From the 20th Century as ‘the Century of the nation-States’ to the 21st Century as ‘the Century of Cities’

It is the state that decides on asylum legislation, even though the cities are where protection is offered – it is the cities that ensure that people can live together. Increasingly, cities in the age of globalization are seen as engines of change with regard to dealing with refugees and migrants. Where migration, i.e. the new beginning and life, takes place at the local level, citizens and city governments are trying to find solutions towards create spaces that reduce the high vulnerability of the newly arrived and enable them to participate. And these efforts increasingly stand in opposition to the exclusionary developments of nation states and their legislations. This is accompanied by a change of perspective: namely away from the national and EU European spheres of power, and towards the spaces where arrival and social coexistence happens.

With the issuing of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants 11United Nations, “New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants” Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 19 September 2016, A/RES/71/1, 3 October 2016, https://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/71/1 of September 2016, the importance of locations of arrival for refugees has been highlighted and local solutions and opportunities has been strengthened.

“We commit to supporting host countries and communities in this regard, including by using locally available knowledge and capacities. We will support community-based development programmes that benefit both refugees and host communities.” 22United Nations, “New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants” Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 19 September 2016, A/RES/71/1, 3 October 2016, Clause No. 80, pp.14, https://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/71/1.

The 21st Century as a Century of Cities

The 20th century is often referred to as the “Century of Refugees” or the “Century of Expulsions.” 33Michael Marrus, The Unwanted. European Refugees in the Twentieth Century, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1985; Jochen, Oltmer, Migration im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Enzyklopädie deutscher Geschichte,Bd. 86), München: R. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, 2010. Indeed, different forms of forced migrations have reached an unprecedented level. The beginning of the 21st century has so far been characterized as a continuance of the former century heralding a new century of refugees. 44Benjamin, Barber, If Mayors Ruled the World. Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2013. It is to be analyzed with each selected city to what extent cities in the new century can play a role in resisting and redefining the terms of dealing with migrants. Lines of continuity and rupture to the role of the city in the 20th century will be traced as well, since also in the past “century of refugees” it were especially urban centers which became (perhaps temporary) places of refuge and new beginning.

The Local Turn

Since the summer 2015, the crisis in EU migration and asylum policy in the face of the issue of the accommodation and distribution of refugees has led to a strengthening of local solutions. The so-called “local turn” has made inroads into societies’ confrontation with immigration and social participation. 55See for example, Caroline Hughes, Joakim Öjendal and Isabell Schierenbek, “The struggle versus the song: the local turn in peace-building: an introduction” Third World Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 5, (2015): 817-824. The local level or the city increasingly become a space of solution for political dead ends of the nation-states. 66See for example, the Charter of Palermo, 2015. More and more cities worldwide are declaring themselves within these developments as cities of refuge or accommodation.

City as a Safe Haven

A clear definition of the concept of “city of refuge” is impossible because both an expression of solidarity and practice are linked in ways which are not always tied to concrete conditions. Not all urban communities enjoy the same scope for action but are rather subject to varying degrees of restrictions by their nation-states. Furthermore, there are urban spaces in which practices are carried out that are similar to those of the declared “Sanctuary Cities,” but they themselves do not described themselves as cities of refuge. 77H. Bauder and D. A., Gonzalez, “Municipal Responses to ‘Illegality’: Urban Sanctuary across National Contexts”, Social Inclusion, Vol. 6,No. 1, cit. (2018): 125.

In today’s discussion there are many different names for these cities and towns – from “Cities of Refuge,” “Città di accoglienza” to “Solidarity Cities,” “Welcome Cities” or “Safe havens.” The cities try to stay within their ability to oppose the national government and to provide shelter. The goal is to find new solutions in order to create a possible legal spaces for the local refugees by either proactively opposing the dictates of the nation-state or creatively reformulating it.

Sanctuary cities are an innovative urban response to exclusionary national policies. 88H. Bauder and D. A., Gonzalez, “Municipal Responses to ‘Illegality’: Urban Sanctuary across National Contexts”, Social Inclusion, Vol. 6,No. 1, cit. (2018): 125.

