In Europe as elsewhere, immigration is an issue characterized by controversy and political deadlock. The Cities of Refuge Podcast, officially launched by our team in December 2020, thematizes the crucial yet often overlooked role of local governments in regulating migration and promoting the rights of migrants and refugees.

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Season 2: Episodes

February 21, 2022

Even during pandemic times, researchers worldwide have continued to study how local authorities approach questions of migrant reception and integration. Some of these projects and their findings were presented in early February 2022 at a conference at the Villa Vigoni by Lake Como in Italy entitled “Going Local: refugees’/migrants’ integration processes at the local level”. Barbara Oomen shares her on-site impressions from the conference and talks to several participants including co-organizer Veronica Federico, Petra Bendel, Franziska Ziegler, Michela Semprebon, and Patricia Nabuco Martuscelli. The short interviews offer insights into a range of topical questions such as the merits of comparative analyses on local migration policies, the commonalities and differences between Germany and Italy, research-based algorithms to match refugees with interested localities, the relevance of strategic litigation, and the policies of local authorities in Brazil.

February 1, 2022

While diplomacy is traditionally regarded as an activity exclusive to nation-states and their governments, cities have recently made big inroads in this area, especially as global migration governance is concerned. To learn more about this development and its theorization, Moritz Baumgärtel talks to Dr. Janina Stürner-Siovitz, a research fellow at the Friedrich-Alexander-University in Erlangen, Germany. The interview begins with a discussion on the “city migration governance paradox” to then set out what observations can be made about city diplomacy based on role theory. In doing so, it covers the different (and often not-so-different) roles that local authorities currently perform at the global stage, the issue of the representativeness of such actions, and how they are linked to the policies taken by national governments and international organizations.

January 17, 2022

Whether we are talking about burqa bans, honour killings, or practices of female genital mutilation, controversies regarding cultural practices looms large not only in discussions on integration but in human rights law more generally. To discuss how delicate and complex notions of “culture” should be dealt with in courts, Moritz Baumgärtel interviews Dr. Paola Pannia, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Florence undertaking comparative research on culture, equality, and judicial reasoning. Their talk delves into the conceptual intricacies of culture, the way in which judges in Italy, the United Kingdom and the European Court of Human Rights deal with them, the risks of essentialization and stigmatization, as well as the importance of balancing between human rights and cultural aspects, including in questions related to gender.

January 3, 2022

On 17 December 2021, Dr. Tihomir Sabchev successfully defended his doctoral dissertation titled "Local authorities, human rights and the reception and integration of forced migrants in Greece and Italy". In this episode, Tihomir is interviewed by his Cities of Refuge colleagues and supervisors Barbara Oomen and Moritz Baumgärtel on some of the key findings of his four-year research project. This includes a conversation about the scope and sustainability of local policies in Greece, the relationship of Greek local authorities to international organizations, the relevance of human rights in local approaches to migration in cities like Bologna, the significance (and limits) of mayoral leadership, and his current work exploring the potential of community-based refugee sponsorship.

December 13, 2021

This episode zooms in on developments close to the home base of the Cities of Refuge project in the Dutch province of Zeeland. In recent months newly arrived asylum seekers in the Netherlands have been housed in emergency shelters and even in tents because of an acute shortage of asylum accommodations. The municipalities of Middelburg and Goes in Zeeland were among the first in the Netherlands to offer help to the central government and centralised reception authorities. How did this capacity problem arise? What are the differences between the 2015 crisis of refugee governance and the current situation? Why and how did municipal actors in Middelburg and Goes become involved? Barbara Oomen and Sara Miellet talk to Margo Mulder, the Mayor of Goes, and Harald Bergmann, the Mayor of Middelburg about these questions including late-night phone calls and WhatsApp texts, local political leadership, and accountancy-driven refugee reception. Their discussion highlights how mayors matter for migration governance, innovations in refugee reception, and local perspectives on long-term developments in the Dutch multi-level governance context.

November 29, 2021

In this follow-up episode on the emergence of cities in international law, Elif Durmus interviews Eva Garcia Chueca, Senior Research Fellow at CIDOB’s Global Cities Programme, about the involvement of local governments in the global arena and the legal and behaviour-shaping value of local and international human rights charters. They specifically zoom in on the drafting processes and the relevance of the European Charter for Safeguarding Human Rights in the City and the Global Charter-Agenda for Human Rights in the City, two documents that invoke the language and form of international law to claim some level of bindingness or at least legal significance. To what extent do local governments intend to be bound by such transnational, quasi-legal commitments? What is the charters’ impact on the ground and how could they be made more effective? The conversation also addresses the role of city networks in this process and the future direction of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' engagement with local authorities.

