The FOCUS Final Conference took place on 1-2 June 2022 at La Tricoterie in Brussels. During 1.5 days, civil society organisations, migrant representatives and policy makers, from the FOCUS consortium, from the FOCUS Implementing partners and from external third-party organisations, discussed different aspects of dynamic integration from research, practice and policy perspectives. The event was the occasion to present the FOCUS research results, the FOCUS Approach to Dynamic Integration and officially launch and distribute the FOCUS Implementation Guide.
The morning of day 1 was opened by Alison Strang, Senior research fellow at Queen Margaret University (member of the FOCUS Advisory Board) with a keynote on the research frame of dynamic integration, relating to her highly influential work on the UK Indicators of migrant integration. According to this, integration should be multi-dimensional, multi-directional, shared-responsibility and context-specific. The FOCUS team from Humboldt University/Charité around Dana Abdel Fatah, Steffen Schödwell and Laura Hertner suggested adding an additional element to this framework which is ‘Re-negotiating power dynamics’, which more explicitly incorporates underly racism and discrimination. Together with Tanja Gangarova (DeZIM Institute), they pointed that this requires the participation of migrants in research design, policy design, policy implementation.
Nahikari Irastorza (Malmö University) and Jana Kiralj (University of Zagreb) presented the evidence gathered through the FOCUS research component both regarding the socio-economic and the socio-psychological dimension of integration which mutually influence each other. One of the strengths of FOCUS is to put at the forefront the psychosocial dimension of integration. Indeed, nowadays migration is more and more characterised by large spontaneous flows. We are used to talking about “the Syrian crisis” or “the Ukrainian crisis”. Maybe a paradigm shift is needed to embrace this new pattern of migration. One way to do this is putting social inclusion at the centre. Labour market integration is very important, but it is not the magic solution for all migrants.
Putting social inclusion at the centre will also help us to strike a new social contract in diverse societies. As Anouk Boschma (IFRC PS Centre) underlined, this could be built upon common goals: bringing newcomer communities and receiving communities – we should always talk about communitieS (plural) because they are not monolithical – together around a common cause: shared goals rather than imposing integration top-down. Anouk also presented the FOCUS Approach to Integration with its four pillars.
The afternoon sessions were very rich and involved an overview of the FOCUS case studies. Isabel de la Mata, Principal Advisor for Health and Crisis Management at DG Health, gave an overview of EU policy instruments available and their limitations. FOCUS had the privilege to discuss with two exceptional refugee women – Nour Abdulsalam (Support Group Network / Together we are strong) and Niloha Rangel (VOICES network / British Red Cross) – about their first-hand experience on dynamic integration. It can be hoped to see more and more of these stories in the future because this would mean we have been successful in living well together.
The afternoon was closed with a conversation with Katarina Carlzén (Partnership Skåne), Maria Holm Bækgaard (Danish Red Cross), Nour Abdulsalam (Support Group Network/Together we are strong) and Ayse Özbabacan (City of Stuttgart) on the way forward to dynamic integration. It was agreed that engaging the receiving communities more concretely is very important, along with building trust, changing narratives on refugees and have a proactive approach. More broadly speaking, access to health services for newcomers should be considered a basic human right, going beyond integration efforts.
Based on the research and practice components, day 2 reflected on the way forward for policies, and in particular policy priorities in the EU. The day was opened by Katerina Dimitrakopoulou, Head of Sector for Integration at DG HOME, who presented the Commission’s approach to dynamic integration as a two-way process and how this is linked to FOCUS.
Guglielmo Schininà, Head of Section Mental Health, Psychosocial Response and Intercultural Communication at the IOM (member of the FOCUS Advisory Board) then gave a keynote speech showing the importance of how we talk about migration, and how the image of migrants changed over time – “from subjects, to objects, to ‘abjects’”, in his words.
Kadri Soova, Head of Migration Unit at Red Cross EU Office, presented the Red Cross approach to dynamic integration which also links well to the FOCUS Approach.
The final policy roundtable with Sinem Yılmaz (Migration Policy Group), Shoresh Ibrahim (City of Stockholm) and Begüm Dereli (ECRE) discussed policy priorities to better support newcomers’ integration and inclusive societies, including the lack of comprehensive integration strategies and long-term commitment in many countries, the lack of specific policies for refugees (often combined with interation policies), the insufficient reflection of EU policies in national strategies, the insufficient interconnection of inclusion policy areas (also in terms of government service coordination), the lack of corporate social responsibility, the promotion of digital skills, the need of structured approaches and reception platforms. Learning from past experiences in this field, after dealing with migrants for many years, was seen as crucial: “We are really good at forgetting!” The importance of narratives and discourse on migrants on policy level was also underlined. Trainings and tools on integration should be offered to all communities, not only newcomers. Gender disbalance in integration response was identified as an issue, with the majority of professionals being women and a lack of adequate offers for (young) migrant men, also in psychosocial regards.
It was concluded that project funds cannot replace strategies and structures. Funds should be aimed at creating knowledge, testing innovation and piloting or scaling actions that have proven effective. Funds can complement existing budgets, but pilots after pilots will not yield a long-term strategy, implementing learnings from the past. Integration policy doesn’t have to start from scratch everytime – a message echoed by the FOCUS final video.
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