In this series of short articles we give examples of how EUROCITIES member cities across Europe are responding to the refugee crisis.
EU negotiations to address the asylum crisis are largely hindered by a strong anti-migrant alliance of four member states: Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, known as the ‘Visegrad group’. Their national governments remain staunchly opposed to any solidarity or sharing of efforts at European level, and are generally resistant to multiculturalism.
But some of their cities take the opposite view. In Poland, mayors of major cities like Gdansk have come out strongly in favour of welcoming and integrating migrants and asylum seekers. On 7 September, Gdansk city council voted unanimously to welcome refugees and make city buildings available to them, becoming the first Polish city to do so. Piotr Grzelak, deputy mayor, said: “One million and a half Poles took refuge in the West after 1980, we have a duty of solidarity towards those in need.”
Regardless of the decision at national level, Gdansk, in close cooperation with the Pomeranian regional authorities, is preparing a warm welcome for refugees. Local politicians discussed the need to ensure access for refugees to housing, language courses, healthcare and psychological support where necessary, at a city council session on 16 September.
Gdansk is reluctant to see refugee reception centres opened in the city, and instead believes in better integration within the host community. For example, vacant public housing could be renovated to host refugees, using funding from the EU’s asylum, migration and integration fund (AMIF). More importantly, mediators would be hired to act as intermediaries between private landlords and refugees, a practice that is already in place in other European cities.
Gdansk had been quietly preparing to open itself up to migrants for months. Thanks to a decision by the city’s mayor, Pawel Adamowicz, earlier this year, Gdansk became the first city in Poland to adopt a system and multi-sectoral approach to migration and integration processes. A team of around 100 representatives from 50 public institutions and NGOs is responsible for the process, co-chaired by representatives from the city council and from a civil society organisation.
Wishing to learn from other European cities, these representatives contacted us for access to our Integrating Cities methodology and to make the most of the support of peers. Gdansk also signed up to our Integrating Cities Charter and joined our working group on migration and integration.
On 21 September EUROCITIES, in partnership with The Centre, Edelman Brussels' forum for debate, will host the second in the series of urban dialogues debates, on ‘migration and asylum in Europe's cities’. For more information on the debate please visit http://bit.ly/1HrQHzt