The influx of refugees has tested the resilience of cities to develop both short and long-term strategies to cope with their new residents. Kirsty Tuxford highlights the problems that European cities are facing and asks mayors how migration will affect long-term development.

The influx of refugees has tested the resilience of cities to develop both short and long-term strategies to cope with their new residents. Kirsty Tuxford highlights the problems that European cities are facing and asks mayors how migration will affect long-term development.

Images of dishevelled migrants arriving in Europe on overcrowded boats, with tiny children clinging desperately to them have grabbed the world’s attention. The plight of these desperate people as they trudge across Europe in search of a new home has been covered widely in the media from a humanistic point of view, but what about the cities where they end up? How does a city administration cope with such an influx of displaced people?

“Addressing migration surges at a local level can be daunting,” says Dan Lewis, Chief of the Urban Risk Reduction Unit, and Head of the City Resilience Profiling Programme at UN-Habitat. “Once refugees and other migrants arrive in destination countries, local governments are expected to provide resources, management, and financial commitments to support them.”

UN-Habitat’s City Resilience Programme seeks to build local governments’ capacity to absorb and recover quickly from the impact of all plausible shocks and stresses. The methodology involves using a systems approach to test this capacity against environmental, social and economic risk, and recommending measures to adjust the physical, functional, organizational and spatial aspects of a city to create or improve its resilience.

With migration, the potential for uneven standards of service, potential ethnic or economic isolation, and rapidly dwindling resources in hosting cities is high. Alternatively, if cities are working to their best, local governments and hosting communities can more effectively build on the social, political and economic resources new migrants bring to their cities, to establish common standards of service and resettlement options.

“These standards of service include at a minimum: community sensitisation and mobilisation; human resource needs; infrastructure needs; services; funds and finance; protection; livelihoods; and ongoing monitoring,” says Lewis.

Finding the resources to cope

In 2015, EUROCITIES published an asylum statement which identified that cities throughout Europe face differing challenges depending on whether they are cities of arrival, transit or destination.

“They all have a particular role to play in the guarantee of basic protection to asylum claimants and in the reception and integration of newcomers in our society,” says Anna Lisa Boni, Secretary General of EUROCITIES. “Although individual practices depend on the local context, resources, and competences, generally speaking European cities have had to collaborate with NGOs and volunteers, set up coordination teams across city departments, identify and acquire available public buildings, collaborate with private landlords, and set up basic services in temporary camps.”

Towards the end of 2015, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, reported that around 680,400 people had arrived in Europe that year alone from crisis regions. Estimates say that by the end of 2015, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland had received 1.3 million asylum applications.

Seeing such applicants as new citizens able to contribute to an improvement to a city’s development is a view which has been espoused by many European mayors facing up to migrants moving into their cities.

“I don’t think about numbers, only refugees’ safety,” says Dieter Reiter, Mayor of Munich. More than 39,000 asylum seekers and migrants have arrived in the city since the start of September 2015, but preparations were being made long before that. Facilities include a temporary reception and medical centres, special bus and train services, and a makeshiftprocessing centre near the train station. At the centre, police distribute water, and officials and volunteers register asylum seekers and offer information.Funds of €1 million have been donated by the city’s football club, Bayern Munich, to help support the city’s efforts. Most importantly, the city operates a policy of long-term integration for newcomers and is nurturing the idea of a ‘welcome culture’. Studies have been undertaken to measure the public’s perception towards migration and multiculturalism, and just under 90 percent of residents with or without a migrant background feel ‘comfortable’ to ‘very comfortable’ with Munich’s multicultural society.

Thousands of refugees are passing though Vienna en-route to German cities like Munich. In July 2015, Vienna’s city administration set up the ‘Coordination centre for refugees in Vienna’ which serves as a central information point maintaining close contact with the Austrian train company, the police, several NGOs, such as Caritas and the Red Cross, and groups of volunteers. In cooperation with the Vienna Social Fund, the city has also created a mobile app, available across all platforms, a website and a telephone hotline to keep the public informed with relevant information.

Between 7-13 September Utrecht had to respond within 24 hours when 4,200 asylum seekers arrived in the Netherlands. Thanks to the city’s Human Rights Coalition comprised of city authorities, civil society organisations and volunteers, from 16 September hundreds of asylum seekers–mainly men from Eritrea and Syria–were housed in city managed emergency shelters. Families were housed elsewhere. Hot meals, mattresses and sanitary facilities were available immediately. “These emergency reception measures are part of the long tradition of Utrecht as a human rights city,” says Margriet Jongerius, Deputy Mayor of Utrecht. “It is heart-warming to see that people and organisations in the city also want to contribute.”

Boni of EUROCITIES says that integration economically is key to adaptation to the shocks from migrant flows. “Cities have a lot to lose from policies that consign asylum seekers to deprivation and exclusion or that put them at risk of becoming victims of abusive employers and landlords, smugglers, human traffickers and organised crime,” says Boni. “This is why we asked in our our ‘Integrating Cities Charter’, that all asylum seekers are allowed to work immediately after registration, as is now the case in Germany.”

