Can Europe Make It?

Sanctuary and refuge cities

At Fearless Cities –  we catch up with the Coordinator of the Refuge City Plan of Barcelona City Council, and two fellow panellists, activists from Berlin, Germany and Philadelphia, USA.

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Ignasi Calbó Sunny Hundal
14 June 2017

Placa dels Angels, Barcelona, Friday June 9The Barcelona summit from June 9 -11 was offering political debate, policy exchange and practical workshops featuring mayors and councillors and municipal movement activists who are transforming civil society from below.

On the Friday night a magnificent packed rally in the Plaça dels Àngels brought together Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona with Manuela Carmena, Mayor of Madrid, alongside Éric Piolle, Mayor of Grenoble (France), Rena Dourou, Regional Governor of Attica (Greece), Jorge Sharp, Mayor of Valparaíso (Chile), Dolors Sabater, Mayor of Badalona, Jesse Arreguin, Mayor of Berkeley, California (USA), a spokesman on behalf of Dejla Hamo, Co-Mayor of Derik, Rojava (who had been denied a visa), Gerardo Pisarello, Deputy Mayor of Barcelona, Xulio Ferreiro, Mayor of A Coruña, Pedro Santisteve, Mayor of Zaragoza, Martiño Noriega, Mayor of Santiago de Compostela, Caren Tepp, Councilor of Rosario (Argentina), Andrea Reimer, Councilor of Vancouver (Canada), Helen Gym, Councilor of Philadelphia (USA) and Áurea Carolina de Freitas,;Councilor of Belo Horizonte (Brazil). They came together to share their vision of what it means to be a “fearless city”, from resisting state authoritarianism and combatting the far right to fighting speculation and guaranteeing the rights to the city. Mayor after mayor and local leader explained the importance of defeating the fear that divides communities, and the urgent need on which all were agreed to 'feminise politics' – in order to widen the spectrum of self-management and community management of public goods and common goods. Up to now they declared, cities had been built through "the invisibilisation of the people's will". That has got to change.


Over the week-end speakers from all over the world continued to address such issues as how to organise a municipalist platform; how to deal with the challenges of mobility and pollution; comparing commoning experiments; municipalism in towns and rural areas; housing, gentrification and tourism – a huge challenge in our host city; public space; transparency and the fight against corruption; radical democracy in city councils; social networks; creating non-state institutions; crowdfunding ethics; creating a participatory municipalist candidacy and the economy.

On the Sunday, there was also a chance to catch up on the innovative work which Barcelona has been doing since September 2015, when Ada Colau launched a call for the creation of a network of 'Cities of Refuge' co-signed by the mayors of Paris, Lesbos and Lampedusa, and later joined by many others across Europe, to support one another in welcoming refugees. She was one of the first city mayors to contest state blockages in parliament and call for direct EU funding to cities to circumvent the national deadlock in the crisis - a crisis they insisted that was not one of migration but of Europe.

At the roundtable on sanctuary and refugee cities, Ignasi Calvo was joined by Liora Danan, Chief Of Staff at NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, New York City; Daniel Gutierrez, Interventionistische Linke, Berlin; Xristina Moschovidou, Omnes voluntary association, Kilkis, Greece; and Amélie Canonne, Emmaus International, Paris to share what they had learned about the role of cities and towns in challenging the rise of the far right and how local governments and social movements can work to protect human rights and forge inclusive, non-ethnocentric identities.

Sunny Hundal caught up with the Barcelona Refuge City coordinator after the session to see what has changed over the last year since he came to talk to us at Cities of Welcome, Cities of Transit.  

Hear more about the precious resource which is 'Fearless cities’ from Daniel Gutierrez, an activist from Berlin who spoke about the frustrations of the confused policies from the German government that make it harder for local institutions to properly help out. So how does Berlin deal with refugees nowadays?

And from the city of Philadelphia, Helen Gym, a councillor bearing passionate witness to the fight against racism and how people like her are resisting Trump’s Government and striving to make her city work as a Sanctuary City.

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