IncluCities Study Visits

First round of four virtual study visits

In May and June 2021, the IncluCities consortium organised four virtual study visits. The mentoring and mentee cities invited their local support networks to share, exchange, listen and learn one from another in order to start building an action plan to improve practices of integration in different local contexts.

Main visual visit


Mentoring scheme 1: Conducting a strategic assessment of the needs of migrant residents and developing an appropriate, gender-sensitive response | Online 3-4 May | Mentor: City of Brussels / Brulocalis | Mentee: Saint-Jean-de-la-Ruelle / AFCCRE 

In the discussion around the different status of foreigners and corresponding integration trajectories and support measures, the mentee city explained the functioning of the French Asylum system. The structure of migrants of Saint Jean de la Ruelle showed that migrant communities in the area were mainly Morrocans and Turks/Turkish speakers in the past and that these communities had grown in response to the demand for labour from local industry. Recruitment had been quite independent of the State authorities and mainly managed directly by the employers with a simple procedure. Workers were encouraged to recruit others in Morocco, creating a snowball effect. Businesses helped with accommodation and a club of working Moroccans “club des travailleurs marocains” was established. This first wave of migrant workers formed the base of the current migrant population in the city.

Available quantitative data on migration in the city shows that the first generation of migrants have stayed, so there is a significant population of older migrants. There are big economic disparities. Jobs are highly gendered, and women’s work tends to be less stable.

A series of discussions on different thematic areas were introduced, from migrants’ access to basic services such as healthcare and accommodation to employment, active participation in local life, the status of women and gender-related issues.

Some of the main challenges that migrants in Saint Jean de la Ruelle are experiencing are the language barrier and consequent lack of understanding of the complex administrative procedures around migration, followed by social exclusion.

Kay takeaways of the study visit:

  • Establishing a large network of partners is crucial.
  • A One-Stop Service such as BAPA would be “a dream” for St Jean de la Ruelle.
  • Language has been the main barrier: funding was needed, but volunteers (as in BAPA example of good practice), could play a vital role.
  • The virtual visit  made the needs of migrants, including migrant women, more concrete, helped identify actors and barriers to integration and showed the determination and energy of partners in St Jean de la Ruelle to tackle the issue.
  • The European dimension is key, there was a clear willingness - and need - to engage the public.
  • Some themes, such as interpretation and women’s rights, were common to other city pairs, so it would be interesting to exchange on these topics and practices.
  • Brussels has useful expertise to share from its 5-6 consultative forums, although the context is very different.

Carla Rey


Mentoring scheme 2: How to build a vision of a ‘city for all’ | Online 21-24 June | Mentor: City of Mechelen /Association of Flemish Cities and Municipalities | Mentee: City of Capaci / AICCRE 

Opening the debate on policy participation and inclusive communication, Carla Rey, Secretary-General at AICCRE, stressed the importance of the project for Capaci as part of the Sicilian district of Partinico and, more generally, the importance of the project as a pilot experience that would be used as an example and could potentially be replicated in other similar contexts in Italy.

Gabriella de Francesco, from the City Council of Mechelen, emphasized the importance of talking with, and not only about, people. She explained how Mechelen went through a big transformation in the past 20 years to become an open city. They built up the resources and proceeded to a mental shift, and the city developed a clear vision and a positive narrative: “Mechelen is not against, but pro”. She stressed that the tone of voice, language, and use of words are very important.

Sabine Van Cauwenberge, from VVSG, presented the key concepts at the core of the work that the association is doing with the cities in Flanders: participation, citizenship, common belonging and active participation of all the citizens to the city life. She highlighted the role of the advisory participation board, which has been instituted by the Flanders Regional Governments since 1998 and which developed, through different stages, to the current structure that is known today. The Advisory Board can decide on the tools to involve the citizens in the discussions and activities around the integration and promotion of cultural diversity. In order to access public funds, it has to add specific activities targeting vulnerable groups, especially newcomers and people with a higher possibility of being marginalized. Presentation of the several projects ongoing in Mechelen, with particular attention to the Buddy Project and how it was the result of an intensive dialogue between the city, the schools and a reference group, was a valuable inspiration for the local support network from Sicily.

In the following session of the study visit, addressing the accessible services and empowerment of newcomers, the main points of the successful linguistic policies in Mechelen were presented. The importance of increasing meeting opportunities, which help connect newcomers and locals, were offered as inspiration. Networking and social participation sessions focused on different formats of the Belgian Buddy project and reflection on how these could be developed in the Italian partner city. 

Key takeaways of this study visit were:

  • Any further action needs to be led by those with the capacity and authority to take the development of a coordinated response forward. The focus of learning to improve local integration practices is not simply about introducing new projects, but also about fundamentally transforming the culture of this region from being one of ‘emergency welcome’ to one of genuine inclusiveness for all those living in the towns and the area. For this, leadership is of paramount importance.
  • It would be useful to identify the key individuals working in all organisations interested in engaging with the issue of ‘transforming the culture’ and interested in getting involved at a practical level with projects and initiatives to help this happen. This will include people working at a municipal level, but also in other key institutions (schools etc) and within associations and community groups.
  • Following the stakeholder mapping, it was suggested that a network could usefully be set up locally to help facilitate discussion and exchange on potential developments around both projects, communications, and the formulation of a wider strategy and vision for Capaci and the Sicilian region.

