Refugee challenge for cities and a continent
A coalition of European mayors has called on the continent’s governments to change the tone with which they discuss refugees.
In an open letter published for World Refugee Day this morning, the 11 mayors warn that “there remains a nationalistic, isolationist and at times xenophobic undertone” to many of Europe’s debates about migration.
World Refugee Day, 20 June, is a moment for us to reflect on our common European values of solidarity, humanity and dignity. The refugee situation remains a top priority for Europe and for cities. As European city leaders, every day we manage the immediate and long-term challenges this poses.
Our experience tells us we need to refocus the debate at European level. 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 whole.
The decisions we take at this critical point in time will shape the future of our European Union.
Europe can set an example. We are a continent born out of the ruins of nationalism and war, and we thrive on peace and cooperation. Only by working together can we overcome the challenges brought on by war, poverty and persecution in other parts of the world.
The guiding principles of solidarity, humanity and dignity upon which the European Union is founded should define our approach to the reception and integration of refugees. Particular focus needs to be put on the most vulnerable groups: women, children and unaccompanied minors.
It falls to us, the leaders of major European cities, to get integration right. Many refugees and asylum seekers will settle in our cities, and we must ensure that they are given a decent start in our communities. Many of us have signed up to the Eurocities Integrating Cities charter, through which we commit to the principles of non-discrimination and equality in our cities.
We have been overwhelmed by the positive response from civil society, volunteer organisations and businesses in our local communities. Nevertheless, there remains a nationalistic, isolationist and at times xenophobic undertone to some debates at national and European level. This does nothing to support the long-term integration of refugees and asylum seekers, and only serves to hinder Europe’s social cohesion.
We are determined to counter these narratives with clear, honest and transparent communication with our citizens. We want to set an example at local level that fully embraces our shared European values.
The debates at European level should better reflect the principles we outline here. These are principles that are put into practice every day in our cities, in most cases without direct access to the necessary resources from the EU and national governments.
Now is the time to put our shared European values of solidarity, humanity and dignity to the test. Cities are where the integration of newcomers will succeed or fail. We, as leaders of major European cities, want European leaders – President Juncker, President Schulz, President Tusk and national leaders – to work with us, not only by acknowledging our challenges but also with concrete actions such as direct financial support to cities. Only together can we confront the biggest humanitarian challenge Europe has faced since the second world war.
Johanna Rolland Mayor of Nantes and president of Eurocities, Daniël Termont Mayor of Ghent and vice-president of Eurocities, John Clancy Leader of Birmingham city council, Ada Colau Mayor of Barcelona, Zoran Jankovic Mayor of Ljubljana, Karin Wanngård Mayor of Stockholm, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz Mayor of Warsaw, Burkhard Jung Mayor of Leipzig, Dario Nardella Mayor of Florence, Ahmed Aboutaleb Mayor of Rotterdam, Michael Häupl Mayor of Vienna (all members of the Eurocities executive committee)