Regional and local authorities are at the forefront when it comes to addressing integration needs in practice. The Covid-19 pandemic has strongly tested the current systems in place, revealing tremendous needs of authorities but also the resourcefulness which exists at local and regional levels. This shows how essential it is to create opportunities for structured and meaningful mutual learning on integration in order to enable regional and local authorities to share experiences and improve policies and practices.
Mutual learning to improve services
In order to facilitate mutual learning between regions, AER, IOM and the Council of Europe are a organising series of activities open to all. These will build a mutual learning community across Europe on integration policies and practices at the regional level.
The webinar “Intercultural regions: improving access to services” was organised in the context of the Includ-EU project. Speakers from the Intercultural Regions Network, The European Commission’s Directorate General for Migration and Home Affairs, IOM and the Council of Europe shared their experiences on how an intercultural approach helps to increase efficacy of public services by reducing cultural distances.
Foster exchanges opportunities
Two interconnected frameworks provide space for these exchanges. On the one hand, AER and the Council of Europe launched the Intercultural Regions Network. The network provides support for regions to design, implement, and evaluate diversity and inclusion strategies.
On the other hand, AER and IOM are cooperating in the context of the Includ-EU project, which is funded by the European Union and is mapping regional practices, providing opportunities for experience exchange and social innovation, and supporting the development of a mutual learning community.
The discussion was launched by Oriol Amorós, Chair of the Intercultural Regions Network, and Secretary of Equality, Migration and Citizenship for the Government of Catalonia. He outlined the diversity of citizens in the European Union and the need for more cohesive societies. The intercultural approach, he explained, is a way to recognise the equality of rights and duties, to acknowledge and value diversity, and to foster interaction. To promote interculturalism helps developing more effective and more resilient systems. It is with this in mind that the Intercultural Regions Network was launched in 2019 based on the positive experience of the intercultural cities of the Council of Europe.
The network is open to any region committed to enforce the principles and objectives of the network. For further information, visit the Intercultural Regions Network page.
The role of the European Commission
Nuria Diez Guardia, Policy Officer, Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs then underlined the role of the European Commission, which is to provide incentives and to support all levels of governance to improve integration policies and practices.
She presented two particularly successful initiatives:
- The Urban Academy on Integration consisting of two days of peer to peer learning.
- The European Migrant Advisory Board including migrants and refugees themselves experts on immigration and asylum-related policies.
On top of these initiatives, DG HOME supports data analysis, mutual learning and funds initiatives and projects. Further information can be found on the European Web Site on Integration.
A need for cultural competences
Participants to the webinar provided insights on the barriers to access to services in their region. The lack of cultural competences in public services was clearly identified as a stumbling point.
Universal access to health services is in everybody’s interest
This need for cultural competences is particularly visible in the field of health. Dominik Zenner, Senior Migration Health Advisor at IOM Regional in Brussels, insisted on the fact that universal health coverage is part of the Sustainable Development Goals. He presented findings from research on the bidirectional relationship between migration and health as well as a series of initiatives aimed at improving the health of migrants*. Cultural health mediation specifically, acts as a bridge between people of different socio-cultural backgrounds and health professionals and has proven to lead to better health outcomes.
While knowledge about migrants’ health is still surprisingly low, it is known that living and working conditions, as well as social integration, have an impact on migrants’ health. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, migrants have been particularly adversely affected by COVID-19 not only in terms of transmission but also in terms of outcomes for those who contracted the virus. This shows how access to health services for all protects the health and wellbeing of society as a whole.
Unlocking the diversity advantage
Finally, Irena Guidikova, Head of Division, Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Programmes, at the Council of Europe, explained the main lines of the intercultural integration approach. Perceptions, cultural sensitivity, the tone and feel of the interactions with service providers matter in guaranteeing access to services. Diversifying the staff and bringing intercultural competences are ways to reduce the cultural distance and unlock the “diversity advantage”. User participation is crucial for public services, and all the more so in diverse communities.
How to implement an intercultural approach?
When participants to the webinar were asked how they ensure that public services are designed and delivered with an intercultural approach, “Policy co-design process” was their top response (50%). The discussion, which followed between panelists made it possible to further develop the concept of intersectionality and hear about additional initiatives.
All presentations, the agenda as well as the infosheet about Includ-EU are available below:
- Oriol Amorós’s presentation: Intercultural Regions Network
- Dominik Zenner’s presentation: Access to health matters!
- Includ-EU infosheet
You can also watch back the full webinar below:
*IOM defines a migrant as any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a State away from his/her habitual place of residence, regardless of (1) the person’s legal status; (2) whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary; (3) what the causes for the movement are; or (4) what the length of the stay is.
Includ-EU is funded by the European Union’s Asylum Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF).