ARRIVAL REGIONS: How to arrive AND stay in rural Central Europe?

We are all migrants

I would like to start this post with my personal introduction: “Hello. My Name is Serhii. I am 25 years old and I am a migrant. ” A bit more than 4 years ago when I came from Kyiv to Leipzig to study I became one of the 22,3 Millions of non-EU nationals living in the European Union (Eurostat 2019). Do I feel integrated in local society at this point? – Yes, to a certain extent. I came here to do my master’s degree, I made some local friends, learned the language (though my German skills could be much better) and now I have a full time job. My path here was rather smooth. However, this is not the case for many immigrants arriving to EU nowadays. And integration is even more complicated for those arriving in rural areas.

The 2010’s became the first decade when immigration flows systematically started to bring international migrants to rural regions in Central Europe. Due to the lack of a welcoming culture, the majority of migrants initially settled in rural areas are moving to bigger cities. As human capital is one of the most important assents of economic development in the modern world, rural municipalities should do their best in order to maintain and integrate these arriving immigrants.  Moreover, these municipalities should search for innovative approaches that can support integration processes, as traditional ones seem to be ineffective. The ARRIVAL REGIONS Interreg Central Europe project has an aim to promote social innovation approaches to make integration of non-EU nationals in rural Central Europe a success story. But what do we mean by ‘social innovations’? ARRIVAL REGIONS defines social innovation as any novel approaches that meet needs of immigrants that are necessary for their successful integration.

In autumn and winter 2019/20 the transnational project team has visited initiatives and projects all over Europe in order to investigate the best practices of social innovation in the field of integration. For example, in Spain we visited CEPAIM foundation in Seville and Teruel (pic. 1), which runs such projects as Red Centros de Itaca and Nuevos Senderos. This organization believes that there is no standard methodology that can lead to a successful integration of every single immigrant. Instead, CEPAIM Foundation provides personalized help taking into consideration the migrant’s educational and professional backgrounds, life experiences and personal goals.

Pic. 1: ARRIVAL REGIONS visits the CEPAIM Foundation in Teruel (27.09.2019, own photo)

Another good example of social innovation is the BlankPilots project led by Treibhaus Döbeln. High levels of bureaucracy are among the most prominent features of European states and almost every citizen learns how to deal with it from an early age. At the same time, unravelling red tape becomes one of the first major challenges non-EU migrants have to face in Central Europe. For instance, the application form for a residence permit in Germany consists of 16 pages with more than 120 lines to fill in (pic. 2). What is more, all of the answers must be provided in German. Any mistake in this blank can result in the application being rejected.  Thus, the main aim of the BlankPilots project is to help migrants to correctly fill in the forms and documents (applications for a residence permit, application to schools, energy contracts etc.), to teach them how to orient themselves in German bureaucratic machine and consequentially improve their quality of life.

Pic. 2: Application form for a residence permit in Germany (21.10.2019, own photo)

Integration is a double sided process (Zahl-Thanem & Haugen 2019) and as a consequence local actors and citizens should also adopt certain behavioral changes which will make rural communities more welcoming. This also could be make with the help of social innovations. For example, results of Borderland People project carried in Eastern Poland show that artistic approaches and animation by culture could be used to fight intolerance, racism and xenophobia. The detailed reports of this and other study trips carried out in the ARRIVAL REGIONS project, e.g. to Italy, Norway or Sweden,  can be found on project’s official web-page, Facebook or Instagram.

Inspired by the experiences of the visited best practices, our partners from Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Poland and Slovenia are ready to start their own pilot projects that should support the integration of non-EU migrants in their respective areas. Which pilots are going to turn out successful and which are not? We will see. But one thing is for sure – more posts about ARRIVAL REGIONS are coming. And I hope that in 2 years our project team will be able to give you an answer on how to create local cultures of welcome that encourage non-EU migrants not only to arrive, but also stay and integrate in rural Central Europe.

ARRIVAL REGIONS is supported be the Interreg Central Europe program funded under the European Regional Development Fund.

Serhii Svynarets is a geographer and also has a master’s degree in Sustainable Development. Since June 2019, he has been working at the IfL as a researcher on the ARRIVAL REGIONS project.

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