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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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

Local elections, unlike national ones, are rarely perceived as the gamechangers that they often are for the reception and integration of newcomers. Moritz Baumgärtel, Elif Durmus, Tihomir Sabchev and Sara Miellet take a closer look at their highly varied impact and more generally at the dynamics of local politics based on the PhD crew’s insights from their research in Turkey, Greece, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands. In their discussion, the team also probes common assumptions regarding the relevance of political colour and partisan politics, the relation of local to national politics, and the belief that welcoming approaches are necessarily a political liability.

January 18, 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.