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Investing in 'Welcoming Spaces' in Europe: revitalizing shrinking areas by hosting non-EU migrants

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - WelcomingSpaces (Investing in 'Welcoming Spaces' in Europe: revitalizing shrinking areas by hosting non-EU migrants)

Reporting period: 2021-05-01 to 2022-07-31

WELCOMING SPACES aims to search for new ways to merge two policy challenges: how to contribute to the revitalisation of shrinking areas while also offering space for the successful integration of non-EU migrants in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (‘leaving no one behind’). Our point of departure are existing examples of ‘welcoming spaces’ which do exist in some places, but often remain invisible and dispersed. Examples of small towns and villages offsetting a declining population by attracting non-EU migrants are found in various European regions in Italy, Spain, but also Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. Such initiatives to create ‘welcoming spaces’ and initiating new types of government-citizen-migrant engagement are often citizen-based, but can equally be the outcome of initiatives by governments, NGOs, businesses, or they can be migrant-based. Going against the current of ‘anti-migration’, most initiatives are highly contested. Their success seems to depend on a combination of collective action, multi-stakeholder collaboration and institutional innovations. Given the local scale of most of these initiatives, the dispersion in space and political sensitivity, much of what is happening around these ‘welcoming spaces’ remains under the radar. The possibilities for upscaling such initiatives are hence under-explored. WELCOMING SPACES aims to answer the following question: How to achieve inclusive and sustainable development in shrinking regions, contributing to revitalisation while providing opportunities for the successful integration of non-EU migrants?
In the first year of the project, the team has taken the first steps towards achieving these objectives by exploring the landscape of welcoming spaces, as well as by raising interest for our project.
For all work packages, the focus of the first year was to explore existing welcoming initiatives and to gain insight into the local, national and transnational contexts. This was done by means of placing the concepts into the academic context, and also the Quickscan (D1.1) was carried out. In this deliverable, each country team collected information on welcoming initiatives and their localities. At the end, the Quickscan included data on 46 localities and 81 initiatives, as well as five individual country context analysis papers. This information provides a sound basis on which the project can work further to reaching the objectives.

Next to fact-finding and data exploration, the project also started immediately with laying out the community of practice (COP). In the later stages of the project especially in involving stakeholders and the organization of roundtables in which we will distil the bottlenecks and best practices. This COP is a crucial aspect to enable the completing of the project objective, for which the foundational work has been done in the first year. Also here, this year consisted of an exploration of all relevant stakeholders in the different localities and first steps have been taken in the organization of stakeholder events.

To support the COP, but also to increase the impact of the project by reaching a wide and varied public, the project website was immediately launched at the inception of the project. Here we shared a series of blogs and news on the project to attract interest for the project. These activities, as well as participation of the team members at different academic/scientific/events (e.g. the IMISCOE, German Association of Sociologists and ESA-RN37 midterm conference "Urban Theory and Urban Praxis: Past, Present and Possible Futures" conferences), were undertaken to raise interest in the project and to gain awareness around the topic.

Thus, by combining the first insights of our research activities with networking and outreach, we have taken the first crucial step towards contributing to our project objective.
Our research will provide a multidisciplinary analysis of the situation of 50 shrinking areas which have tried to improve the local
situation, through engaging with non-EU migrants. Combining insights from development geography, planning and urban
geography, information and computing sciences, migration studies, anthropology, law, history, economics, sociology and
psychology, and using knowledge from rural and urban settings, we will analyse the on the ground situation in different localities.
Every locality has its own experiences with migrant groups and/or new new forms of engagement between government, citizens
and migrants. In examining the local situation, we will look back (using a historical approach focusing on the last 20 years); assess
the current situation (who are the main stakeholders/main economic activities) and identify future pathways (based on scenarios).
Understanding past and historical experiences of ‘welcoming spaces’ hosting migrant communities will help to better understand
current challenges, while also showing the best way forward. Referring to earlier and current experiences in the different localities,
we will build a typology of places (see also OECD), while formulating under what conditions revitalisation and migrant engagement
go hand in hand, and how to achieve inclusive and sustainable development in line with the sustainable development goals of
‘leaving no one behind’.
WELCOMING SPACES will foster the promotion of more evidence-based discourses and adapted strategies for addressing
migration concerns in host communities. While taking stock of lived experiences on the ground, our programme will help to better
understand the short and long-term effects of migration at various levels: at the EU aggregate and cross-national level (five
countries), but also at the regional and local level. In analysing the ‘local’ we use the lens of translocal development,
acknowledging that people/places form part of translocal and transnational networks, which might produce rippling effects. The
improvement of the situation in locality A will have implications for locality B, and the appearance of corridors and chains might be
the consequence. WELCOMING SPACES will help to better understand the link between migration and local development: what
is the contribution of non-EU migrants to increased levels of productivity and economic growth, improved employment levels and
wages, more innovation and new types of entrepreneurship, and welfare impacts.
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