This usually involves working with their respective national governments to reduce cases of illegal immigration and the lack of residence permits, and to create opportunities to take refuge within the city’s limits. There are four aspects that characterize a city of refuge (Bauder et al., 2018):

(1) Legality, e.g. the official commitment of an urban legislative body to support refuge policies and practices;

(2) Discourse, e.g. to challenge exclusivist narratives that portray migrants and refugees as criminal and unworthy;

(3) Identity, e.g. the formation of collective identities that have a unified membership and express an urban community;

(4) Scale, e.g. the rejection of national migration and refugee legislation and the implementation of policies and practices of belonging.

These four aspects come together in numerous ways in different contexts. Nevertheless, they can serve as a working definition of a city of refuge. 99H. Bauder and D. A., Gonzalez, “Municipal Responses to ‘Illegality’: Urban Sanctuary across National Contexts”, Social Inclusion, Vol. 6,No. 1, cit. (2018): 126-127.

A Question of Perspective

To look at a city of refuge from the point of view of a refugee opens up a perspective that is linked to the strategies and hopes of human beings, who are, or have been, connected to that respective city. Although Vilnius – the capital of a Polish ‘voivodeship’ until October 1939, and until June 1940, the capital of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic – was certainly not seen as a “sanctuary city,” it provided for Polish Jewish refugees for a certain period of time a safe haven par excellence. International Jewish organizations and self-organizations by refugees met urban initiatives, which offered refugees a safe haven.

Urban sanctuary communities are changing the discourses of migration and belonging and are reimagining the city as an inclusive space. 1010H. Bauder and D. A., Gonzalez, “Municipal Responses to ‘Illegality’: Urban Sanctuary across National Contexts”, Social Inclusion, Vol. 6,No. 1, cit. (2018): 125.

This haven was used by many for their onward journey in one way or the other. But due to the Jewish infrastructure which had been woven within the city for centuries, Vilnius also provided new beginnings for many, and the basis to resume one’s cultural life. That these hopes were brutally shattered by Nazi Germany shouldn’t mean that history should be read backwards and to disqualify Vilnius as a sanctuary city​​ for Jewish refugees, even if temporary.

Nowadays, Palermo defines itself as the city of accommodation and thus signals a readiness to open up and allow for the participation of all people beyond refuge:

“There are no migrants; anyone who arrives in Palermo becomes a Palermitan.” 1111Charter of Palermo, 2015.

    Footnotes

  • 1United Nations, “New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants” Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 19 September 2016, A/RES/71/1, 3 October 2016, https://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/71/1
  • 2United Nations, “New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants” Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 19 September 2016, A/RES/71/1, 3 October 2016, Clause No. 80, pp.14, https://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/71/1.
  • 3Michael Marrus, The Unwanted. European Refugees in the Twentieth Century, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1985; Jochen, Oltmer, Migration im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Enzyklopädie deutscher Geschichte,Bd. 86), München: R. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, 2010.
  • 4Benjamin, Barber, If Mayors Ruled the World. Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2013.
  • 5See for example, Caroline Hughes, Joakim Öjendal and Isabell Schierenbek, “The struggle versus the song: the local turn in peace-building: an introduction” Third World Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 5, (2015): 817-824.
  • 6See for example, the Charter of Palermo, 2015.
  • 7H. Bauder and D. A., Gonzalez, “Municipal Responses to ‘Illegality’: Urban Sanctuary across National Contexts”, Social Inclusion, Vol. 6,No. 1, cit. (2018): 125.
  • 8H. Bauder and D. A., Gonzalez, “Municipal Responses to ‘Illegality’: Urban Sanctuary across National Contexts”, Social Inclusion, Vol. 6,No. 1, cit. (2018): 125.
  • 9H. Bauder and D. A., Gonzalez, “Municipal Responses to ‘Illegality’: Urban Sanctuary across National Contexts”, Social Inclusion, Vol. 6,No. 1, cit. (2018): 126-127.
  • 10H. Bauder and D. A., Gonzalez, “Municipal Responses to ‘Illegality’: Urban Sanctuary across National Contexts”, Social Inclusion, Vol. 6,No. 1, cit. (2018): 125.
  • 11Charter of Palermo, 2015.
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