A case in point is Dresden which by the end of October 2015, had received 5,500 asylum seekers.. “We want to start as early as possible to avoid that people get a feeling of being sidelined,” says Dirk Hilbert, Mayor of Dresden. “Integration in the job market or in the education system is one of the most successful ways to integrate into our society. Unemployment, lack of training and no knowledge of the German language have the opposite effect.”

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But integration, provision of housing and emergency set-up centres require resources when cities are already under financial pressure. According to EUROCITIES, often the emergency measures put in place by cities are financed at their own cost, without support from the national or the European level. In the network’s asylum statement, they requested that cities should be included, alongside national governments and NGOs, in the list of bodies that are eligible for emergency financial assistance in responding to migratory pressure.

“City budgets have been heavily affected by severe budgetary cuts, and resources allocated to social services are often the first to be cut,” comments Boni. “But city authorities should also be much more involved in decision making regarding the design, implementation and use of integration funding within the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) [a €3 billion fund set up by the European Union]. There cannot only be consultation, there is a need for a true partnership.”

Denmark has adopted powers to take away the personal property of migrants. And in Sweden while the national government has taken measures to impose border controls on the bridge linking Malmo to Denmark, Karin Wanngård, Mayor of Stockholm, says that the price of accepting migrants is one the city must pay.

“Of course there is a cost in all of this, but Stockholm has a strong economy and will be able to manage,” says the mayor who argues that European Social Funds should be applied for the integration of refugee children. “From a long-term perspective, once people learn the language and enter the labour market, the population growth will greatly benefit Stockholm’s economy. We also have a large number of people reaching retirement age in the next decade, and we need to fill these positions, this is especially true when it comes to sectors such as schools and elderly care.”

Stockholm has received both refugees who are transiting, and those who have stayed. “It is hard to give an exact number, but to give an estimate, in December Stockholm had almost 9,000 refugees registered,” says Wanngård “Between October and November 2015, 3,883 children arrived at Stockholm Central station.”

As Swedish cities struggle to cope, the national government has now reversed its open-door policy for refugees with Prime Minister Stefan Löfven saying: “We cannot do any more” when announcing last November that his country would revert to the EU minimum. Stockholm’s mayor says her city is still able to accept migrants but understands the reason for the national restrictions.

“Stockholm has a good capacity and professional organisation that is well suited to handling the current situation,” says Wanngård. “At the same time, other cities and parts of Sweden operate under different circumstances, so I have full confidence that the government, having to look at the country as a whole, has acted in a way that they need to do, basedon their analysis of the situation.”

Istanbul a magnet for Syrian refugees

Of those fleeing because of the Syrian conflict, only a small percentage make it to western urope–the UN has registered over 4 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, gypt and North Africa.

There are more Syrian refugees in Istanbul than in the rest of Europe combined. While poorer refugees require support from the city, wealthier and more educated Syrians are setting up businesses in Turkey’s largest city–750 in the first half of 2015 according to reports. However, Turkey’s Interior Ministry says that Syrian refugees have relocated to 72 of the country’s 81 provinces.

“With the Interior Ministry’s decision in October 2011, registered Syrian refugees are given temporary protection status under the temporary protection regime,” explains Adem Yavuz, Acting Director of Foreign Affairs Photo: Franceco Malavolta/IOM in Beşiktaş, a district unicipality of İstanbul. “Protection and aid is provided to Syrians, covering regulations on indefinite residence, protection against going back under coercion, and responding to emergency needs.”

Despite the ability of refugees to help themselves, Beşiktaş is facing difficulties. “It has very limited authority and power for coping or helping Syrian refugees,” adds Yavuz. “Other municipalities such as İstanbul Greater Metropolitan Municipality, Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Kilis, Hatay, Adana, Osmaniye, Kahramanmaraş, Mersin and Konya have an intensive refugee population and more authority to cope.”

Mass migration has not acted as a shock to urban systems since the Second World War but city leaders are having to quickly adapt and absorb the effects of migrants coming to Europe. The key as EUROCITIES’ Secretary-General makes clear is to anticipate and prepare the city for such effects.

“[Cities need to be] open, inclusive, pragmatic and taking a longer-term perspective. Within our network, we have seen cities which are as yet unaffected by the refugee crisis taking the necessary steps to prepare. Gdansk in Poland, is an example,” says Boni.

As with all resilience plans, there is no one-size-fits-all for cities but UN-Habitat has defined a framework of value principles in terms of managing the influx of migrants which include: a balanced distribution of host families; translation of state commitments to a local level; allowing refugees to seek self-reliance; host community engagement; including refugees as part of the solution; seeing people as assets; and mitigating the security risks from unregulated refugee flows.

“Integrating measures and addressing the social and economic impacts on city functions and organisations helps ensure the city ‘system’ remains intact or even improves for all its citizens and contributes to its resilience over the longer term,” says Lewis.