EPIC Pilot projects implementation: challenges, achievements and lessons learned

Jun 5, 2023

After more than two years of intense analysis, exchanging of good practices, several events and debates, capacity-building sessions and a lot of planning, the time to test new initiatives on the ground with the potential of making certain local services more efficient for the integration of newcomers arrived for EPIC. From housing to education, legal and administrative support, or intercultural activities, language and training, EPIC cities have been testing new services tackling a concrete challenge to make services better tailored to the migrants’ and public authorities’ needs.

Continue reading to learn more about what the 8 cities have achieved during the one-year pilot process.

Pilot project implementation in 8 European cities

ALCORCON, SPAIN

The 1-year pilot project in Alcorcon consisted of the 1st “Content Competition Against Discrimination against Youth on the Grounds of Diverse Cultural Origin” for which the implementing partner Solidaridad Sin Fronteras (SSF) obtained the support and involvement of Alcorcon City Council, six public high schools and vocational training centres in Alcorcon, and some immigrant organisations belonging to the municipality Migration Board. The pilot aimed at:

  • Promoting the knowledge of different cultures and the richness of interculturality in the Municipality of Alcorcon
  • Raising awareness of the discrimination suffered by some young people (and also adults) for reasons of origin
  • Enhancing a positive mindset in the Alcorcon population towards interculturality and different people. 

Throughout 2022, SSF trainers held several awareness-raising meetings with the educational staff of different schools and subsequently carried out a series of workshops on intercultural coexistence in schools in Alcorcon where almost 100 young students participated. After that, a series of artworks were created for the competition. Finally, SSF organised a ceremony where besides giving the award for the competition, some raising awareness and public debate activities took place. It was also a key moment to get direct feedback about the project activities from the participants. SSF has also worked very closely with the City Council of Alcorcon in its efforts to counter hate narratives and discriminatory attitudes in the Municipality. The Intercultural Mediation Service of the Alcorcón City Council is considering the possibility of holding a second edition of the Competition and/or other similar relevant initiatives to reach more stakeholders after the success of this 1st edition piloted by EPIC.

CONCLUSIONS AND PROPOSED NEXT STEPS:

  • the pilot project in Alcorcon relates to narratives held by young people and the City Council of Alcorcon
  • the project shows a common challenge of engaging migrants in both co-creating as well as implementing projects/ activities in local communities
  • the NGO’s capacity for partner engagement and reach out to migrant communities as well as its rights-based approach to cooperation (empowerment, ownership, decision-making, representation) is a very valid topic to be discussed within the EPIC network and beyond  
  • the City Council is interested in sustaining the pilot project by hosting further competitions with the same approach carried out by SSF

BRESCIA, ITALY

MiTHA – Migrants Tailored Housing Action is the name of the 12-month pilot project executed by the Municipality of Brescia, more precisely the Housing Services and Inclusion Sector of the Municipality to provide an operational office and to guarantee a strong connection with the other activities carried out by the Public, and ADL Z, bringing to the table different members of the local community, including social workers, CSO representatives and migrants.  Brescia’s initial plan for the pilot project was focusing on cross-sector (engaging social services and other administrative bodies) cooperation aimed at developing a housing inclusion model through deep community work. Because of the difficulties of the topic and the global context (the pandemic and war) but also the momentum created by the local campaign “living together” (presented in the next chapter) in different public spaces of the city, the pilot focused took a very practical-oriented approach of engaging migrants to share their experiencing and recommendations regarding housing.

To implement this pilot project, several actions took place:

• interviews with about 70 people of migrant background living in Brescia were conducted by expert researchers of the coop. K-Pax, followed by 4 focus groups with 28 participants and a lab with 12 individuals
• sharing and discussions of the migrants’ house-related experiences with cross-sector actors
• a “grassroots’ decalogue” of good practices for housing and a publication of positive stories of cohabitation in Brescia was written by migrants and is being disseminated

CONCLUSIONS AND PROPOSED NEXT STEPS:

  • The initial scope for this pilot project turned out to be too ambitious for the time and resources available for it, showing that, first of all, housing is a very complex matter in all local communities; and secondly, it is difficult to work out long term solutions in the engagement of public administration that may be dependent on other short-term elements (i.e., elections)
  • The housing crisis is a political matter demanding discussion on responsibilities and role ascribing (both multi-layered and cross-sector), which is a challenge
  • Dissemination of Brescia’s “grassroots’ decalogue” of good practices for housing among EPIC’s partners and beyond can be very useful for future actions in this territory (Scale up to other areas) and also to be transferred to other places.

