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INTEGRIM Lab at the MILE final event

These days, multistakeholder events on migration and inclusion are everywhere. But how to plan an event that really stands out from the crowd? Here are a few things I have learnt at the MILE final event! 

From 2022 to 2023, INTEGRIM Lab was part of Migrant Integration through Locally-Designed Experiences (MILE), an AMIF-funded project. Four European municipalities – Birmingham, Ripollet, Riga, and Ioannina – participated in the consortium, each one forming a triangle of cooperation with a local migrant organisation and a local research organisation based in the same country (see The cities of Amsterdam and Utrecht moreover contributed to MILE as supporting municipality partners. 

At INTEGRIM Lab, we contributed to the project with our research expertise in two ways:  we conducted research on the European Union institutions, policies, and activities fostering migrant participation and inclusion (see report); we drafted a policy brief on the financing and long-term sustainability of such activities, namely at European level (see brief). Beyond these tangible outcomes, MILE has turned out to be an incredible platform to exchange, meet new colleagues and make friends, and reflect on the potential connections between our own scholarly work and that of municipalities and civil society.  All of this brilliantly came together at the final event in Brussels last 23 and 24 November. 

What made those two days a success, and what can we learn from it? Researchers bored with long tedious conferences, this post is for you. 

On the first evening, we gathered at “Au Bassin”, where the theatre group Les Polymorphistes staged a participatory ‘forum theatre’ inspired by the concept of Theatre of the Oppressed. The performance delved into scenes of oppression, drawing from real-life and intersectional experiences. Specifically, it portrayed the challenges faced by a woman from Venezuela living in Belgium as a refugee. She encountered racist and sexist structures both at work and during her citizenship application process.

During this powerful performance, the audience transformed into “spect-actors”, actively engaging with the narrative. I turned my chair towards two persons I didn’t know, and we started brainstorming! The audience empathized with the actor’s story and we imagined ourselves in her shoes. 

Importantly, the oppressor or oppressive system couldn’t be simply replaced or abolished; instead, participants had to grapple with the existing structures and suggest realistic solutions. The performance highlighted how seemingly small yet meaningful actions, fuelled by empathy and imagination, can create genuine change and contribute to social justice. Co-created solutions were captured on paper by Les Polymorphistes—expressing a mental map of possible actions proposed by the audience.

After the performance, we enjoyed a delightful dinner experience courtesy of We Exist (tip: consider local sustainable and inclusive catering solutions whenever possible). We continued the evening mingling while listening to the Makam Duo, a musical ensemble composed of Mevlüt Akgüngör (ney, or reed flute), Robert Micin (oud), and Hilde De Clercq (percussions and voice). Their repertoire spanned Ottoman music and mystical Sufi melodies.

On day 2, our journey continued with a series of engaging interventions. We heard welcome remarks from two distinguished speakers: Adem Kumcu, the President of UNITEE, and André Sobczak, the Secretary General of Eurocities. Their words echoed the importance of standing up for democracy, inclusion, and “European values”. A powerful quote resonated: “More inclusive Europe starts in cities.” Both Kumcu and Sobczak agreed that we need to empower migrants as a way to strengthen local democratic processes. This becomes crucial when political scepticism rises and trust in the current political system wavers.

The heart of the day laid in an interactive session led by Seyran Khalili, Project Lead at New Women Connectors. The focus: ‘Migrant participation in practice’, where first-hand experiences from the local level took centre stage. In discussion groups, members of migrant communities, municipalities, and research teams discussed key barriers to participation. They explored solutions and innovations related to local services, communication, sustainability, trust-building, engagement, and EU collaboration. The collective ideas were visualized in a knowledge tree—a testament to collaborative efforts.

The final session featured a dynamic panel debate. Astrid Begenyeza, socio-cultural project officer at Brussels2030 (a non-profit organization preparing Brussels’ candidacy for European Capital of Culture in 2030), shared her insights on the citizen lab enabled by Brussels2030 to collect questions from Brussels’ youth, and their project for a Youth Coalition. She was joined by three other engaged speakers: Safaa Charafi, an architect and urbanist advocating for gender diversity and urban development; Tamara Stojanovic, Project Manager at the Municipality of Mechelen, involved in projects like MUST-a-Lab and EMBRACE; and Bryn Watkins, communications and project manager at the Brussels region under the Brussels Commissioner for Europe and International Organisations, responsible forbridging connections between the city and its international workforce. Their passionate – yet modest and sincere – viewpoints enriched the dialogue, at times provoking us, at times leaving us inspired and ready to continue our collective journey toward a more inclusive and vibrant Europe. 

Again, UNITEE went out of their way to find a creative solution for lunch, with Iosono Il Piemonte, a project that strives to bring people together in Brussels around Piemonte food. 

To recap, some of the elements that stood out at this event: 

  • Very diverse viewpoints – institutions, professionals, civil society, research, citizens 
  • Collaborative exercises such as a participatory theatre, small groups’ sessions, debates
  • Visual outcomes ie. Mental maps, knowledge trees… etc.
  • Moments to mingle in a safe and relaxed environment, with sustainable and inclusive solutions (catering, music)

The programme is available here, while a sum up of the event is also on our MILE webpage.