How to build a stronger integration strategy for people with a migration background: the INTEgreat Project

Spain’s current policies are slightly more inclusive than those of other EU countries, according to the 2020 Migrant Integration Policy Index. As part of the INTEgreat project, Open Cultural Center conducted research on integration in Spain in the areas of health, employment, training, and social cohesion. The conclusions were clear: findings from the research show that newcomers face several obstacles in accessing essential services. Moreover, the Spanish integration system currently lacks a robust national strategy on integration.

What’s the status of integration in Spain?

Since 2018, the country experienced a significant increase in the population of asylum seekers, particularly due to new arrivals from Venezuela and Colombia, making it one of the largest recipients of asylum seekers in the European Union. Results show that while Spain has been able to implement reforms that favour the inclusion of people with migration background in the country, there are several shortcomings that prevent them from easily accessing key services, especially in the area of health and employment. 

In the health sector, migrant people benefit from responsive services, but administrative barriers and lack of information in their native language hinder their full access to them. Language barriers also affect people’s employment and training opportunities, as well as their capacity to validate their diplomas and access networks. In terms of social cohesion, people who suffer from discrimination can benefit from strong enforcement mechanisms, but the country’s equality body is weak. Access to nationality is also Spain’s main area of weakness.

Finally, migrant women, especially those with young children, have multiple vulnerability factors that put them at increased risk of social isolation and loneliness, as they do not have the social resources outside their family ties or communities. 

What’s the situation of integration in Catalonia?

Catalonia, as an Autonomous Community, has some competencies in areas directly related to the integration of migrants. The main areas are education and health. central state controls and approves the basic legislation on these competencies but it is Catalonia’s responsibility to develop and implement them. On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that Catalonia has exclusive competencies in two other fundamental areas related to migration: housing and social assistance, although in both areas the importance of agreements with the state are needed. 

Catalonia, as well as Spain, experienced a considerable increase in the arrivals of migrants and refugees. Particularly between  1996  and  2015,  the number of foreigners registered in Catalonia grew from  97,789  to  1,023,398 and, nowadays, it represents 11,6% of the total population.

In 2008, the Government in Catalonia and various institutional, political, economic, and social agents signed the National Agreement on Immigration. It aims at achieving (1) the effective management of migratory flows and access to the labour market; (2) the adaptation of public services to a diverse society with a universal reception service; and (3) integration into a common public culture that fosters participation in public life, Catalan as a common language, plurality of religion and beliefs, gender equality and the strengthening of social policies.

What role does the INTEgreat project play in this?

INTEgreat is a 3-year project funded by the European Union, started in January 2022, which brings together municipalities, non-profit organizations, academia, and civil societies to create an innovative integration strategy framework. It aims to build a stronger integration strategy and ecosystem for migrants and asylum seekers (women, men, families, LGBTIQ) in Europe, in four main areas: healthcare, employment, capacity building and training of migrants and local citizens, and social cohesion. The expected impact is the enhancement of migration policies through creating an innovative integration strategy applicable at the EU level that will facilitate a more harmonious inclusion of migrants in society.

During the first year, partner organizations carried out research efforts in their own countries (Italy, Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Ireland) to assess the current status of national integration policies and identify best practices and blind spots. In the upcoming months, partners will work on developing a participatory Integration Strategy Framework (ISF) and test it through pilot activities to better promote integration in their respective countries through effective methods.