GDANSK METROPOLITAN AREA, POLAND

In Gdansk Metropolitan Area, the pilot to train professionals in assisting refugees suffering from trauma consists of two parts.  The initial one, focusing on education is still under implementation. A second one, due to the war in Ukraine, was established in March 2022 and covered the urgent need for raising the capacities of public services, volunteers, translators, and other actors when cooperating with refugees, who often experience trauma. Over 120 service deliverers (job advisers, social centre workforce, cultural institutions staff, private people hosting migrants, and student translators) were prepared and supervised in their work with refugees, which is an action aimed at a long-term and systemic response to the need for culturally adequate services.

With the war and the actors arising to respond to increasing challenges, it has been very challenging to implement a pilot project in Poland. For instance, at a moment when the Gdansk Metropolitan Area was dealing with many legal challenges to contract education activities to external entities, other international organisations entered rapidly local communities with many millions of euros to be spent in the education sector in less than 9 months. This has of course brought great chances to the schooling and childcare sector, but also fatigue and surfeit of actions addressed to one professional environment. Therefore, after consulting with a group of school and psychological-pedagogical help units, the pilot project explored the existing gaps and actual needs.  Based on that, largely technical assistance for schools and psychological-pedagogical help units are being delivered.

CONCLUSIONS AND PROPOSED NEXT STEPS:

  • The war in Ukraine has brought obvious changes but also flexible adaptations to the pilot project in Gdansk which allowed amendments and funding for the actual needs 
  • The lack of shared vision and concrete data-based action plans for sectoral areas (education, labour market, housing, health and social help) makes it almost impossible to fit in with a systemic and long-term, sustainable solution in a project-funded environment
  • War and refugees’ reception and integration have had an urgent character and concentrated on delivering help, not long-term integration. It is best when both processes are parallel, to not keep migrants in help beneficiaries roles but to empower them to become part of a community with clear input and impact.

IOANNINA, GREECE

The pilot project in Ioannina “+Ergasia” was oriented towards the facilitation of labour market integration and considering the preparation of the beneficiaries and the cooperation between employers, employment services and migration authorities. During the 8 months of its implementation, the pilot project provided guidance in finance/accounting, the tax preparer, and the employability counsellor, and all the required support needed to tackle the administrative obstacles migrants face when trying to obtain the documents and services for accessing the local labour market. Simultaneously, the expert in the labour market elaborated a strategic plan for the employment of refugees and asylum seekers in the local labour market with the collaboration of the migrants and refugees’ integration.

Much of the project efforts and budget were addressed to direct support migrants in their capacity to enter the labour market. Important to underline is the more systemic and all-of-government part of PP: development of a local strategy for the labour integration of refugees and asylum seekers, which includes a proposal for an education and vocational training strategy, as well as the specialization of education, training and development actions.

Figure 13. Poster informing about the pilot project offers in Ioannina

CONCLUSIONS AND PROPOSED NEXT STEPS:

  • About 50 beneficiaries have received individual job counselling during the implementation of the pilot programme. A training course, 3 meetings and 4 workshops were held with a large number of stakeholders supporting migrants and refugees in Ioannina to harmonise and combine efforts.
  • As in many other pilot projects, services regarding inclusion are implemented by NGOs rather than the specialized public administration offices (like job centres)
  • The above might benefit migrants as they get more personalised and culturally adequate services. Nevertheless, a parallel process of developing capacity in public offices is very important
  • The local strategy for the labour integration of refugees and asylum seekers can be a good example for other cities seeking to tackle the same issue.

LISBON, PORTUGAL

Amid the refugee crisis provoked by the war in Ukraine and capitalising on the mobilisation of citizens who wanted to be part of the humanitarian aid response in Portugal, the pilot project carried out by JRS Portugal in the framework of the EPIC project aims to provide a more comprehensive response in terms of not only reception and first reception but also the integration of Ukrainian refugees, addressing the lack of responses at the regional level and those outside the Lisbon area, in the spirit of scaling up support schemes to other territories in Portugal where they do not exist yet.