November 15, 2021

Cities are increasingly recognized as actors that participate in the implementation and even in the creation of international law. On the occasion of the publication of the Research Handbook on International Law and Cities, Moritz Baumgärtel speaks to the volume’s lead editors and pioneering scholars in the field: Janne Nijman, Professor of History and Theory of International Law at the University of Amsterdam, and Helmut Aust, Professor of Law at the Freie Universität in Berlin. In their conversation, they talk about how cities’ actions became a topic first in their own research, and then in international law more generally—and why people from outside the discipline should care about this development in international law. They also go through some of the examples where cities’ influence has been particularly pronounced, as well as the response of states to cities challenging (or at least negotiating) their sovereignty

November 1, 2021

In the first episode of the new season, we talk about “From the Sea to the City”, a new and interesting consortium of civil society organisations working together with cities for a more human rights-based migration policy. “From the Sea to the City” held a major conference in Palermo back in June of this year that led to the creation of an "International Alliance of Safe Harbours” featuring 33 co-founding cities. Moritz Baumgärtel discusses the origins, process and goals of both alliances with two guests from the Humboldt-Viadrina Governance Platform, which has been driving the process: Professor Gesine Schwan and Dr. Malisa Zobel, respectively the co-founder of the Platform and the program director of its Municipal Integration and Development Initiative.


Season 1: Episodes

July 5, 2021

Global cities are often thought of as culturally diverse, welcoming to newcomers, and generally committed to human rights norms. To unpack this conception, Moritz Baumgärtel talks to Lisa Roodenburg, who recently defended her PhD dissertation entitled “Anticipating Friction: The role of human rights in urban debates on migration and diversity” at the University of Amsterdam. They discuss the insights that she gained from the three cases studies of Amsterdam, Hong Kong and Buenos Aires, which show that notions of human rights are not just manifold but often contested and contradictory, even within the same locality. Their conversation touches upon the importance of local political and institutional factors, the influence and strategies of civil society actors, and the merits and shortcomings of the human rights labels that global cities in particular like to adopt.

June 18, 2021

Switzerland is a unique “fortress” in Europe, both geographically and socially speaking. This diverse but relatively exclusive country hosts many international organizations, yet also fewer refugees per capita than most other European countries, as well as a comparably high percentage of well-off expats. Switzerland also has a highly decentralized and stringently regulated four-tiered governance system, and so-called “city states” where the municipalities and kantons share the same borders. In this episode, Elif Durmuş interviews UCR alumnae Natalia Burduli and Lea Jörg, who wrote their BA theses on Geneva and Bern, respectively, within the framework of the Cities of Refuge project. Together, they explore the role of civil society in shaping local migration policies and practices of inclusion, exclusion, and urban citizenship, including through the novel practice of city ID cards.

June 1, 2021

Italy as one of Europe’s migration “front line” states has gone through tumultuous years of migration policy, which found their apex during the former government with its Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. To break down the practical and theoretical implications of this period and its aftermath, Moritz Baumgärtel is joined by Tiziana Caponio, Associate Professor at the University of Turin and Marie Curie Fellow at the European University Institute. The interview starts off by considering the status quo of Italian migration policy post-Salvini before pivoting to the concept of multi-level governance and how it applies, with some significant limitations, in the context of Italy. They also discuss the “whole-of-community” approach to migration governance, which is at the heart of Tiziana Caponio’s new Horizon 2020 project ("Whole-COMM"), as well as the use that this approach could have for small and medium-sized towns in Italy and across Europe.

May 17, 2021

Dutch politics have seen heated migration-related controversies in recent years, on topics such as the relocation of migrants from the Greek islands or emergency shelter for refused asylum seekers. To discuss the haphazard process of policymaking in this area, Barbara Oomen and Sara Miellet speak to Bram van Ojik, a former Member of the Dutch House of Representatives for the GreenLeft Party, who has been very active in this area for decades. Their conversation tackles a range of questions including the different policy rationales of national and local policymakers, the ambiguous relation of the Dutch political class to human rights principles, the problematic effect of partisan politics, and the definition of success for advocates of a more progressive approach to immigration.

May 3, 2021

The arrival of millions of Syrian refugees has had profound and complex effects on Turkish municipalities. In this episode, Elif Durmuş interviews Sinan Özden, the National Project Manager of Resilience of Local Governance in the Face of Migration (RESLOG) Turkey, which uses the concept of resilience to build a local governance toolbox in relation to migration challenges. In their discussion, they go through the methods and knowledge generated, codified and disseminated for and by local governments and their partners; questions of municipal ownership over the resulting concepts and approaches; as well as the durability of the successes that have been achieved so far.

