"We are proud that Sofia is a lead partner of such a strong consortium," said Botyo Botev, Sofia Municipal Councilor at the opening of the briefing at the European Committee of the Regions in Brussels, organized by the Sofia Development Association, entitled "Sharing of challenges and creating solutions for the integration of third-country nationals at local level. "The event was attended by representatives of the European Committee of the Regions, the European Commission, directorates-general, institutions and non-governmental organizations. The basis of the briefing was the project INTEGRA, led by Sofia through Sofia Development Association, funded by AMIF and implemented by a consortium of the cities of Sofia, Prague, Kosice (Slovakia), Osijek (Croatia) and Rubano (Italy). Among the speakers were mayors and municipal councilors from the city-partners of Sofia, representatives of the DG HOME, EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, the European Committee of the Regions.
The project manager Sevdalina Voynova emphasized that the biggest project strength is in the broad civic participation: the development and application of methods such as city walks, photovoice, scenario development, which allow many citizens to co-create integration policies and practices. More than 2,200 citizens in the five cities have joined the project activities so far, of which 80 local government representatives, 250 third-country nationals.
Laurent Thieule, CoR's Legislative Work Director, focused on the link between INTEGRA and the new initiative of the President of the CoR, entitled "Cities and Regions for Integration", as they both rely on urban networks integration models.
Laurent Aujean with DG Home expressed his appreciation of the results of the INTEGRA project, which take into account the local context of the specific region of Central and Eastern Europe. According to him, the public policy recommendations of the consortium are very good and profound, without being limited to access to the labor market.
Sabrina Doni, newly re-elected mayor of Rubano, Italy, pointed out the role of the project for a small town that has less resources and access to knowledge networks. "We have made Europe, now we have to make Europeans," she said.
Prague City Councilor Ondřej Mirovský said that the political will and leadership are key to counteracting nationalism.
Rayeiz Rahman, a migrant from Afghanistan living in Kosice, explained why he had joined the INTEGRA project and what it meant for people like him to have the opportunity to participate: "your voice be heard, to be able to say that foreigners also live here, to positively influence other migrants."
The briefing attracted more than 70 participants and it was highly appreciated. "Thanks for the interesting conference", "Very good, interesting and efficient project", "We rarely see something so innovative". This is a great recognition for Sofia and its leading role in making European policies.
The briefing materials can be found at: www.integra-eu.net
On June 11th, 2019 the Bulgarian Council for Refugees and Migrants, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the Municipality of Plovdiv organized a national seminar "Funding opportunities for integration and urban development possibilities" on the occasion of the upcoming World Refugee Day on June 20th.
The event served as a forum of dialogue between the diverse stakeholders at national and local level, directly or indirectly engaged in the refugee integration process in Bulgaria.
Additionally, the seminar introduced good practices of partnership between municipalities, non-governmental organizations and the private sector in the context of the refugee integration process.
The director of Sofia Development Association Svetlana Lomeva was a panelist and presented the good practices of Sofia Municipality and Sofia Development Association in integration policies and practices. Mrs. Lomeva showcased INTEGRA - the project that SDA is a lead partner of at present, and promoted to other Bulgarian municipalities the methodologies, tools and resources developed by INTEGRA partners.
The first of the planned radio broadcasts was on the topic “Can Sofia offer third-country nationals competitive educational opportunities”? What does Sofia look like in the eyes of foreign students? Why would third-country nationals choose Bulgaria to study and grow professionally here? How can the city improve its integration policies to attract and retain more young talent? As part of the INTEGRA information campaign, on May 16, SDA organized a discussion on the air of Alma Mater Radio with students from North Macedonia, Ukraine and Serbia, currently enrolled in the Faculty of Journalism at Sofia University. They all agreed that Sofia offers affordable quality education compared to other universities in Western Europe or in the Balkan region. Another reason for their decision to come to Sofia are their historical family ties with Bulgaria. In addition to the praise, we also heard criticism: the lack of a well-functioning system to deal with administrative hurdles, such as residence permits, the need for more opportunities for learning Bulgarian language, because a good command of the language is also a major prerequisite for finding a good job after graduation. While they see Sofia as their home and like the city’s cultural life, they have not always felt welcomed by the Bulgarian society. Even so, they believe that migrants and international students who have chosen Sofia as their place for personal and professional realization have something to give to the city: new culture, fresh outlook, and a desire to be part of a kindred-minded community. That’s why they find initiatives like INTEGRA very important as they provide information about what is being done in the city to make third country nationals feel at home, and also as an opportunity for young people to contribute and have their voices heard.
You can listen to the interview at 6 pm on Wednesday, May 22 on Alma Mater Sofia University radio. Please tune in next month for another broadcast and find out what it means to work as a third-country national in Sofia.
Sharing Challenges, Creating Solutions for Integration of Third-Country Nationals at Local Level
The integration of third country nationals is one of the most formidable tasks we face. Cities play a major role in integrating these newcomers and empowering them to contribute to their new communities. However, integrating migrants can be challenging because they constitute highly diverse groups, consisting of different genders, ages, cultural backgrounds with different motivations, skill sets, educational levels and experience.
The EU INTEGRA day is designed to explore the city-to-city approach to third country nationals integration, practices, tools and resources, lessons learned and policy recommendations based on the experience of the project partners from Sofia (Bulgaria), Prague (Czech Republic), Kosice (Slovakia), Rubano (Italy) and Osijek (Croatia).
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