A municipality worker clears the area around Victoria square, which has become a de facto migrant camp in Athens. PAimages/Thanassis Stavrakis. All rights reserved.The plight of refugees poses a serious challenge not only for those fleeing conflict but also to European society as a whole. Europe's inability to agree on a joint solution in order to provide a humane response to those seeking asylum puts the continent in peril of growing disintegration and social and political turmoil.
As demonstrated in the EUROCITIES report “Reception and integration of refugees in cities”, the role of cities as first points of arrival, transit hubs and ultimate destinations of refugees is well-established and widely-acknowledged by institutions and stakeholders at national and European level. EUROCITIES members across Europe are now home to tens of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers.
Against the backdrop of a debate over quotas and borders, cities have to manage the urgent challenges presented by the daily arrival of refugees and asylum seekers. And on the other hand, they need to establish the necessary infrastructure to prepare for the considerable long term challenge of integrating newcomers into our societies and ensuring social cohesion over the years to come. Cities are taking the lead in openly welcoming refugees and demonstrating that pragmatic solutions can be taken to effectively tackle this humanitarian crisis.
Cities want to be allies of the European Commission and Member States in managing the refugee situation. They also want to live by the principles of responsibility and solidarity expressed in the EUROCITIES asylum statement and the EUROCITIES open letter published on International Refugee Day – June 20, 2016 :
“There is too much talk of quotas, numbers and borders, and not enough of people. These are people who are fleeing war, persecution and destitution. How we treat them when they arrive in our local communities will determine the success of long term integration and social cohesion in Europe as a whole.”
The EUROCITIES Social Affairs Forum in Athens, organised on 17 October under the patronage of the mayor of Athens, Giorgios Kaminis, will be an opportunity for elected officials and practitioners from more than 40 major European cities to discuss their common challenges and solutions in receiving and integrating refugees, to take stock of their accomplishments, and to discuss the role that cities can play within the wider European response to these challenges.
It will also see the official launch of the 'Solidarity Cities' initiative, which will provide a common platform to promote city-to-city mutual assistance, knowledge exchange, capacity-building and advocacy for a fair sharing of responsibilities across the EU.