What role for cities in terms of reception and integration of asylum seekers and refugees?
What role can cities be recognised as having?
Here is a welcome bumper crop of articles and information about the part that cities, in both France and the rest of Europe, are playing in receiving and integrating refugees. By obligation, sometimes, for those cities at the external or internal borders of the Schengen area, but often by choice, now by cities who organise themselves into networks in order to do so.
This being so, we really ought to get a better handle on the phenomenon, to attempt to measure its actual impact, looking beyond the spectacularly large number of networks of welcoming cities and the work that they do.
In any case, it is something that we really have to acknowledge. There is nothing very difficult about doing this for NGOs such as France terre d’asile and the civil society players who, given that their work involves receiving refugees with State funds, know that it is impossible to do this properly in hostile cities. Today we are taking things even further, by playing an active part in forums involving cities and civil society organisations from a number of European countries which are advocating for this recognition, something that we – together with organisations from Germany, amongst others – embarked upon in Paris in March last year, and then in Berlin in November.
Nevertheless, what roles can cities legitimately be acknowledged as having?
We can see the strengths of cities – administered by elected representatives from the local host societies, getting directly to grips with the issues involving receiving and integrating foreigners, they know better both what is possible and what is needed. As a result, their work and their elected representatives are often at the heart of debates about what policies to implement, as can be seen from this issue of European Insights. We can see that it is cities that are behind outreach mobile units, or the most urgent humanitarian action; we can also see that their work may bring them into opposition with that of the State, as well as sometimes complementing it.
That may be where cities legitimate role ends. The areas of jurisdiction they cover must not release the State – which has jurisdiction for admitting asylum seekers and recognising refugee status – from its own responsibilities in organising reception, housing or distribution across the country. The need for an organisation of this kind, which is currently so keenly felt (in France, at the very least, where things can go as far as asylum seekers being assigned to an office without even being offered accommodation in the same region), it is one of our leitmotivs, at France terre d’asile, and we would find it hard to admit that the local authorities might have an acknowledged power of veto over any plan for a reception or accommodation centre.
We need clarification rather than a release from responsibilities.
Thierry Le Roy
President, France terre d’asile
France terre d’asile in French cities
France terre d’asile has been established for a long time in about fifty municipalities around activities related to its missions and the setting up of medico-social institutions. These municipalities can be listed according to their demographic importance, from the largest, Paris, to the smallest village, Chambon le Château in Lozère, and from the oldest, Créteil, to the most recent one, Versailles.
If in the 2000s the arrival of the organization was generally well received by the mayors in place, relationships today are more complex. Indeed, originally, the opening of reception places for asylum seekers –within apartments, was perceived as bringing employment and safety to a territory. However, by time, the increase of arrivals and the multiplication of delicate situations with regards to the rights of foreigners (such as rejected asylum seekers and people placed under a Dublin procedure), the municipalities left in the front line in the handling of these cases, and at odds with local grassroots organizations, have shown themselves more reluctant. Relationships with the municipalities thus vary between timidity, indifference and full involvement in the welcoming of the public concerned, and in the access to sports, cultural and educational structures. Fortunately, the latter remains the most common rule. For their part, the largest cities are mobilizing resources to organize civil society support. Here, like elsewhere, we are aware of the extent to which the change of perspective on the issue of asylum and migration is an ongoing struggle.