In recent years, local governments have multiplied coordination and cooperation efforts around assistance, integration, protection and service-delivery for immigrants. One of Africa’s strongest economies, Cabo Verde, has been collaborating with MIEUX on setting up a comprehensive framework to harness the nexus between migration and development. Following the drafting of the National Immigration Strategy, MIEUX is currently supporting Cabo Verde in working to to enhance the role of local-level municipalities through a Municipal Action Plan for Immigration and Integration via a mix of activities and deploying experts from Portugal.

For this edition of Expertise, we thought it would be interesting to seek the insights of both the focal point for Cabo Verde and of one of the experts working on this Action.

  • On the side of the Cabo Verde government, Carmem L. Teixeira Barros Furtado is the Director of the General Directorate of Immigration within the Ministry of Family and Social Inclusion. She has been the focal point for several MIEUX Actions in the country.
  • Maria Assunção Fernandes Lopes Tavares, Superior Social Service Technician of the Local Support Center for the Integration of Migrants (CLAIM), Municipal districts in Portugal, is one of the experts on this Action and acts as the Social Workers Coordinator for Oeiras Municipal Council in Portugal.

MIEUX: What are the main advantages in making local governments the focal point for assisting migrants?

Carmem: Although international migration occurs when national borders are crossed, it is also true that the physical presence and social integration of immigrants take place in a given city, region or neighbourhood. In fact, all human actions are rooted somewhere: before we can say that a person lives and participates in the life of a country, we say that he or she lives in a certain neighbourhood or city.

In addition to the central authorities’ responsibilities, the challenges derived from migration to Cabo Verde have demonstrated the need and importance of local actions in different municipalities and islands. The National Immigration Strategy, created with support from MIEUX, remains a national responsibility, but an immigrant’s process of integration develops where they are based, where they work and where their children study.

Therefore, we can say that local authorities are physically closer to the communities and immigrants, and this proximity can allow for a deeper knowledge of people's needs and concerns. In addition, municipal authorities, in general, have the mission to provide different services for local communities and for this, they are, together with the non-state actors, at the ‘forefront’ of local development, the main interlocutor and representative of the State in various island and cities.

Maria Assunção: I concur with Carmem’s observations. Municipalities are democratically-elected local power and therefore represent communities and have a very close relationship with immigrants. Local power has the resources, skills and networks necessary to create an empathic relationship and to diagnose and assess an immigrant’s situation and facilitate his or her process of economic, social, political and cultural integration.

MIEUX: How do you hope to see the coordination between the local-level agencies evolve as a result of this Action?

Maria Assunção: Immigrants frequently face multiple challenges related to their individual situation and living conditions. Their inclusion in their host society requires a set of responses (health, education, documentary regularisation, safety and employment, among others) that must be organised in partnership and coordination work between agencies and in collaboration with the authorities. The professional reception and support of immigrants have the central role of understanding each particular situation and mobilising the necessary resources through all partners (public services, companies, immigrant associations and NGOs).

Carmem: All institutional diagnoses on the challenges of social integration of migrants show that the lack of coordination in the policies of different sectors is a huge concern, for example, between labour, education, health, housing, culture, and sport, as well as between different levels of government. As public institutions, we continuously need to find creative and coherent solutions to improve coordination amongst ourselves.

In local territories, we will always find different responses, projects and actions according to which actors (central government, local government, NGOs, migrants associations, the private sector and others). For the formulation of the Municipal Action Plan for Immigration and Integration and the Procedure Manual supported by MIEUX, aside from local authorities, we’ve tried to involve non-state actors, especially migrants’ associations, because we felt it’s important to do so as they will part and parcel of the plan's implementation.

In this regard, there will always be a need to have functional local coordination mechanisms, for example a municipal-level committee to allow all of these actors to participate and coordinate their respective activities. The experts working on this Action propose a very interesting idea to ensure sustainability of the Plan by setting up an inter-municipality network with representatives of each municipality, with, at least, one meeting a year to share and exchange the good practices of social integration of migrants and to improve their responses.

MIEUX: Aside from offering assistance at the first level, in which ways do you think that local governments and agencies are shaping the debate on migration at the national level?

Maria Assunção: In general, municipalities and local agencies are the faces of the host society as they are on the front lines of service delivery, and on this relationship depends whether immigrants feel welcomed or not. By upholding the equal rights and dignity of immigrants, I think local governments and agencies are influencing public opinion and demanding equality in the treatment, opportunities and recognition of the status of migrants as de facto citizens. 

Carmem: We understand that it is important for municipalities to be prepared to assist, inform and guide migrants. Therefore, it is important to develop the technical skills for local agencies to be able to do this in a coherent way and respond to the needs of migrants. Additionally, I consider it extremely important to develop a strategic approach to migration for local authorities that includes social integration of migrants and migration and development into local development planning. Local authorities have responsibility for assisting migrants, but migration is also a big opportunity for the local development of towns and cities.

MIEUX: Is there a particular example of local-level integration or assistance programmes that you find inspiring? Do you think it could be transposed to your local context?

Maria Assunção: National plans and municipal migrant reception plans develop programmes and projects at different levels. A national policy of welcoming immigrants recognises the value of their contributions to a society. At local level, immigrant support offices, like the ones set up by Cabo Verde, are the face of the host society. They welcome newcomers and provide intercultural mediation, not only showing the culture of the country of residence but also creating opportunities to value the culture of various immigrant communities through cultural, social, and recreational programmes in schools, parishes, communities, and municipalities. The monitoring and evaluation of these programmes by the network of partners allow for continuous improvement of responses. 

Carmem: We can find good examples everywhere. For example, last year, one of our activities for this Action was a study visit to Lisbon and Oeiras in Portugal, cities with Cabo Verdean migration, to learn from social integration projects for migrants with a very strong local approach. Within Africa, the UN-led Sustainable Return and Reintegration of Rwandan Returnees is an interesting local approach.

Now the challenge is, how do we apply this to our local context? Cabo Verde does not have the means and resources of Portugal and we are not a country as geographically large as Rwanda is. All the good practices and inspiring examples are great lessons that help us to find the best solution for our context, but not necessarily a model to follow blindly. Our ultimate objective from this collaboration with MIEUX would be to create more ‘good practices’ in terms of the local integration of migrants.

 

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