What role for cities in terms of reception and integration of asylum seekers and refugees?
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Networks of solidarity cities in order to foster a better reception for refugees in Europe
During the 5th Forum of Mayors on Mobility, Migration and Development which took place in Marrakech on December 2018, local authorities called for recognition of their key role in the governance of migration.
Over the last decade, and more intensely from 2015-2016 onwards, the local – mainly municipal – authorities have asserted themselves as major players in migratory and asylum policies, with some of them even expressing their opposition to national policies. The cities sometimes implement their initiatives individually, but given the deadlock faced by national and European asylum policies, municipalities have often chosen to join forces or mobilise their networks in order to promote the reception and integration of refugees and asylum seekers. Although these networks reflect a complex reality, they now have converging goals and face similar difficulties.
Both within the European Union (EU), and at national level, the association of urban areas in the field of asylum and migration has been possible thanks to the integration of the issue into the activities of pre-existing networks, or through the setting up of dedicated new ones. For example, the British “City of Sanctuary” network, set up in 2005, and the “National Association of Welcoming Cities and Territories” (Association Nationale des Villes et Territoires Accueillants), which was formed in France in September 2018 on the initiative of a number of mayors, illustrate the desire to network local governments on a national scale in order to develop new policies and practices in the field of migration. At European level, “EUROCITIES”, a longstanding general cooperation network involving 130 cities, has gradually incorporated the subject of migration into its work, in particular thanks to the “Solidarity Cities” project launched in 2015, which brings together port cities hoping to advocate the EU with a view to introducing a coordinated approach to migratory questions. The many European networks also include the “European Network of Solidarity Cities” founded in 2015 on the initiative of the mayors of Strasbourg, Catania and Rovereto, two cities in Italy, and whose members now include more than 60 municipalities.
Networks of solidarity cities generally have similar goals. First of all they seek to create soft law instruments (information guides, collections of good practices etc.) in order to influence the introduction of local reception and integration policies which respect the fundamental rights of migrants and refugees. Some of the good practices identified by the networks have become established as standards, to which the members undertake to adhere themselves and spread to other cities. To this end, in 2017, the “European Network of Solidarity Cities” published a “vade-mecum” on the reception and integration of refugees into European cities, which prides itself on being an “a practical tool, a decision support instrument and a genuine source of inspiration for cities that may feel helpless or isolated faced with the arrival of large numbers of refugees on their territory”.
Cities also join forces to lobby national, European or international authorities and to have a greater influence on the decision-making processes, so that the various tiers of authority fulfil their responsibilities and respect the rights of migrant populations. In order to do this, the networks of cities use various means of action and advocacy such as the taking up of common positions, taking part in or organising special events or litigations. It is not unusual to see networks of solidarity cities allying themselves with organisations from civil society in this advocacy work, as is the case with the “Snapshots from the Borders” project which brings these two types of stakeholders together with the aim of changing the perception and discourse about migrants and refugees. As part of this project many different events were organised in a number of cities on 13th October 2019. So networks of solidarity cities can help to bring about a surge of mobilisation within civil society. Vice versa, the German “Seebrücke” movement, founded by civil society activists in the summer of 2018, led to the formation of an alliance of 26 (now 121) municipalities which agreed to offer additional reception places in order to respond to emergencies in the Mediterranean.
Thanks to their alliances, cities are no longer seeking solely to influence decisions; they also aspire to play a direct part in the decision-making process with regard to migration at all levels of governance. The emergence of networks of solidarity cities at national level, and especially at transnational level, has helped to bring about an increasing recognition of cities’ legitimate right to express themselves on asylum and migration issues. Indeed, institutional players such as the UN and the European Union are now drawing on these local players’ expertise in order to justify the adoption of new policies in this area. In 2018, for instance, the “Global Forum on Migration and Development Mayors Mechanism” was set up. It is jointly chaired by a representative of the International Organisation for Migration and it is both a network for discussions between cities and also a platform for interaction with States and international organisations on migratory issues.
There are increasing numbers of networks of solidarity between cities both at national and at regional level and more and more municipalities are joining them, allowing a wider dissemination of the standards and principles they uphold with regard to the reception and integration of refugees. However, this expansion can also give rise to new challenges and limitations. At both European and national level, we can see a large number of networks of solidarity cities whose remits and work overlap, which has a direct impact not only on the distribution of funding and resources between a number of bodies doing the same work, but also on the efficiency of the programmes developed and the risks of the same work being done twice. Within the networks we often find the same cities, thus raising the question of the representation of players who are not traditionally included in these circles, and thus how representative networks are.
Within networks old and new, at national or transnational level, European cities enjoy growing influence on the formulation of asylum and immigration policies. After long being in the background, will municipalities manage to become key players in migratory policies? In the interests of both migrants and citizens, the challenge also lies in cooperation between governments, cities and civil society.