April 19, 2021

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In this tenth episode, all five members of the Cities of Refuge team come together to go through some of the most illustrative and symbolic pictures that they took during the fieldwork in the past three years. As the visual journey takes us to Heidelberg, Vlissingen, Samos, the north of the Netherlands, Ankara and eventually Marrakesh, the crew touches upon a range of aspects including the politics of representation, “mundane” dimensions of integration, the power of walls and barriers, the importance of cooperation, and local migration policies being actively hidden from public view.

March 29, 2021

Urban public spaces play a vital role in the experience especially of refugee youth, and therefore also for their integration. Sara Miellet speaks with Ilse van Liempt, Associate Professor in Urban Geography at Utrecht University, about her ongoing research on this topic. Their discussion addresses aspects such as the difference between formal and informal spaces of encounters, the everyday expressions of integration, the ways refugees claim public space, and the role that local authorities can play to facilitate such processes. They also consider the changing character of public space in times of a global pandemic – and what we can all learn from refugees as involuntary “lockdown experts”.

March 15, 2021

Many local authorities in Greece have been surprisingly proactive in the policy areas of refugee reception and integration despite their limited competencies, experience, and resources. Tihomir Sabchev talks to Lefteris Papagiannakis, Head of Advocacy, Policy and Research at the Athens-based NGO Solidarity Now and former Vice-Mayor of Athens, to discuss the extent and reasons for municipal activism in Greece, as well as the limits and potentials of thereof. Their discussion tackles central questions such as the legal constraints confronting progressive localities, the complex political environment in Greece, the leading role of larger cities and mayors, and the importance of creating durable policy solutions in a crisis-worn context.

March 1, 2021

Due to the war in neighbouring Syria, Turkey is currently the world’s top refugee-hosting country, having welcomed nearly five million people over the past decade. To discuss the role of local governments as on-the-ground providers of human and refugee rights in such a challenging context, Elif Durmuş speaks with Bahar Özden, Programme Consultant at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law of Lund University. More specifically, they discuss the Institute’s recent human rights cities project in Turkey, the rights of refugees as one focus point of these efforts, and the project’s resilience in the face of contested local elections, a global pandemic, a heavy economic crisis, and an increasingly hostile and xenophobic environment towards Syrian refugees.

February 15, 2021

The newly found confidence of local governments also extends to the global level where cities are teaming up in networks to influence migration governance. Moritz Baumgärtel is joined by Colleen Thouez, the Director of the Welcoming and Inclusive Cities Division at the Open Society Foundations (OSF) to discuss the growing activism and recent accomplishments of local authorities on the international stage. They go through the reasons behind the proliferation of inter-city networks, the creation of the Mayors Migration Council by OSF and their partners, the difficult question of access to and representation in these networks, their relationship to international organizations such as the UNHCR, and the promise that inspirational mayoral leadership holds for the future.

February 1, 2021

In June 2019, 13 German cities decided to create the municipal alliance “Cities of Safe Harbours” that stands in solidarity with the “Seebrücke” movement in its quest to create safe pathways for refugees and end the criminalization of maritime rescue. Moritz Baumgärtel, Sara Miellet and UCR student Franziska Pett look at the origins of the initiative, the motivation behind cities’ participation, and some of the actions that have resulted from their commitments. They also zoom in on the roles played by Berlin and Potsdam, two of the alliance's founding cities, and discuss some of the tensions that exist between their municipal authorities and local civil society organisations.

January 4, 2021

A growing number of communities in Europe are exploring options to “sponsor” refugees by directly resettling them from abroad and integrating them into their localities. Tihomir Sabchev talks to Lawrence Robinson, Senior Policy Coordinator at the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative, about the potential and the challenges of importing this model from Canada, where over 300,000 refugees have been welcomed under this scheme since 1979. Their discussion tackles key issues such as the respective roles of local and national governments in this model, the principle of additionality to national resettlement quotas, the merits of naming specific refugees or groups, as well as resources and funding.

December 21, 2020

In less than a month, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th US president. Moritz Baumgärtel speaks with Hiroshi Motomura, Professor at the UCLA School of Law, about the immigration legacy of the Trump era, possible differences between the former Obama and a forthcoming Biden administration in their approach to migration policy, as well as the role that US sanctuary jurisdictions have played and will play in the future.

December 10, 2020

Localities across Europe have responded to the humanitarian crisis on Lesbos and other Greeks islands by declaring their willingness to receive refugees. In the Netherlands, likewise, they have continued to put pressure on a reluctant national government. In this first episode of the podcast, Barbara Oomen and Moritz Baumgärtel discuss the most recent developments related to the transfer of 100 unaccompanied minors and vulnerable migrants to the Netherlands and the broader lessons that we can draw from the Dutch debate.

December 4, 2020

In this introductory episode, Barbara Oomen and Moritz Baumgärtel tell us more about the project and the team, and offer a glimpse into what we can expect from the first few episodes.