Rome – Baba Sissoko, a 28-year-old originally from Mali, has undergone a profound transformation in the past few years. Now residing in Certaldo, Italy, he has secured a job at a local bakery, embracing a newfound sense of autonomy. The journey to his new life in Italy was shaped by a challenging migration experience, driven by a desire for independence, work, and dignity.
Baba’s journey to Italy started in 2015, alongside a friend he met during his journey from Mali. However, the path to Italy was far from straightforward. Before reaching the shores of Italy, Baba encountered a myriad of challenges during his two-year stay in Libya. Despite the hardships he endured, his determination and resilience only grew stronger as he moved forward on his quest for a better life in Italy.
Maurizio Cei, EVVAI Project Manager at CO&SO Empoli, recalls his first impression of Baba, a vivid image of him clutching a notebook en route to his first Italian class. Part of the ANCI Toscana local pilot initiative, EVVAI stands as a beacon for fostering the integration of migrants in the local culture, labour market, and society. Under the project’s wings, Baba was able to find his place in the workforce and found a flat to rent with his friend, Baradji.
“Throughout these years, I have seen him grow extensively and the support he has received has been crucial to becoming the man he is today,” says Maurizio.
Access to adequate and affordable housing is instrumental to successful integration and central to the concept of human dignity and personal development. However, achieving this fundamental right is frequently undermined by high unemployment rates, job instability, xenophobia, and discrimination.
The ever pressing need to improve integration and inclusion of migrants in Europe found a response in the “Includ-EU” project implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Testing pilot initiatives aimed at directly advancing the integration of third-country nationals, the project extended its reach across six participating countries: Italy, Greece, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, and the Netherlands.
ANCI Toscana, IOM’s partner in Italy, is actively engaged in tackling pressing challenges related to migrant access to essential services, with a primary focus on addressing housing issues. The initiative specifically targets migrants who lack reliable social support networks, even if they are employed. These housing challenges arise from a combination of factors including migratory status, the availability of social connections, high housing and rental costs, and social dynamics like mistrust and discrimination.
Today, the issue of accommodation is being addressed at the local level through collaboration between institutions, non-profits, and volunteers. A multifaceted approach was evident in Baba’s case as the employers themselves helped him in his search for an apartment. His story is a testament to the positive impact of housing and inclusion into the workforce.
Funded by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund of the European Union (EU), Includ-EU is structured around five key integration priorities outlined in the EU Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion 2021–27: labour inclusion, education, health care, housing, and fostering exchanges with host communities.
Integration is a continuous, long-term, and two-way process of mutual adaptation between migrants and host societies. It operates on multiple dimensions, manifesting across various aspects of life within specific social environments where individuals forge new identities and relationships. While integration policies are typically developed at central levels, is within regions and municipalities that people interact with institutions and engage in economic, social, cultural, and political activities.
At the heart of the Includ-EU initiative lies the desire to cultivate more inclusive and cohesive European societies. This mission is driven by the promotion of transnational knowledge transfer, the sharing of experiences, cooperative efforts, and partnerships among local and regional authorities. The project harnesses the diverse range of territorial strategies and integration expertise inherent to the participating countries.
The initiative also recognizes the crucial role of regional and local authorities as pivotal actors in the integration narrative and process. Includ-EU has set in motion a framework that encourages these stakeholders to exchange insights, learn from one another, and to innovate or replicate successful practices that cater to local demands. Each participating country is piloting a distinct integration initiative on a regional or local level while also developing a tailored monitoring framework to extract valuable insights and evaluate the progress.
In this framework, the participating countries are piloting context-based integration actions that address their specific needs, organizational structures, knowledge, capacities, and available resources. These pilot initiatives incorporate principles of social innovation, gender and age sensitivity, and can be implemented in collaboration with local partners such as employers, civil society organizations, faith-based groups, and more.
Ultimately, these pilot initiatives yield benefits not only for regional and local authorities, enhancing their capacity to plan and implement integration strategies, but more importantly, they tangibly bolster the integration process of third-country nationals.
The central aim of the project is the establishment of a coalition of regions and local authorities united by a shared purpose. This dynamic network spans a spectrum of expertise levels, channelling the diversity of territorial approaches, policies, and integration practices. Through knowledge sharing, pilot initiatives, and a resilient network, the project aims to transcend geographical borders and pave the way for sustainable and holistic integration.
The project’s pursuits adapted to each partner country’s unique context. The efforts of each partner country were then reinforced by training programmes, workshops, local and international exchanges, and mutual learning experiences.
Italy directed its focus towards addressing housing concerns, while Slovenia prioritized enhancing digital skills for migrants’ social inclusion. Romania pioneered tools to streamline information access for newcomers (One-Stop Shop), Spain launched a peer-mentoring scheme for former female unaccompanied migrant children, the Netherlands championed migrants’ active participation in designing early integration policies, and Greece tested inclusive healthcare services.
Integration policies are often conceived at a central level, yet the true essence of integration thrives within local contexts. Embracing a comprehensive approach to integration that encompasses all facets, Baba’s successful journey towards autonomy in Italy underscores the power of community and a well-knit society.
On September 6–7, 2023, authorities, stakeholders, and Includ-EU partners will convene during the project’s final event in Brussels, Belgium. This event will be an opportunity to highlight the valuable lessons learned from the project’s implementation. As the spotlight shines on the innovative solutions used, the event will also serve as a platform to advocate for their replicability and potential scale-up.
While the conference marks the project’s formal conclusion, it also symbolizes the beginning of continued collaboration. The Includ-EU network, driven by an unwavering commitment to innovation and inclusivity, will continue to inspire and shape future EU policies by embracing diversity and holistic integration.
Within the Includ-EU project framework, IOM has partnered with the Assembly of European Regions to foster intercultural integration, enabling knowledge exchange, workshops, webinars, and establishing a European network to promote interregional exchanges among diverse regional authorities.