Thursday

23rd May 2019

Opinion

Europe must empower its cities to respond to refugee crisis

  • Women and children are living in unfathomably harsh winter conditions on the Greek islands, in Serbia and on the Hungarian border. (Photo: UNHCR / D. Kashavelov)

The refugee crisis is one we must address in our cities. Many cities around Europe have become hubs for thousands of people seeking international protection.

Long before Germany opened its borders in September 2015, ahead of the height of the crisis, cities like Barcelona have been calling for a more constructive and humanitarian response.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Through Eurocities we have a strong and united voice. Barcelona is among the 139 major European cities calling on the EU institutions for greater solidarity and a more humanitarian response to the crisis.

On World Refugee Day last year, we urged EU and national leaders to learn the lessons of the past and uphold European values of solidarity, tolerance and dignity. In October 2016 we launched Solidarity Cities, an initiative enabling cities to work together on refugee reception and integration.

We continually call for cities to be formally recognised as points of arrival, transit hubs and destinations for refugees in Europe.

As discussions were taking place on the EU-Turkey deal last spring and EU member states along the ‘Balkan road’ were attempting to seal off their borders to refugees, city leaders in Greece and the Balkans issued a stark warning: close the borders and cities will become open prisons.

Close them and refugees making their way to northern and western Europe will be stuck in dire and inhumane conditions with no infrastructure in place for their reception and integration.

They warned us and they were right. Families waiting for asylum claims to be processed at Europe’s borders are enduring freezing conditions.

Many of these are women and children, living in unfathomably harsh winter conditions on the Greek islands, in Serbia and on the Hungarian border.

Europe must settle more refugees

Meanwhile, the EU institutions tell us their deal has helped stem the arrival of migrants by sea from Turkey. Yet the reality is fewer than 9,000 of the 160,000 refugees have so far been relocated.

There simply is no excuse for this humanitarian disaster.

People are struggling for survival as we watch on. More than 10,000 people are currently seeking international protection in Europe.

If we fail to take real and effective measures now, the number of victims will continue to grow.

Europe needs to act urgently to ensure refugees’ basic human rights are being respected; we can’t ignore what is stated in every international and European convention.

As local politicians, we are under pressure from many of our citizens to deliver a response that is in line with European values of solidarity and responsibility.

I am continually overwhelmed by the actions in our local communities; the way civil society, volunteer organisations and local businesses have mobilised to do something about the crisis.

They are rightly outraged, and they are acting. We must act too.

Cities must be empowered

This is why the EU and member states need to empower European cities. We have shown we are ready for the challenge, but we need help to continue our good work.

As it is, cities cannot directly access EU funding for the reception and integration of refugees.

This needs to change: we can’t afford to wait for funding to trickle down through national authorities while refugees are desperately seeking shelter in our cities.

We also know from our colleagues across the Eurocities network that many more cities are willing and ready to welcome refugees.

Allowing us to set up a city-to-city relocation scheme would be a positive way to take the burden off Greek and Italian cities and distribute refugees to other cities that have the capacity to receive and integrate them.

We need less talk and more action.

Europe must mobilise the necessary resources to end the Mediterranean Sea crisis once and for all.

Barcelona, together with other european cities, is determined to help solving this crisis with no more delay.

We need Europe to give us the power to do so.

We are looking forward to express this message from the cities to Commissioners Cretu and Avramopoulos at a meeting in Amsterdam on 7 February.

Laia Ortiz is Barcelona deputy mayor for social rights and chair of the Eurocities Social Affairs Forum.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Interview

Refusing refugees should cost EU funds, MEP says

Swedish liberal MEP Cecilia Wikstroem, the European Parliament's negotiator on asylum reform, says it is too complicated to fine member states for not taking refugees and will instead look for ways to withhold their EU funds instead.

Computer to make EU asylum decisions

The EU commission has presented sweeping reforms of the "Dublin" asylum regulation that include deferring the most painful decisions to a computer in Malta.

Athens: Refugee kids stuck in EU limbo

An EU-financed centre for unaccompanied minors in Athens is one of the best-run ones in Greece, but the slow pace of relocation and reunification is forcing some to leave.

News in Brief

  1. Some EU citizens turned away at UK polling stations
  2. Switzerland unlikely to sign draft EU deal
  3. UK sacked defence secretary backs Johnson for leader
  4. Dutch voter turnout so far slightly down on 2014
  5. Report: Hungary's Fidesz 'bought' Belgian official
  6. Poll: Denmark set to double number of liberal MEPs
  7. European brands 'breaking' chemical safety rules
  8. Report: Merkel was lobbied to accept EU top job

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Latest News

  1. Polling booths open in UK's limbo EU election
  2. Dutch PM puts EU exit on agenda with election gamble
  3. EU development aid used to put European police in Senegal
  4. EU should stop an insane US-Iran war
  5. EU faces moment of truth at midnight on Sunday
  6. Dutch MPs: EU sanctions should bear Magnitsky name
  7. Far-right hate speech flooded Facebook ahead of EU vote
  8. Key details on how Europeans will vote

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us