Sofia Development Association held the first focus group for qualitative analysis of Sofia policies and practices for integration of third country nationals (TCN) and migrants on May 10, 2018. Out of the none participants, seven were third country nationals and two – NGO experts in the area of integration. The main topics discussed were the presence of TCN in Sofia, the attitudes towards TCN, available services for them, challenges and difficulties they face.
The predominant attitude towards TCN is evaluated as neutral to positive. However, there are certain variables: it depends on the age of the host population, the younger generation being more tolerant than the elderly; it depends on the origin of the host population, people from Sofia being more tolerant than people from the countryside; and most of all it depends on the race.
TCN participants have some negative experiences with landlords who are not willing to rent to foreigners and oftentimes accuse them of stealing or terminate the contract unexpectedly, and also from the police because they are stopped, questioned and have their personal belongings searched more often than any Bulgarians they know.
Significant differences were observed with regards to services. TCN of Bulgarian origin (Bulgarian minorities abroad) – are in a privileged position, while the others claim they have no access to information and advise. The vast majority of TCN have no knowledge of the services provided by NGOs.
There is a lot of red tape for administrative and legal issues, mainly visas/permits. Fees are too high, it takes a lot of time to push papers, the requirements change very often, there is not translation from Bulgarian. Other challenges include limited access to health care, housing and employability, particularly issuing blue cards.
Recommendations what Sofia could do is to assist TCN integration included setting up an information center (public or CSR sourced), or developing/supporting a user friendly online information platform. Sofia can also work with employers and universities to explain and make information available on TCN education, work prospects, blue cards. It was recommended to have the local authority more engaged through appointing an ombudsman for TCN and migrants, a system for signals for racist graffiti, help line serviced volunteers, etc.
Sofia could also partner with Migration Directorate to service (voluntary) information desk and English interpretation, as well as CSR/voluntary legal aid to TCN.
The first focus group meeting of project INTEGRA, promoting understanding between the communities of foreigners and local citizens of the cities of the European Union, was organized by ETP Slovakia in Košice on April 26th, 2018. The aim was to discuss and share experience with TCN (third country nationals) integration, between the representatives of Košice Municipality, Košice Self-governing Region, Office of Labor, Social Affairs and Family of Košice, Archdiocesan Charity, IOM and UNHCR, the Psychosocial Center, University of P.J. Safarik, as well as a representative of foreign nationals, who found his new home in Košice many years ago. During this meeting, the Stakeholder Integration Group was also formed.
Representatives of organizations working directly with TCN have brought a number of inputs from the field work. The Municipality of Košice perceives the contribution of TCN mainly in filling gaps in the labor market where there is a lack of professionals such as chimney sweeper, lathe operator or other manual labour. In the recent years, the structure of TCN’s originating countries has changed, with more people now coming from Ukraine, Serbia and India. Discussion has also addressed the role of media in shaping the attitudes of local residents towards foreign nationals and the importance of smaller community neighborhood activities or events.
In June, a second meeting of the focus group will be held. ETP is planning to invite more foreign nationals, representatives of police, schools and employers. It is very useful to mutually share information about measures already taken to promote the integration of TCN in Košice, and identify areas for improvement. The aim is to conduct an audit of Košice Municipality focusing on this particular topic, which will facilitate elaboration of Košice Integration Agenda, which is currently lacking.
ETP Slovakia is the only Slovak NGO partner in project INTEGRA. There are five EU countries cooperating in the project: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia and Italy.