In this context, JRS developed a partnership with Seminário Redentorista Cristo Rei (Porto region). This partnership allowed the pilot to have a new space to welcome refugees and provide first support in the process of integration.  One of the main goals of the project is to promote their autonomous life. To achieve this, the pilot office supports refugees in learning the Portuguese language, getting a job, and finding a home. Throughout the pilot project in 2022 and early 2023, over 200 refugees have benefited from this initiative. The services focused on:

  • checking the legal status of migrants
  • shared work on their life plan
  • referrals to the employment and vocational training centre
  • creation of CVS’s and letters of motivation
  • help in getting a house for migrants
  • support with health issues (accompany to the hospital or health centre, explaining how the health system works in Portugal, getting free dentist consults)
  • supporting refugees to get a sense of integration into Portuguese society

CONCLUSIONS AND PROPOSED NEXT STEPS:

  • The pilot project addressed the “traditional” needs of migrants, supporting their competencies and managing within new communities and society in the context of the Ukrainian refugee crisis
  • As many projects “for migrants”, a question of how long the migrants will require support when accessing health centres and other public services, what are the vision and action plans in local communities to create more inclusive institutions and raise migrants’ self-sufficiency 
  • Many of the housing practices developed and tested by JRS Portugal can be very interesting to share in countries with more recent housing crises – Poland, Croatia and others – also during the final conference

OBERHAUSEN, GERMANY

The partners kitev and the Municipality of Oberhausen are behind the pilot project LIO – Leben In Oberhausen (“Life in Oberhausen”) which consists of a digital platform bringing together all the support available in the city to those in need, in the spirit of creating a solid support network that can joint efforts, do not work in silos, avoid duplications, and fills each other’s gaps. The platform provides an overview of the offers for support for those in need in Oberhausen and automatically connects all active players with each other. The implementation process of this pilot had to sort out some barriers, like those for administrative reasons encountered by other partners: the process of getting the authorities to approve it and shifting the budget for the pilot project from the municipality to the NGO when it was considered as more efficient for the action took a very long time. The implementation was delayed several times because meetings could only take place online and short-term coordination was often only possible with a delay. The project has a strong participative component of shared ownership by multiple local actors as well as engaging migrants as experts, including the IT expert behind the platform. The dummy for the digital platform has already been created and will now go into the one-month test phase after which an official launch date will be set. The Municipality of Oberhausen and kitev are disseminating the platform among different professionals, stakeholders and the large local community in different online and physical meetings, and events and using their different communication channels (institutional website, NGO social media, etc.) as those of some media outlets (local radio and newspapers)

CONCLUSIONS AND PROPOSED NEXT STEPS:

  • The delays and difficulties in funding the actions of a “complicated/technical pilot project” to an external subcontractor have been common within the EPIC project and should be addressed as barriers to innovations in the integration field
  • The digital platform itself is a unique achievement but also the co-creation process done to develop it, encourages the co-ownership of the different actors involved and brings those who will potentially benefit from it to the core of the design.

SARDINIA, ITALY

Sardinia has initially planned on testing a labour market practice implemented in the Gdansk region – a public regional portal directly matching migrant workers with local employers, without middlemen or temporary work agencies. This ambitious practice, for both the Gdansk and the Sardinia regions, seems to be a game-changer in the quality of employment and equal treatment in the labour market. Unfortunately, the existing Sardinia portal which was meant to be adapted to manage employment issues as well turned out to be technically too challenging to change and adopt this new platform. With this encountered new challenge and the context of the war in Ukraine, the partners in Sardinia readjust the pilot project and manage to eventually deliver a large number of activities through a double pilot project:

First, “InPari per gli Ucraini” – Together for the Ukrainians project provided for migrants’ is a pilot project that EPIC partners have carried out in collaboration with the Regional Committee for Emigration – CREI ACLI in Sardinia and the support of a large number of stakeholders (ANOLF, AMAL, Blue Sardinia Asd, A.Doc., FAP ACLI, OCI, Spazi D’Ascolto, Mereu Autotrasporti, USUP). It offers Ukrainian refugees career counselling, educational, sport, art and cultural orientation and enrolment, and psychological support through a series of individual meetings, weekly labs and workshops over at least 5 months (duration of the pilot), monthly guided tours, and 3 Italian language courses, in which 44 refugee children, 71 refugee women, 2nd generation kids but also Sardinian kids have been enrolled. By spring 2023, approximately 300 refugees have participated in these activities, where Ukrainian-speakers cultural mediators plaid a critical role in guaranteeing to remove language and cultural barriers. This pilot, similarly to others already presented, had per objective to create under a single umbrella a comprehensive support system for refugees that can lighten and speed up the integration process for newcomers.