Study visit Levadia Fuenlabrada


Mentoring scheme 3: Mobilising citizens to develop tools for decent employment and entrepreneurship for migrants and refugees | Online 18, 19 & 21 May | Mentor: City of Fuenlabrada (ES), Federación Española de Municipios y Provincias (FEMP) | Mentee: City of Livadia (GR), Central Union of Greek Municipalities (K.E.D.E.) 

Presentation of the need analysis of Livadia and introduction to integration bodies and policies in the city shed light on the current migrant situation in the city. The population of the Greek municipality of Livadia is 33,000, and the number of immigrants is 2,000, most of them coming from the Eastern European area and working in the agricultural sector, with women working in the areas of cleaning and caring for the elderly. Many of these immigrants have been living in Livadia for a long time and have started their businesses. One of Livadia's objectives is to guarantee the basic principles of integration to promote social sustainability among the different groups that make up society. 

Presentation of Fuenlabrada’s experiences in terms of employment and migrant inclusion included a presentation of its best practices such as MILMA, board of coexistence, anti rumours campaign.

The key takeaways from the study visit are:

  • Including immigrants in the evaluation and monitoring processes of the action plan, is important to ensure that their perception about the changes and results obtained are taken into account. It is also important to know if, ultimately, Livadia does meet immigrants’ needs.
  • Including refugee people in these processes might be complicated because of the language barrier. Therefore, Livadia should offer an interpretation.
  • It was also suggested to implement a migrant panel to ensure migrant participation, but also to involve immigrants’ parents to Parents Associations in schools, Conservatory, or Art. Give immigrant children a chance to learn other languages too.
  • Educate kids against racism, discrimination and xenophobia. 
  • Use casual networks to fight against racism and hate and allow them to be accomplices of local administrations. They would be key players and could act as mediators or even as interpreters.
  • If some immigrant people can act as interpreters, that will also generate employment in the city.


study visit Jelgava

Mentoring scheme 4: Supporting language learning in formal and non-formal settings Online 12 May & 14 May | Mentor: Municipality of Schaerbeek/ Brulocalis | Mentee: City of Jelgava / Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments 

Language is the most important tool when we speak about education for children and adults alike. In Latvia, language is a political topic since the country’s independence in 1991, when it has been seen as a political tool for the integration of its own population first, before being seen as a tool for newcomers.

Schaerbeek has a long tradition of being a welcoming municipality, and this is partially due to the impact of the policies of one of the past mayors, who was very harsh on migrants between 1970 and 1980. His action led to the flourishing of a very proactive third sector (associations, NGOs, citizen initiatives) that is still active today. The collaboration between these associations and the municipality is strong and well established and thanks to this, the integration procedures at the local level are solidly entrenched and well-oiled. Regions have formalized these procedures by building a personalized path of integration through a “contrat d’accueil” in which the learning of the language (French, in this case) is the first objective (up to 1200 hours of lessons). Schaerbeek presented their good practice, the project CAMIM (ppt), and how it led to the language learning support in their local context.

Key takeaways of the first study visit

  • A lack of a clear vision about migration at the national level in Latvia and the perception of Jelgava as a place of transit with no expectation of increasing migration, which can make language learning support seem less important. 
  • At the same time, Jelgava is already attracting many economic migrants and international students. Recognising their potential to meet local needs for workers is a strong argument for thinking about how to improve Latvian language learning support. Jelgava’s cultural diversity and the existing support offer for language learning and for volunteering provide a solid basis for this.
  • There are many opportunities for formal & non-formal language learning in Jelgava - from language clubs via classroom formats to courses with vocational profiles. However, a lack of sustainable planning and financing at the national level for language learning (project-based funding) risks causing difficulties for migrants to understand and access the offer.
  • Colleagues from the mentor team wondered whether all non-Latvian speakers who want to learn the language and engage in volunteering were effectively reached. There could be more multilingual information and outreach towards those who might find it difficult to get information and orientation - in particular when they do not have a social network in Latvia.
  • The mentor city also suggests considering the provision of specific courses for migrants with little formal education, due to their specific learning needs and speed.
  • The case of one of the migrants interviewed who learned Latvian with the support of her children’s teacher could inspire a new approach on how to reach more non-Latvian speakers via schools.
  • Mentor colleagues believe that the city’s perception of volunteering as the main instrument for social integration and language learning has a great potential, which it will regain once the pandemic is behind us. It would be worthwhile to ask migrants (all types) which types of activities they would be particularly interested in.
  • Another interesting suggestion was to improve the integration of international students. The municipality could consider taking up some of them (e.g. involvement in cultural and volunteering activities) and strengthen its links with the university in these areas to achieve better integration of international students in city life and to improve their Latvian language skills.
  • Mentors gained the impression that housing represents a big problem for newcomers and wondered whether there is potential for incorporating housing into volunteering activities (e.g. housing buddies, co-housing, etc), with the side effect of overcoming the isolation of newcomers and improving their language skills

For further reading, check these documents:

- Minutes of the Study visits

- The Benchmarks report