ICMC’s Share Network Holds Transnational Conference on Integration in Rural Areas
Lessons learned include calls for increased coordination, cooperation, and access to funding to realize the benefits of migration for smaller and rural communities within the European Union.
Across Europe, migrants and refugees are increasingly settling in smaller towns and rural areas. These communities may face different challenges than their larger counterparts when it comes to welcoming newcomers.
Established in March 2012 by ICMC Europe, the Share Network supports European regions, cities, towns, and rural communities to welcome refugees and migrants. Today, Share collaborates with smaller communities and rural territories in Europe to provide training, capacity building, and opportunities for best practice exchange. The network also conducts research to inform policymaking, and works to ensure the voices of local actors and communities are present in national, European, and international discussions on migration and integration.
In January 2021, the Share Network launched Share SIRA: Strengthening and Expanding Social Orientation and Integration for Newcomers in Rural Areas, a two-year project co-funded by the European Union’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). Working with national and regional organizations involved in welcoming newcomers in France, Greece, Poland, and Spain, SIRA has established local integration partnerships in ten rural regions. The Share SIRA project has supported and evaluated ten new and innovative approaches to supporting the social orientation of newly arrived migrants and refugees. These initiatives involve both local communities and newcomers.
On 23 November 2022, Share SIRA convened the transnational conference Strengthening and Expanding Social Orientation & Integration for Newcomers in Rural Areas. Held at the Brussels headquarters of the Committee of the Regions, the European Union’s assembly of local and regional representatives, the hybrid conference brought together approximately 150 Share network members. Participants were drawn from EU institutions, national authorities, local mayors, civil society organizations, academic institutions, city networks, refugee and migrant-led organizations, and grassroots community stakeholders.
The conference explored several key themes relevant to the SIRA project, including the nexus between migration and rural revitalization in Europe. “It is key that we leave no one person and no territory behind,” explained Antje Grotheer, Vice-President of Bremen State Parliament and Member of the Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX) Commission at the Committee of the Regions, in her opening remarks to the conference plenary. “Depopulated areas can benefit greatly from the arrival of new people and new talents.”
Another recurring theme of the conference was how to promote participation, networking, and peer learning for rural integration in Europe. Discussions focused on the common isolation of rural and smaller communities from national or transnational frameworks and networks, and how this can hinder the transfer of successful practices and prevent local access to available knowledge. Participants called for the development of accessible peer-to-peer and participatory mechanisms that directly capture the needs, aspirations, and recommendations of newcomers and local residents impacted by local integration policies, and highlighted promising practices such as city networks and local integration councils involving migrants, refugees, and locals.
The conference program emphasized grassroots experiences of welcoming and supporting the integration of newcomers to Europe. Continuing the partnerships developed via the Share Mayors in the Spotlight series, a dedicated conference panel enabled local mayors to share different reception and integration models in rural territories and to relay positive experiences of migration boosting their local economies and stimulating the provision of local public services.
“Each newcomer brought something positive to the community,” noted Vicente Gonzalvo, former mayor of Camañas in Aragon, Spain. “They have made it possible for the rest of us to stay and live in our village, instead of being forced to move to the city.” Collectively, local mayors called for stronger frameworks to co-design integration interventions and solutions, provide equal opportunities for all rural residents, and address the considerable challenges smaller municipalities face in accessing funding and investment to upgrade deteriorating housing stock.
The experiences of the Share network to date and the lessons learned during the SIRA project have collectively highlighted the challenges that integration actors in smaller and rural communities face when trying to access funding to support their work.To further explore this issue, the SIRA conference concluded with a high-level roundtable comprised of representatives from the European Commission and the banking sector, and focused on policy coherence and responsive financing mechanisms for integration in rural areas.
“There is funding for social inclusion,” explained Mátyás Szabó, Policy Officer for Social Inclusion at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI). “But there is a need for stronger synergies and complementarities so that available resources better support migration and rural revitalization.” Roundtable participants discussed existing tools and opportunities to boost integration policy and practice, such as planned actions under the new EU Rural Vision and the opportunities set out in the Work Programme for the Asylum Migration & Integration Fund (AMIF) for 2023-2025. Participants also highlighted the complementary role of the private sector in promoting social inclusion in rural areas and the continued importance of collaboration between the European Commission, Member States and the private sector.
Find out more about Share SIRA and the SIRA transnational conference.
Partners of the Share SIRA program are the Development Agency of Karditsa (ANKA, Greece), Entraide Pierre Valdo (France), Fundación Cepaim (Spain), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Poland, and IOM Spain.
Independent writer and researcher on migration, refugees and integration.