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Cities of Welcome, Cities of Transit

Fighting back against xenophobia – together

EU asylum and immigration policy is in danger of becoming a ‘race to the bottom’. To challenge this, information exchange, solidarity and co-ordinated work is needed between actors striving for positive outcomes in different European countries. Last July, in Ada Colau’s Barcelona, we had an opportunity to bring people working on transformative and cooperative models together to exchange insights, make contacts and produce a toolbox of recommendations for the next stage in the fight back.

Watch the complete conference | A guided walk | Download the programme

1: Cities of Welcome

Facing the necessity of providing for their newest residents, cities are no longer waiting to enact policies that are handed down to them from decision makers at the international and national levels. Instead, local governments are actively developing their own strategies to welcome migrants and to share best practices amongst themselves. This panel explored the potential for cities to redefine themselves as in influential policy actors and the challenges they face in doing so.

Anna Terrón Cusí, Chair of the Advisory Board of the UNU Institute on Globalisation, framed the discussion as a European crisis rather than a refugee crisis before Ignasi Calbó and Ramón Sanahuja, of the City of Barcelona, outlined some of the details of an ambitious new programme to assist all refugees arriving in the city of Barcelona, and to build a comprehensive, permanent and holistic model of how to provide them with the necessary services as well as rights.

Bue Rübner Hansen, an activist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Aarhus, gave his thoughts on what Barcelona is hoping to achieve, before finishing the panel with Manuela Zechner, fellow city-networking activist and cultural worker, to discuss the work of the social movements and neighbourhoods in Barcelona.

Further reading from EUROCITIES Further reading from the Global Mayoral Forum

2: Cities of Welcome & Rejection

Governments make it hard for refugees and migrants to integrate. Despite this, citizens, activists and local governments are coming together to create a ‘culture of welcome’ for refugees. But civil society does not just consist of ‘good guys’. Moreover, well-established civil society organisations and emergent movements can have very different organisational cultures and modes of communication. How do various players on the ground interact? What could ensure a better welcome, and enable more citizens to get involved?

Thomas Jézéquel, EUROCITIES, explained through a report on a project to achieve “city-to-city support on migrant integration” how Gdańsk in Poland became a city open to migration and diversity. Suzanne Asche, head of the cultural department in Karlsruhe, Germany, recalled how German cities found themselves on their own welcoming refugees, and gave insights into how the city’s arts and artists have stepped up to the challenge of encouraging city-migrant dialogues.

Lastly Patrick Taran, President of Global Migrant Associates, addresses three thorny questions that arise time and time again in discussions of migration: Is Europe being overwhelmed by irregular migrants? Can migration help stop Europe’s workforce from shrinking?  How can we stop forced movement in the future? Panel 2 also included an activists' roundtable, with the hopes of better understanding how different actors interact on the ground. Fanny Müller-Uri, an activist involved in WatchTheMed and Alarmophone, and Katerina Anastasiou, the coordinator of change4all told us about the “long summer of migration in 2015, a different world from the one we have now” when migrants and refugees were self-organising and moving in Marches of Hope along the Balkans route, triggering an immense wave of solidarity across Europe.

Rocio Cifuentes, director of the Ethnic Youth Support Team and the Think Project in Wales, brought her own specialist message of hope with her account of tackling extremism in Wales using a proactive, preventative and education-based approach to diversity. Joan Pedro and Simona Rentea, both social movement activists in Spain, gave their thoughts along with Aurora Labio, of the University of Seville, on the challenges of building connections that make a difference.

Further Reading

Without hundreds of volunteers, the government would have failed.
– Susanne Asche

3: The EU, Turkey & Human Rights

The increased delegation of border controls to Frontex and the militarisation of the border via the deployment of NATO forces impacts on international and European human rights and refugee law. Is the European Union’s proposed partnership with Turkey, in which Turkey receives a considerable number of refugees from the European Union, a real solution to the failure thus far of EU refugee relocation initiatives? NGOs and the UNHCR have already raised serious concerns regarding the legality of this move and its compatibility with international and European human rights and refugee law.

Valsamis Mitsilegas, from the School of Law at Queen Mary University of London, began the debate by exploring the concept of solidarity in EU law, and particularly the limitations created by the Dublin Regulation. He finds, though, that there are alternatives which could lead the way to establishing a constitutionally uniform refugee status in Europe. Eleni Karageorgiou from Lund University in Sweden followed up by looking at parallels between the the Dublin system and the EU-Turkey deal, arguing that both use solidarity as a euphemism for avoiding or shifting responsibility and de-solidarising protection.

Aikaterini Drakopoulou, a lawyer for the Greek Council for Refugees, and Sergio Carrera, of the Centre for European Policy Studies, are exploring the high political, legal and ethical cost of asylum seekers in Greece in their project Unsafe Turkey, Unsafe Europe. Carrera went on to break down the consequences of this “crisis-led way of doing policy, taking rapid decisions which prevent proper scrutiny and democratic debate”. He concludes that “we can talk about what solidarity means, but when it comes to the rights of people, these are obligations, and it is a responsibility of states to comply with those rights.” Meltem Ineli-Ciger rounded out these presentations with a view from Turkey, explaining the strengths and weaknesses of Turkey's protection frameworks and what consequences these might have for the future.

We ended with Niovi Vavoula, a research assistant at Queen Mary University of London, telling the tale of how Eurodac – a pan-European fingerprint database – evolved into a tool of law enforcement. Originally designed to identify which country was responsible for dealing with a particular asylum application, in 2013 the database underwent a transformation from an administrative tool to a law enforcement weapon with significant repercussions for the fundamental rights of third-country nationals.

Further Reading

4: Cities of Transit

From the railway stations, parks, and abandoned buildings in European cities to mass encampments, 'hotspots' and the ‘jungle’ in Calais, formal and informal ‘transit points’ are central to what has been happening over the past years. Our final panel sought to make sense of the ways in which these ‘points’ shape and are shaped by local/urban contexts and national and EU policies. How does this affect practices of solidarity and welcoming in a crisis too often framed in terms of threat and security? And how do these migration spaces affect the wider urban and political environment?

Leonie Ansems de Vries, a Lecturer at King’s College London and co-investigator on the project ‘Documenting the Humanitarian Migration Crisis in the Mediterranean’, opened by declaring the the EU uses hotspots for what it sees as the essential business of sorting out “who should we protect, and who shouldn’t be protected?”. This hugely problematic triage is largely done on the basis of one's nationality rather than one's rights and needs. However equally striking under these conditions are “migrants’ continued efforts to move on despite bordering practices, to live their lives in dignity, and to build communities”.

Marta Welander, the founder and Director of the Refugee Rights Data Project, meanwhile argued that national/EU policies, little government support, and a lack of reliable data are contributing to a deep polarisation amongst European citizens in their response to the humanitarian crisis in Calais. On the one hand, current policies have generated high levels of solidarity among some British and French citizens: on the other, the same policies have fed into and exacerbated demonisation of displaced people in Calais, by framing them as ‘illegal’.

Both say that such policies seem to lead to a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy in which we are “provoking and to a certain extent creating a security threat, or at least creating a very violent and desperate situation for all the parties involved, which in turn can justify to a certain extent the aggressive border policies.”  Here they are on the resulting violence:

The Cities of Welcome, Cities of Transit conference ended with the story of the El Manba collective in Marseille – a political group which has been supporting those struggling to move from Italy to France since the summer of 2015 – as told by the Italian anthropologist Annalisa Lollo.

Further Reading



Cameron Thibos

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