33 European cities declare themselves as safe harbours for migrants

What a fantastic outcome of the conference “From the Sea to the Cities”: 33 European cities formed the International City Alliance of Safe Harbours aspiring to provide legal corridors for migrants with local municipalities at its centrum. The hybrid meeting of city mayors took place in Palermo on 25 and 26 June 2021. It was organised by the cities of Potsdam and Palermo as well as civil society actors such as “Seebrücke” and “Sea Watch” under the consortium “From the Sea to the Cities”. Among the participants were Professor Gesine Schwan, leader of the “Humboldt-Viadrina Governance Platform” and Member of the European Parliament Erik Marquardt.

The outcomes of the conference are clear: Europe needs to welcome migrants instead of letting them drown in the Mediterranean Sea. Municipalities should take up the leadership role in welcoming people who flee from the most horrible circumstances one can ever imagine, when governments are failing to uphold fundamental human rights. Tareq Alouws spoke in behalf of Seebrücke and claimed that nothing has changed in the past at the EU’s external borders: “It is a humanitarian desaster”.

“The right to asylum is dying in Europe”, affirmed Maurice Stierl from Alarmphone, a NGO operating on the Mediterranean Sea by taking rescue calls of migrants in distress at sea. He pointed out: “EU policy is based on the assumption that migration is dangerous”. According to him, the situation on the Greek islands is terrible, as well as the situation at sea. Mortello raised the question on how migrants can find protection and safety, because crossing the sea can never be safe. He concluded: “We need to build safe and legal corridors from the sea to the cities.”

Mayor Martello from the city of Lampedusa claimed that Europe has no strategy to welcome migrants. Lampedusa is a Greek island and an arrival hotspot for migrants. Thus, Martello knows the situation well: “It is not an emergency situation, but an emergency situation of reception”. The cities at the EU’s external borders are overwhelmed. Lampedusa sees twice as many people arriving this year in comparison to last year. Martello insisted: “Places of arrivals should be transformed to ensure an adequate welcome.” Thus, solidarity among the EU Member States is urgently needed. “No real discussion takes place on the EU level when it comes to migration”, said Martello, “there is only disinterest”.

Seebrücke activist Maximiliane Gleissner from Munich pointed out that the Northern European states should start to see Lampedusa as their border. “We need a different vision. Migration is a part of our society”, emphasized Gleissner.

“Mayors have to find solutions for the national level”, stated Professor Dr. Gesine Schwan. She claimed as well: “We need to connect the integration of refugees with the UN Sustainable Development Goals”. Especially Goal 11 of the SDGs opts for making cities inclusive spaces, including better working and living conditions for refugees.

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