Lessons from the EUROCITIES Social Affairs Forum in Athens


Our social affairs forum met in Athens on 17-18 October, on the theme of ‘welcoming refugees – a city challenge’.

More than 150 participants from over 47 cities, including 29 politicians, attended the event, which included a private political session and the launch of the ‘Solidarity Cities’ initiative. The initiative received a widespread media coverage in the Greek and European press.

Our working groups on migration and integration and creative citizenship met alongside the forum.

During the debates and work sessions we learned that:

Integration starts at day one

Integration activities that start right away upon arrival of refugees and asylum seekers are more likely to be successful, compared with those that start only once refugee status has been granted. Furthermore, it is more effective to improve and upgrade existing services already available to everyone than to create parallel structures for supporting refugees arriving in cities. This also avoids creating tensions between different groups in need of support.

Cities want to work together 

Cities are increasingly keen to work directly with each other to exchange knowledge and build capacity, to make solidarity in the field of reception and integration work in practice. This will be the essence of the Solidarity Cities initiative.

Co-creation is part of the solution 

Co-creation, i.e. civic-public partnerships involving, for example, grassroots organisations and the city administration, can bring quick and efficient solutions to social problems that the city itself would otherwise have been unable to provide due to budget constraints or slower decision making. Examples of such solutions include an app similar to Airbnb providing accommodation for refugees. There is the need to develop criteria and indicators on social innovation that can help measure impact.

Culture can be a tool for integration  

Culture and the arts matter when it comes to the inclusion of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. Getting involved in cultural projects - as a spectator or as an artist - is a way to increase people’s sense of community and belonging, raise their self-esteem and develop their skills. New EUROCITIES guidelines on the role of culture in the integration of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers in cities can be found here.

Our next social affairs forum will be in Lisbon - exact dates and themes to be confirmed.