"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