Hosting refugees in a Mediterranean context: how does cities act? Integrating since day 1!

Hosting refugees in a Mediterranean context

The city of Vienna hosted last 14 and 15 February the fourth peer to peer meeting of the Mediterranean City to City Migration (MC2CM) project. The peer learning event focused on a specific migrant group, the refugees, and on how cities act in this context to provide basic services for this vulnerable group with an eye on the protection of their human right.

The city of Vienna has a long standing experience in hosting refugees, in particular during the Balkan war and now with regards to the conflicts and crises in the middles east region. Thus it was interesting for the other participants to benefit from the experience of the city and see what kind of approach is promoted by Vienna in this framework.

In the opening, Mr Jürgen Czernohorszky, Executive City Councilor for Education, Integration, Youth and Personnel and Ms.Hermine Mospointner, Mayor of the 10th district highlighted the need to start integration from day 1 of arrival and to focus on education and training as main issues for integration. The mayor of the 10th district also stressed the need for Europe to have a new frame to face the challenges of migration, in particular by constructing a social approach.

The political introduction was followed by a presentation on the refugee situation in Vienna. The city has been transited by around 300.000 refugees between September 2015 and January 2016, including 650.000 overnight stays in the period with peaks of 8.000 at one night. Nowadays, Vienna is hosting 21.000 asylum seekers. The city focuses its efforts to generate an integration process from the arrival day providing basic services related to health, education, housing, living together and social affairs. This services are implemented through a specific program, Start Vienna, which offer attention to the newcomers in function of their particular status and needs.

Reflecting on this reality, other peers presented their experiences , such as UNHCR Morocco regarding dispersed refugees in the context of mixed migration or the Center for Mediterranean Integration showcased the outcome of its activities with refugees and host communities. Finally, the Greater Amman Municipality exposed the situation and the challenges the city is facing while currently hosting 436.000 refugees.

In the afternoon, the city of Vienna organized a field visit to present the Youth College . The Youth College, launched in September 2016, is a proposal for young migrants (mainly asylum seekers) that are between 15 and 21 years old. The aim is to prepare the youth to go to a school, to find a workplace or a vocational training.

During the second day participants have been engaged in a group work to explore the issue of communications on refugee and to reflect on city authorities’ strategies; effective methods of communicating with local communities; stakeholders’ involvement; and target audiences.

Upstream to the group work, the city of Madrid, the city of Beirut and the Catalan Fund for Cooperation and Development (http://monlocalrefugiats.weebly.com/ // https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVnqUVLv7pU) presented the way they communicate on refugee, showing in a nutshell the complexity of the situation: hosting cities overloaded that don’t want to communicate on the situation as it may generate more social conflicts and cities wiling to host that are not receiving refugees due to national governments barriers.

As main result of the meeting, participating cities agreed on the need to work on the integration of refugees as soon as possible. Further, communication has been highlighted as a key element in several dimensions, communicate to the refugees on their rights, communicate to the locals on the refugee’s situation, communicate on the locals’ efforts of solidarity to host refugees and communicate toward the national and international levels to inform on the situation and request the needed resources and competencies to offer a decent and human right oriented hosting to the forced migrants.

While the work is ongoing with the network of cities, regarding the city migration profiles and the priorities of action, the next Mediterranean City-to-City Migration project (MC2CM) learning event will be hosted by the City of Amman the 25th and 26th of April on the topic of social housing and urban planning.

To recap, the MC2CM project, funded by the European Union and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, is led by International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) and includes UCLG and UN-Habitat as a partners and UNCHR as associated partner. Participating cities are: Amman, Beirut, Lisbon, Lyon, Madrid, Tangier, Tunis, Turin and Vienna.

For more information on the project: l.abbad@uclg.org

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