Across Europe, cities of sanctuary and supportive citizens are building a more humane migration policy

Throughout Europe, scores of towns and communities have taken action to address national governments’ apathy when it comes to receiving migrants. The European citizen’s initiative We Are Welcoming Europe, Let us help, which calls for a more humane European migration policy, also supports these local visions of hospitality and respect for others.

In Belgium, less than a year after the launch of the campaign Communes hospitalières (Hospitable municipalities), sixty-two French-speaking municipalities have declared themselves hospitable to migrants. A ‘hospitable municipality’ is one that is committed to raising its residents’ awareness of migration issues and ensuring that a genuinely welcoming migrant reception policy is implemented across its territory. The movement has encouraged numerous citizens working for justice in migration to bring the issue to their municipal councils’ attention by filing a motion through the system for citizen motions that exists in every municipality. And municipal councils (which are responsible for reception of migrants) have answered the call, demonstrating their willingness listen to their fellow citizens’ concerns and strive for greater justice in migration.

Other countries use terms like ‘city of sanctuary’, ‘refuge city’, ‘city of asylum’ and ‘sanctuary city’ to describe migrant-friendly communities. In September 2015, the mayors of Barcelona, Lesbos, Lampedusa and Paris initiated the creation of a network of ‘refuge cities’ aiming to provide better reception conditions for migrants at local or municipal level.

Since then, many more elected officials have expressed their support for a more humane migration policy. In France, 179 local elected representatives have responded to the call for action Je soutiens l’accueil des migrantes et des migrants! (I support the reception of migrants!) launched by the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (Human Rights League) by signing a manifesto supporting the reception of migrants in France. The mayor of Grande-Synthe, Damien Carême, has built a refugee reception centre that complies with international standards.

In Greece, the mayor of Thessaloniki, Yiannis Boutaris, has launched an ambitious scheme to integrate refugees in urban areas. When refugees live in an urban area, rather than a camp, they can access work and sources of education more easily. It is also easier for them to integrate into the local community and build networks there. The village of Riace in Calabria is a beacon of hospitality and has become a model of successful integration: receiving large numbers of undocumented migrants has enabled it to regenerate after losing many residents to more urbanised areas. In Palermo (whose name means ‘universal haven’ in Ancient Greek), mayor Leoluca Orlando has recognised international mobility as an inalienable human right and is actively campaigning for the abolition of residence permits.

Local visions of hospitality and respect for others

Local initiatives are emerging all over Europe, but they are often hampered by more repressive national policies. This is the case throughout the continent. Italy recently refused to grant the Aquarius, a humanitarian rescue ship operated by SOS Méditerranée, access to its ports. Though the outraged mayors of Palermo and Naples decided to open their ports to the six hundred rescued migrants on board the ship, the Aquarius ultimately docked in the Spanish city of Valencia.

The important role that cities and local and regional governments play in migration policies was recently highlighted by the Mechelen Declaration, which was adopted at the Global Conference on Cities and Migration hosted by the Belgian government on 16 and 17 November 2017.

While the declaration is not legally binding, it is a first step towards ensuring that the wishes of local entities and the vital role played by them are taken into account in national debates on the reception of migrants.

At international level, Belgium will ensure that the Mechelen Declaration feeds into the Global Compact for Migration, which is currently being negotiated at the United Nations.

As European citizens, we can support these local visions of hospitality and respect for others. We can stand up for a humane migration policy that respects each individual’s fundamental rights. How? By adding our signatures to the European citizens’ initiative We are Welcoming Europe. By signing the ECI, we can show the European Commission that we want migration policy to change. While the ECI primarily aims to secure amendments to the parts of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that are connected with migration, it also lends more weight, through the number of signatures collected, to local initiatives promoting justice in migration.
Let’s make our voices heard to ensure that Europe remains a welcoming place.

This story has been translated from French.

This article also appeared on the CNCD 11.11.11 website.