SOS Malta has launched a project which will be discovering the challenges and benefits of integrating third country nationals within the Maltese community.

Co-financed by the European fund of Third Country Nationals, the project is called Intercultural Malta: Towards the Achievement of Integration in Malta through the Intercultural Cities Approach.

It forms part of a larger programme run by the council of Europe and European commission since 2008, that has developed a network of intercultural cities.

In an intercultural city, people of different nationalities, ethnic origin, language and faith share a feeling of belonging to the local community.

These cities also actively promote human rights, fight discrimination and adapt their public services to the needs of their diverse population.

Speaking at a conference that launched this project, Chrisitina Baglai, who is the programme's project officer, gave examples of best intercultural practices across Europe.

These include an "anti-rumour manual" to debunk migrant stereotypes in Barcelona and a library close to a market in London which unlike other libraries, everyone is welcome and patrons are encouraged to hold debates, and not keep quiet. Ms Baglai added that 27 per cent of Oslo's city council were elected from minority groups.

One of the speakers at the conference, senior lecturer Clare Vassallo spoke about the move from multiculturalism, which seems to respect diversity but encourages different cultures to live separately to interculturalism.

She insisted that Malta was going through changes as well, and these needed to be embraced.

"We're resisting new ethnicities coming in now, forgetting that our roots are multi-ethnic. We came from different places... Greece, Sicily, Africa, the Mediterranean... we came and we became. We blended. Our identity is multi-ethnic, and it is something we are now conveniently forgetting.

"People came here and stayed here, becoming part of the mosaic that is Malta. The only constant we have is change. So let's guide this change," she said, adding that if we were less static as Maltese, we'll remember that we all came from different places, and we're still doing that.

SOS Malta will also be holding two workshops with local stakeholders to develop a set of guidelines that can be applied to local cities and villages promoting cultural diversity.

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