The second Sardinia project “Conoscere riconoscendosi – Teatri di vita” (Learning while knowing yourself – Life theatres) is pretty unique in comparison to other EPIC’s pilots because it aims at reducing inequalities experienced by accompanied and unaccompanied migrant children aged between 14 and 18 years who are in care, and at facilitating Italian language acquisition and educational inclusion in the metropolitan city of Cagliari and in southern Sardinia. The artistic coordinator has designed a programme based on David R. Hawkins’s map of consciousness focusing on therapeutic healing and the conscientising of the potential of drama workshops. The group of youth engaged in workshops is very diverse (mainly of Ukrainian, Albanian, Egyptian, Palestinian, Tunisian, and Turkish origin but also others) and aged between 15 and 17 years old. As the project targets youngsters, most of whom are in a very vulnerable situation, social services have been closely involved in the whole process, and the planning phase has been quite lengthy to ensure that the various needs and ethical issues were properly addressed.

CONCLUSIONS AND PROPOSED NEXT STEPS:

  • Systemic and systematic interventions, such as a labour market portal in a public administration, are hard to transfer and implement due to a number of barriers, from technical to challenging the status quo at local labour markets
  • The pilots implemented are rich and important but have a smaller scale and long-term sustainability
  • The culture of “wrapping” integration into projects outsourced to NGOs seems to be prevalent in many cities, but this often addresses the effects and not also the causes of migrants’ exclusion
  • The need for both complementary/partner work of both LAs and NGOs on integration (also within project-funded processes), as well as need for developing tools for the systemic inclusion of migrants, should be addressed at the high level of EU and national administrations

SISAK, CROATIA

The pilot project “Inclusive Sisak” led by the municipality and its key partner ​Local Democracy Agency (LDA) Sisak, was implemented in collaboration with a wide partnership (JRS Croatia associates, Centre for Cultural Dialogue, NGO Civil Rights Project Sisak, Red Cross Sisak, Library of the City of Sisak, Employment Bureau Sisak). After a research analysis conducted by the mentioned actors about migrants in the city, it was found that there was no local example of engaging migrants in any community development work, where they can actively contribute to creating activities and get involved in the decision-making process of any kind, including about their integration activities. Having that in mind, and recognising the need to provide support in job search to people who do not understand yet how the local market operates, the pilot project offers two-way support:

  • a set of educational workshops to increase the employment possibilities of migrants in Sisak, through education, support and promotional activities
  • to develop a sustainable welcome and integration network at the local level

This pilot project aims to introduce the path, which will enable the migrants to learn about a new culture, build their capacity, get employed and help them to stand on their own feet, instead of being lifetime-dependent on government support and other humanitarian aid organisations.

Implementation of this project had five major activities in which migrants received training to strengthen their own employment and active citizenship capacities. Further on, the pilot also set up a library corner in the local library with a quality offer of books in migrants’ own languages and books translated to migrants’ languages, did some cultural exchange activities and joint actions of the local coordination for integration, and gathered relevant local stakeholders. After this, LDA Sisak announced a tender in early 2023 to employ one resident from a migrant background who would be a cultural mediator acting as a bridge builder between the migrant community and the native-born local community. This person will be employed on a full-time work contract with the project partner LDA Sisak.

Moreover, the LDA Sisak is working on employing a local coordinator for integration of migrants – also from a migrant origin. For this engagement, an Employment Integration Plan (EIP) for the new employee is being developed with the support of JRS Croatia which has strong experience in employing migrants.

CONCLUSIONS AND PROPOSED NEXT STEPS:

  • The pilot project has a strong component of empowerment of migrants as well as labour market inclusion
  • The Employment Integration Plan (EIP) as well as an experience of employing migrants to public sector positions  are the good practice that can benefit other territories
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