European Cities Network on Migration - Kick Off Roundtable Report

Experience in Management of Economic Integration in Line with Liberal Principles through Cross-Border Exchanges
ELF Kick Off
© Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

Migration is increasingly becoming a challenge for European integration. The so-called “crisis” is primarily a crisis of deficient migration management. It creates political conflicts at the transnational, national and at local level. Tailoring integration strategies to local contexts, while maintaining a coherent European approach is particularly challenging.

Local communities are the first to deal systematically with incoming migrants. Migrants’ experiences at local level determine their long-term integration. Local communities accomplish immense tasks during the integration process. However, they play a limited role in related policy debates and in decision-making, too.

The “European Cities Network on Migration” aims at strengthening migration management through liberal principles via a transnational network of local communities. Local community stakeholders cooperate to share experiences and best practices regarding the integration of migrants, and they develop inclusive, sustainable common policies based on European principles and carry these out up to European standards.

Representatives from local governments, entrepreneurs, academics, activists and NGOs from Turkey, Greece, Spain and Germany convene in a network to exchange knowledge and experiences, and to establish the mechanisms so as to learn how to benefit from the opportunities migration provides, and to support the liberal narrative for integration.

As the first step towards establishing the European Cities Network on Migration, a kick-off  roundtable meeting organized by the European Liberal Forum was held with the support of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF). The experts discussed the challenges and the countries’ experiences of migration in the European region, with the aim of building a framework for the mechanisms and to learn how to benefit from the opportunities provided by migration, and to support the liberal narratives for integration. Special attention was paid to Turkey’s role, as migration and refugee issues are the most important dimension in Turkey-EU relations.

The speakers from every country gave an overview of the general situation of migration in their respective countries. Discussions centered on the legal status of refugees/migrants, their living conditions, education, employment and integration in its various l forms.  Here are the main findings:

  • Integrating refugees/migrants into the labour market: European countries (with the exception of Greece) seem not to face major issues in integrating migrants into the labour market, as the reports on the positive effects of migrants on the economy of especially Spain and Germany show. The majority of the refugees in Turkey work in the informal sector. But on the other hand, the informal market offered Syrians the opportunity to work in Turkey. The authorities have accepted this informality as this  formed part of the Turkish economy even before the arrival of the Syrians. The Syrians in Turkey earn very low incomes and are considered cheap labour. Furthermore, Turkish municipalities hesitate to take action on the issue of the employment of Syrians, to avoid social tension.
  • Regarding Greece, the type of registration seems to affect the access of refugees/migrants into the labour market.

Action Point for Germany: The need to achieve more progress in labour market integration for refugees and asylum seekers, and build networks with employers, companies and municipalities, and to organize meetings with them to detect their needs and eliminate the shortages.

Action Point for Turkey: Relaxation of rules on work permits and the employment of Syrians in Turkey.


  • Living conditions and cash assistance:  migrants living in countries that have adopted policies to integrate migrants into the labour market seem not to face difficult living conditions like others in Greece and Turkey. While 30% of the refugees in Turkey get cash assistance from the ESSN (Emergency Social Safety Net) program, this aid is considered insufficient to improve their living conditions, as 52% of the Syrians in Turkey are still unemployed. The type of registration in Greece seems to affect the access to the labour market, healthcare and education.

Action Point for Turkey: More encouraging employment policies should be established.

Action Point for Greece: Changing the registration method would help in improving refugees’ living conditions and helping them to access basic services.


  • Education and Training: Turkey is lagging behind in dealing with and providing suitable education for refugees, as the Syrians still have a language barrier that creates an obstacle against their knowledge of local rules and regulation (such as taxes and employment laws). Moreover, over 300,000 vocational training certificates were given to Syrians in Turkey without any practical use or regardless of the fields and their needs. However, vocational training and language courses have changed Syrian women’s lives and culture in Turkey, where they have started to be more active in both society and the labour market. On the other hand, Germany has succeeded in providing education with a language element for migrants, echoing the slogan “learning by doing”.

Action Point for Turkey: Donors should focus on the needs of the various fields.

Action Point for Greece: Establishing a specialised educational plan for the refugees.


  • Integration: Despite the political, media and public debates on the migration issue, however, it can be considered that Germany is the only country that has succeeded in establishing and implementing integration policies at the national and local levels; whilst the other countries continue to face obstacles in formulating and establishing integration policies in line with its societies’ characteristics and implementing them on the ground. Regardless of the established and applied integration policies, not all countries face major issues between the local societies and the refugee/migrant societies. (Are you sure this is what you want to say here?  Or do you mean, ‘all countries face major issues………’ ?  Editor)

Action Point for Spain: Confronting the negative narratives about migration. Working closely together with civil society and the migrants themselves is the key to successful integration.

Action Point for Turkey: Creating an effective integration policy for each province in Turkey and enabling it to be implemented by the local administration.

Action Point for Greece: Developing concrete and indicative integration policies.


  • Local administrations: The role of the local administrations in all countries, apart from Germany, appears to be absent. In Turkey, the lack of funds, staff and capacity seem to be a great challenge for the administrations, which prevents it from developing strategies regarding the refugees. In Spain, the administrations seem to be divorced from the facts and do not have a true picture of what is happening in the two societies.

Action Point for Turkey: Granting initiatives to local administrations is a must to developing a local integration policy. Along with better planning at the central government level and the local level, stakeholders’ and  EU support is a must to meet the real needs of refugees in Turkey.

Action Point for Spain: Integrating civil society organizations with the local government.

Action Point for Germany: Providing support at the local level and communicating with the migrant groups.


  • COVID-19 Pandemic: refugees seem to be in a more vulnerable situation and facing more negative effects during the pandemic. Moreover, tension between the two societies in Turkey has increased in the pandemic. Spain has also faced some issues regarding migrants’ access to the health system, and the rise in tension with  local society has been obvious.