The conference took part Dec. 3, 2019 in Brussels. It was organized by the Committee of the Regions, which recently launched the initiative Cities and Regions for Integration, together with other Commission departments. Enhancing the dialogue with local and regional authorities is a priority for the work on integration at EU level. Cities and regions are key actors in putting in place effective integration policies on the ground. However, many local authorities, especially small ones, have difficulties in accessing the resources available at EU level both in terms of knowledge and funding – a challenge recognized and tackled also by INTEGRA.
The conference gathered over 400 representatives from local and regional authorities to inform them about the support available at EU level and give them an opportunity to exchange their practices and experience.
INTEGRA partners from Sofia, Prague, Košice and Osijek took part in the conference. In recognition of the project success, Sevdalina Voynova from SDA was invited to moderate one of the conference workshops, Narratives matter. The session focused on the public perception of migrants and refugees in Europe and its relationship with facts and the reality, the role of opinion makers as well as local politicians in influencing the attitudes of citizens towards immigrants.
The conference was organized also in cooperation with other Commission departments active in the field of integration, such as the Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Education and Culture, Regional and Urban Affairs and the Joint Research Center.
Our INTEGRA 2020 migrant integration cause calendar is now available for free download in English and in Bulgarian. Let it inspire you to incorporate in your organisation’s plan some of the cause awareness days, or some of the motivational ideas. Share it with your colleagues and stakeholders to trigged action. There are so many special days to remember! There are all those times when you lose your motivation and keen interest to be a driver of change! Do not worry. Now that you start working on your New Year’s resolution, it is time to set your sight on some other important opportunities to take action. And every day in 2020 when you look at the INTEGRA migrant integration calendar, be reminded you are not alone, and we together should take responsibility for the dignity, safety and before future for all. The calendar is produced by SDA INTEGRA project team.
On November 15, 2019 a final meeting of the INTEGRA local stakeholder group was held to evaluate the achievements and to plan follow-up activities for the integration of third-country nationals (TCN) in Sofia. The meeting was attended by the participants in the local stakeholders integration group (SIG), the public mediator of Sofia Municipality, representatives of municipal committees, representatives of UNHCR, BCRM, IOM, non-governmental organizations. Sevdalina Voinova, SDA Project Coordinator, presented the creative tools developed by the project partners - they include videos, handouts for organizing debates and discussions, electronic and paper versions of a card game on migration, calendars, and more. The resources are freely accessible and can be used by different target groups - municipal officials, NGOs, teachers, refugee organizations - for training, awareness-raising, involvement in civic initiatives. In Sofia, INTEGRA concludes the two-year project with a very good synergy between SDA, Sofia Municipality (SM), UNHCR, the academic community and a network ready to continue the efforts for migrants integration. The project team reports ongoing activities to maintain the established mechanisms for providing information and services to migrants in Sofia (by expanding the health services portal, myhealth.bg, supported by the municipality and available in Bulgarian and English), through the office of the public mediator, and others. In a European context, the project's methodology and results were highly appreciated and disseminated widely: INTEGRA is one of the finalists in the CLARINET network competition for the Best Public Campaign for Integration of Migrants; project partners are invited to participate in the exhibition accompanying the Go Local conference, organized by the European Committee of the Regions on 3 December, as well as in several conference panels.
In order to sustain and expand what has been achieved so far, after the completion of the project in December 2019, we will continue to work with all partners from the public and non-governmental sectors in Sofia, focusing on several key objectives:
- Cooperation with the office of the public mediator at Sofia Municipality, to facilitate the access of the TCN to services through preparation of documents and application forms in English, setting up on-site meetings, etc.
- Cooperation with the newly elected municipal council and committees that will have competence in matters of integration of migrants and refugees
- Seeking opportunities to facilitate access for migrants and refugees to the labor market in Sofia through municipal enterprises, e.g. in the metropolitan transport system
- Cooperation with UNHCR and the city administration to initiate changes in the policies for municipal housing, including refugees and migrants in the target group of eligible users
- Continued work to increase the capacity of TCN and their organizations to be involved in civic initiatives and in the decision-making process at local level, through the small grant schemes under the municipal funding programs, Europe Program and Culture Program.
In 2019, once again, Bulgaria commemorates November as the Refugee Month, to recognize the courage of these individuals escaping persecution, conflict, and desperate poverty, some of whom look for a chance to rebuild their lives in our community.
By tradition, Sofia Development Association is a partner of the initiative Refugee Month. On November 14th, 2019, we hosted in SofiaLab a second INTEGRA day - a series of community celebration events. “Community Drum Circle” was organized by Creators Association in partnership with SDA and with the support of IOM. Over 50 people from various nationalities took turns to play drums and percussion in a circle, creating a sense of rhythm and harmony that transcends language and takes participants to another level of understanding.
This international get-together day also served to close our INTEGRA awareness raising and advocacy public campaign, and to evaluate its strengths and achievements, positive outcomes and unintended consequences. A number of campaign achievements were volunteered including new and interesting free resources developed, new partnerships established and broadening the pool of Sofia stakeholders, new campaign avenues like the screens in public transport vehicles. The most significant unintended consequence is the fact that the campaign completion coincided with the inauguration of the newly elected Sofia Municipal Council on November 3rd, thus providing a great opportunity to present all policy proposals timely to the new local government.