It has already been a year and a half since our EPIC project was kicked off in Vicenza, Italy, in a 3-day meeting with members of the 16 consortium partners. Several plenary sessions and workshops too place during the two first days to establish the best working methods and define the project’s work plan and strategy. To close the kick-off meeting, a public launch event was organised on the last day in the Villa Miari, in the neighbouring municipality of Santorso. The EPIC project and the audience reserved a warm welcome to Franco Balzi, the Mayor of the Comune di Santorso. The event continued with presentations and a panel discussion among LA and NGO representatives on the creation of inclusive communities through ‘welcome’ practices, digitalisation and narrative shaping.
Activities have not stopped since then, despite the adverse situation provoked worldwide by the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
At the end of May 2020, EPIC launched an online survey with the aim of gathering information on migration and integration practices across the EU. Open to host and migrant communities and practitioners, the survey invited participants to share strategies put in place for and by migrants to navigate the city during and after COVID-19. Almost 700 inhabitants from eleven EU cities participated in the online questionnaire and articulated their reflections. To complement this, phone interviews and an intense desk research exercise were also undertaken. In order to present the first findings of the research and discuss existing practices of migrant integration in each city’s case collectively, EPIC hosted a 3-day consortium meeting with several focus groups in May 2020.
Based on that extensive 8-month baseline analysis, the partners came together in November 2020 for another 3-day online consortium meeting to identify the main potential areas of intervention according to their needs, as well as the good practices they can take advantage of from other partners. By doing so, the consortium was setting the path to pair the cities partners in the project and the peer NGOs to engage in a mutual capacity building process, the next step of the project. After the meeting, a report validating the priorities identified and the ‘matchmaking’ between EPIC partners’ cities was issued.
Before the end of the year 2020, the Unsettling integration: EPIC research report finally saw the light. A comprehensive document that not only includes the review of all the above-mentioned research activities, meetings and materials, but also what we called Urban Biographies, where we attempt to delineate a quick profile of each city involved in the research and a Methodology section that offers a glimpse into the long struggle to conduct reflexive research during a pandemic and how to move away from rigid notions of integration.
In addition to all the research activities setting the path for the next interventions, EPIC partners have also been busy getting to know methodologies to communicate and report on migration issues while deconstructing stereotypes and prejudices.
In May 2020, EPIC hosted the first of a series of webinars on migration narratives on the topic of ‘Hate Speech: understanding the phenomenon from different perspectives’. In times of crisis, ‘the fear of the other’ becomes a common part of public debate. Bearing this in mind, the webinar aimed to set the scene for what hate speech currently is in Europe, how it is defined, how widespread it is, and what solutions exist to tackle the subject.
To go deeper into this important phenomenon, EPIC partners gathered in May 2021 and embarked on an intense 4-day online training. Experts Ron Salaj, Dariusz Grzemny and Ruxandra Pandea shared their understanding of hate speech, its different definitions, causes and consequences, as well as how to counterbalance hate speech messages and campaigns by building counter or alternative narratives based on a human rights approach. This enriching experience is only the beginning of a one-year communication campaign with the objective of communicating new narratives, at local level, in the territories covered by EPIC.
Eight local communication campaigns will be launched in autumn 2021 to promote unbiased, balanced and evidence-based reporting on migration, addressing the concerns and doubts of some citizens, while highlighting the benefits of local integration, building positive narratives and counteracting negative stereotypes towards migrants’ communities.
Job shadowing activities and videos between the ‘matched cities’ to ensure the transfer of expertise on integration services among the partners and start to co-define the 8 EPIC pilot projects. Piloting will take place during the last year of the project and will be the moment to put into practice all the knowledge gained through capacity building in the spirit of developing new services to efficiently tackle the local needs identified during the research phase.
Furthermore, local and international networking path meetings will be organised during the second half of 2021 and 2022 to foster dialogue among key stakeholders, disseminating the project results and fostering the harmonisation and emergencies of joint policies.