The CONNECTION team outside Ristorante Al Fassia in Turin

The first Community of Practice in the EU-funded CONNECTION project is tackling a wide-ranging and complex theme with a large and fascinatingly diverse group of cities and towns. After a year of meeting and visiting online only, we were finally able to get together in person for the first time in October 2021 in Turin, feasting on Italian delicacies whilst tackling the substantial and wide-ranging theme of ‘Strategic Approaches to Integration, Participation and Interaction’. Colleagues from Prague, Paris, Thessaloniki, Zagreb, MigrationWork and Eurocities gathered together in Turin, along with colleagues from Turin municipality, from ANCI Piemonte (a regional development agency) and the three nearby towns of Asti, Cuneo and Settimo Torinese.

For Turin, the pandemic has offered an opportunity for the city to reinvent itself, and to learn from migrants within the city. One such strategic innovation has been the development of a network of local associations and the municipality itself, called Torino Plurale. This network began by coordinating food donations but has now widened its remit to develop cooperation and joint training opportunities between the members, in order to increase their sustainability and viability.

On the second morning, the visitors then took part in a Migrantour of the city. These tours, established and led by migrants, showcase the city through the lens of its historic migration waves. Participants walked through markets and past buildings which testify to how migration has shaped the city, seeing vendors from all corners of the world – China, Peru, Morocco and many others – selling food and other goods side by side. It was a beautiful day, and sharp sun and the wafts of fragrant fresh mint in panniers inspired fresh thoughts and much enthusiasm before heading to lunch in one of the many beautiful Turin piazze.

Lunch set us up for some weighty learning in the afternoon. Community of Practice visitors were very impressed to learn about the ‘Common Goods Pact for Antiracist Turin’, a strategic approach involving communities directly in the conception, implementation and evaluation of the cities policies. The pact was signed in March 2021 and is based on an assertion that Turin’s heritage of antiracist actions and practice constitutes in its own right a ‘bene commune’, or common good, which must be valued, protected and celebrated. As the first pact of this nature in Italy, it is trail-blazing and is not just words – it also involves a range of planned actions, projects and commitments, all aimed at reducing racism and discrimination.

The key purpose of these visits is for cities to problem-solve: sharing challenges they face, asking questions from an outside perspective and seeing issues through others’ eyes. Turin used the opportunity to explore how they might strengthen the link between education and employment opportunities. The workshops helped stimulate thoughts about a migrant strategy; the role of internal coordination networks between departments; and developing structured networks with the private sector.

Prague explored how they might better engage migrants in the development and implementation of their integration policies, with an incisive presentation summarising the key challenges which they face and relevant context. Other cities asked questions to deepen their understanding of the challenges faced, and suggested that there must be political will to value migrants’ experiences and to listen to their concerns and ideas, in order for migrants to be meaningfully engaged. Social events would support their engagement, and regular reviewing would be needed to make sure that engagement strategies are effective and relevant. These discussions stimulated new thinking for all involved.

The visit also enabled the Community of Practice to watch and learn from a range of interesting local projects. The Teranga project for example, run by the Fanon Association, offers psychological support to migrants, and is now embedding this support offering into the reception and accommodation system. The Rifugio Diffuso project, through which Italian families host refugees, was another interesting example and the MOI project in particular fascinated visitors – an experimental pilot initiative which looks to support migrants housed in the Olympic village in order to help them transition into new accommodation and find employment opportunities. Finally, the CivicoZero Centre in Turin was visited – this supports unaccompanied minors to access a range of services and was originally run by NGOs but has now been integrated into Turin municipalities’ services. It was also opposite an absolutely fantastic gelateria which gave a welcome and delicious sugar boost to the learning during the day.

We are now looking forward to the next visits in 2022 due to be in Thessaloniki and Zagreb, to meeting each other again and to further develop our thinking on integration strategies!

The CONNECTION project, led by Eurocities and co-financed by the EU Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, promotes transnational learning about and implementation of integration policies.