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Integration of migrants can significantly improve social cohesion at the local level, but legal routes to Europe are vital to avoid further tragedies  

Five key adjectives should define the future of migration policy: cooperation, integration, inclusion, participation and legal migration, conference speakers say

Local and regional authorities, representatives of the European Commission and other European institutions, academia and civil society attending the European Committee of the Regions conference discussed how to promote the integration of migrants and refugees, intercultural interaction and social cohesion in increasingly diverse societies.

The conference, "Empowering regions and cities in migrant integration governance" took place on 28 March and was organised by the Cities and Regions for Integration of Migrants network of the European Committee of the Regions. The main focus of the event was multi-level coordination and the intercultural approach to the integration of migrants and refugees in cities and regions across Europe.

How to foster effective cooperation and coordination between different levels of government to improve the integration of migrants and refugees was the focus of the morning session, based on a study presented by Eurac Research, the Brussels Interdisciplinary Research centre on Migration and Minorities (BIRMM) and the  Brussels School of Governance at Vrije Universiteit Brussel.  

Antje Grotheer (DE/PES), Vice-President of Bremen State Parliament, underlined that  "local and regional authorities are instrumental in building cohesive and resilient communities, a key component of which is the successful integration of migrants and refugees. To be fully empowered to deliver on the ground, subnational authorities need greater support, both political and financial, and effective practical cooperation and coordination involving all levels of governance".

In the afternoon, the EU-Belong: Intercultural Integration of Migrants in Europe's Regions project, led by the Assembly of European Regions (AER), was discussed, alongside intercultural approaches to the integration of migrants and refugees in cities and regions across Europe. Local leaders from various European regions shared practical solutions to a variety of real-life problems they faced in areas such as housing, planning, education, health and labour markets which have a direct impact on the integration of migrants.

Giuseppe Varacalli (IT/Renew Europe), member of Gerace Municipal Council, said: "For Europe to grow, we need everyone, so let's break down the fences, let's fight illegal migration and promote synergies between member states. We need legal migrants, especially if they have skills and talents essential to the EU. This is vital for our economic recovery as well as for the digital and green transition." But, he stressed, legal routes to Europe for migrants were vital to stop the people-smugglers and avoid "more tragedies like Cutro", the site of a recent shipwreck in Italy that took the lives of over 70 people.

Established in 2019 by the European Committee of the Regions, the Cities and Regions for the Integration of Migrants network provides a political platform for European mayors and regional leaders to showcase positive examples of integration of migrants and refugees, share relevant information and promote diversity as an added value to building inclusive cities and ensuring social cohesion. The initiative is run in cooperation with the European Commission and several European territorial associations - Eurocities, CEMR, CPMR and AER. Members of the network will continue to meet to discuss integration-related issues throughout 2023, building on the Partnership for Integration reached with the European Commission in 2021 as part of the Action Plan for Integration and Social Inclusion 2021-2027.

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