Intercultural Regions Network and EU-Belong as examples. Furthermore, attention was given to priorities and needs for the regional and local level in Pomerania, and how interregional cooperation could support these priorities. In attendance from the Polish side:
- Agnieszka Kapała-Sokalska, member of the board of Pomorskie Voivodeship
- Monika Chabior, deputy mayor of Gdańsk for social development and equal treatment
- Krystyna Danielecka-Wojewódzka, mayor of the city of Słupsk
- Magdalena Czarzyńska-Jachim, Deputy Mayor of the City of Sopot
- Katarzyna Gruszecka-Spychała, vice mayor of Gdynia
- Krzysztof Hildebrandt, mayor of Wejherowo
Working together on regional intercultural integration strategies and the EU-Belong sustainability
As the EU-Belong partner regions have recently started working on the co-design of their strategies – a key step in their intercultural process – an important goal of the conference was to provide space for peer learning within the project consortium. Through a peer learning workshop, regions shared challenges in the development of their strategy, and provided support to each other by offering their own knowledge and experience.
Additionally, partners discussed the sustainability of the project and worked on their regional sustainability plan to ensure that good practices and policies will be used, exchanged and implement in the years to come.
Exchanges of knowledge and practices will continue in autumn! There are various online sessions planned to keep the conversation on the project topic going, for example the new inclusion cafés. The inclusion cafés are a once-a-month online peer meeting aimed at regional representatives working on inclusion and will focus on exploring how to use an intercultural perspective in divers areas of policy making.
EU-Belong is a 3-year project run by the Assembly of European Regions (AER) and 12 partners, and co-funded by the AMIF Programme of the European Union. The project is pioneering the field of inclusion & integration, by using an intercultural approach developed by the Council of Europe to innovate regional policymaking.