On the 30th of August Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders visited Middelburg for the official opening of the “Cities of Refuge” research project. The Minister participated in a roundtable discussion with the city’s Mayor Harald Bergmann, the research team led by Prof. Dr. Barbara Oomen, key stakeholders in the implementation of human rights at the local level and representatives of the local community.
In his opening remarks, Minister Koenders stressed that cities are the unit best suited to find both practical and legal solutions to the current challenges, particularly in the domain of human rights. The local level, he said, should promote the design and implementation of policies that would indeed work for the benefit of the people and contribute to positive changes. The Minister touched upon issues of international human rights law as well as national refugee law, and highlighted the challenge to make those compatible with policies of refugee reception and integration. He said that policy makers at the national and supranational level needed to work closer with local governments in order to identify the bottlenecks that cities face as regards refugee integration, understand their causes and find together sustainable solutions.
Last but not least, the Cities of Refuge team presented the points of departure of the project, noting that in spite of the increasing role that international treaties play for cities and their residents, there still is very limited knowledge on how this works in practice. The team stated the ambition to contribute through its work as much as possible to clarifying the relevance of international human rights as law, praxis and discourse, to how local governments in Europe welcome and integrate refugees.
As one of the representatives of Middelburg’s local community participating in the roundtable discussion concluded, “cooperation and acting together means that we are already close to achieving our goals”.