Migration and regions

Magnus Berntsson

President of AER

Migration has been part of human history since the beginning of time. It remains ever present in the globalized world we live in today, where migration is an inextricable part of social, cultural, economic, political and technological transformation of society. 

In 2017, the total number of international migrants accounted for 258 million and since the year 2000 the number of international migrants has increased by almost 50 %.  Illustrating that we live in a time of high mobility and migration. We see that an increasing number of people migrate or seek to migrate, a trend that is bound to continue in the foreseeable future.  

This has not gone unnoticed, as of late migration has gained a lot of traction on the political agenda. With the political currents seen across the world, migration has become a salient topic with clear lines of division to be found both within Europe as well as beyond. 

While the overall migration flows nowadays may have declined, the pressure remains, especially on the subnational level. Supporting the integration of the newly arrived has become a priority for European regions, municipalities and cities. The subnational level has proven instrumental in promoting integration and contributing to social, economic and civic inclusion. 

When speaking of migration and integration one must consider the national context. Regions’ competences in these areas varies greatly depending on country. In my home region, Västra Götaland in Sweden we work with integration from three different perspectives: 

- as a regional development actor, we initiate collaboration and co-finance projects, among other things in the area of labor market integration.

- being in charge of health care we have set a goal of equal health and care, where we actively work with vulnerable target groups such as people with weak socio-economic background, people with migrant background. 

- and in our role as the county's largest employer, where we can be an example of diversity in recruitment, and have different initiatives such as subsidized jobs, internships etc. targeted at the target group. 

Moving from one region to a network consisting of 150 regions across wider Europe, AER’s engagement on the issue of migration and integration stretches back more than a decade. With the background of regions having different competences regarding migration and integration, AER applies a pragmatic approach that the member regions can find common ground on. AER works with these issues through its committees that focuses on knowledge sharing, the bureau which works with advocacy work and to through project activities.    

In 2008, the AER General Assembly adopted the “Tampere declaration on Migration and Integration”. A declaration that looks at integration from a multidisciplinary approach. However, the networks engagement does not stop there. In 2015, AER adopted a political statement on “Facing the migration and refugee challenges” and in 2019 its task force on migration adopted a position “Towards an intercultural Europe”. Once again reiterating the pragmatic stance of regions – finding solution and cooperation where the national and international level are stuck in discussions. 

AER also works with the issue of migration and integration on a more practical level, this is done through EU-projects and sharing knowledge and experience. Currently, AER is active in an EU-funded project that focuses on access to service for migrants with disabilities, called AMiD. The project aims to raise awareness among subnational authorities about one of the most fragile within the disadvantaged groups: migrants with disabilities. Working with stakeholders from a wide variety of countries such as Belgium, Finland, Greece and Italy just to mention a few. This project with regions from a wide variety of countries illustrates that regardless of national context, regions can cooperate on a more practical level and learn from each other.  

Another exciting opportunity that AER is involved in is the project led by the International Organization for Migration in collaboration with AER. The project, named Includ-EU, seeks to take advantage of regional and local expertise, exchange and engagement to enhance social cohesion in Europe. The project takes on the following objectives:

a) enhance local and regional actors’ knowledge and capacities to implement innovative integration measures, by analyzing integration practices to distil thematic policy recommendations, and offering tailored capacity building opportunities; 

b) promote the implementation of innovative integration actions at territorial level, identifying lessons to enable their replication or scaling up; 

c) set an informal network that encourages and leverages on diversity as an added value to facilitate integration, through regional thematic exchanges.

The project has generated a great deal of enthusiasm and buy-in from all corners. Notably, the Council of Europe, has gotten involved, supporting the initiative in light of its upscaling potential and giving input on the project activities in order to create the foundation to expand the intercultural cities network to the regions. Two AER member regions are also part of the consortium: Catalonia and Sardinia.

These ideas and initiatives aim to foster an inclusive society - based on tolerance and respect - and protecting citizens’ social rights by promoting a more inclusive and fairer Europe, all of which are cornerstones of AER’s vision for the future of Europe. AER member regions have been committed to cooperate more effectively to manage migration and successfully harness the benefits of diversity for better social cohesion outcomes, through multi-level and multi-actor cooperation. 

However, AER also call on the national and international level to recognize that the cost of migration and integration usually borne at a local and regional level requires adequate financing allocated from national governments and the EU.

This cooperation should not be limited to European regions only. In order for us to handle the issue of migration and integration, we need to cooperate across borders. The Assembly of European Regions will continue to advocate for the successful management of migration and an increased emphasis on integration and diversity with an accentuated role for regions. Ideally this should be done in close cooperation with other regional networks, such as ORU Fogar. Through closer cooperation we can raise the important role regions play in migration and integration issues worldwide. 


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