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Support for integration at local level must remain a key element of EU's migration policy  

Local and regional politicians from EU Member States visited the Eleonas refugee hosting centre in Athens today ( photo ) and voiced their concern over the lack of support for integration measures at local and regional level. The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) has repeatedly called to make relevant EU funds supporting reception and integration of migrants directly accessible to local and regional authorities which bear key responsibilities in these domains.

The CoR's Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX) met on Thursday in Athens to discuss European Commission's recent proposal for Asylum and Migration Fund for EU's next multiannual financial framework 2021–27. The CoR will adopt its position at the plenary session in October. The current draft opinion prepared by Peter Bossman (SI/PES), Mayor of Piran, regrets that the Member States are no longer required to allocate at least 20% of the available funding to asylum action and 20% to integration, which could mean that countering irregular migration and strengthening EU's external borders will be prioritised over other action.

"Member States should be encouraged to use part of their programme allocation to fund integration measures implemented by cities, regions and civil society, as well as actions to develop assisted voluntary return and reintegration programmes and effective alternatives to detention", the rapporteur-general Bossman argued.

Barbara Duden (DE/PES), chair of the CIVEX commission and member of Hamburg City Parliament, emphasised that "we must ensure that newcomers do not feel marginalised. That implies serious investment into our social infrastructure in partnership with cities and regions. At the same time, many of the root causes of migration are related to a lack of economic, social and political development. The EU's development cooperation must place a greater emphasis on cooperation with local and regional governments than in the past. We will certainly raise this point in our upcoming opinion on the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation instrument, as the European Commission's current proposal lacks focus on the local dimension."

On the second day of the meeting Lefteris Papagiannakis, Athens' Vice-Mayor for Migrants, Refugees and Municipal Decentralization, welcomed the CoR delegation led by First Vice-President Markku Markkula to Eleonas, a government-run refugee centre which hosts over 2000 people of various nationalities.

"Greece was hit hard by the economic crisis, followed by the mass arrival of migrants in 2015. To respond to the needs of the newly arrived people and facilitate their integration, we have established a network of 12 cities of different size, covering the whole of Greece and working together in the same direction", Vice-Mayor Papagiannakis said.

"We highly appreciate the efforts of the Greek government and local and regional authorities that have provided shelter to hundreds of thousands of migrants during difficult economic times", First Vice-President Markkula said. "Our view is that the EU should take necessary steps towards a common asylum and migration policy based on the principles of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility. Successful migration and integration policy also requires improved collaboration with local governments, business and civil society."

Speaking during a separate conference organised by the CIVEX Commission and the Central Union of Municipalities of Greece on Friday, Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, urged for a deeper political integration in the field of migration, security and border policies, starting with the revision of the Dublin system and providing new paths for legal migration. He also pointed out that local communities need more means to be more efficient on the field and thanked the CoR for its contribution to the European Agenda on Security.

Friday's conference focused on European citizens' perceptions of security which have declined in particular in Member States that have recently suffered terrorist attacks. Georgios Patoulis (EL/EPP), Mayor of Maroussi and President of the Central Union of Municipalities of Greece, concluded: "It is crucial to strengthen the sense of security of citizens without, however, affecting their individual rights and personal freedoms. We must jointly find the golden incision and maintain the necessary balance for the benefit of the citizens."

More information

Eleonas is a government-run refugee centre located in the suburbs of Athens and supervised by the Greek Migration Ministry. It was the first mainland refugee centre in Greece, opened in August 2015. The current population of the centre is approximately 2000 people, comprised of various nationalities. It has received funding from the EU's Internal Security Fund and from the EU Emergency Support Instrument .

The CIVEX commission also adopted a set of recommendations for EU's future enlargement through a draft opinion prepared by Franco Iacop (IT/PES), regional councillor of Friuli Venezia Giulia. While regretting that reforms in the Western Balkans geared to EU accession have slowed down, it welcomes the compromise reached between Greece and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia regarding the official name of the country. It also points out that the aid provided by the EU to the Western Balkans and Turkey to help them manage migration flows must reach the local and regional authorities who are involved every day in reception and support work.


Lauri Ouvinen

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