Day-to-day realities of migration require cities and regions to integrate their services, CoR members say at Mediterranean conference, warning too of funding challenges and of a rise in anti-migrant disinformation
The three members of the CoR – the chairman of the Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX), and rapporteurs on two recent opinions – were speaking at the
Mediterranean City-to-City Migration (MC2CM) Days
, on 20-24 September. The
brings together politicians, civil servants and experts with the aim of helping cities to manage migration, including improving migrants' access to basic services.
Mark Speich (DE/EPP), Secretary of State for Federal, European and International Affairs, North Rhine-Westphalia, argued for a "comprehensive and holistic approach" in the EU, with a "greater involvement of local and regional authorities in the design of migrant reception and integration policies". Mr Speich, whose state has a population of 18 million, five million of whom have a migration background, said that, in the EU, the COVID-19 pandemic had revealed a "pressing need" to consider housing, health care, social inequality and migration together, rather than as separate policy fields. He added that the pandemic had increased anti-migration sentiments, with a recent EU analysis finding that migrants were a primary target in disinformation campaigns. In this context, he highlighted the CoR's
Cities and Regions for Integration of Migrants network, whose mission includes working towards a stronger narrative of solidarity and countering disinformation about the integration of migrants and refugees.
Vincenzo Bianco (IT/PES), member of Catania Municipal Council, focused on the treatment of migrants when they first arrive. Arguing for the development of a Mediterranean Charter of Human Rights, he praised the EU's proposed "Renewed partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood: A new Agenda for the Mediterranean" – a dossier on which he is the CoR's rapporteur – as the first time that "the European legislator has developed a plan action that identifies the individual subject as its primary focus". Mr Bianco, a former interior minister and mayor of Catania, urged central governments and authorities to distribute more money to regions and cities, saying that "regions and cities that are busy every day welcoming hundreds of poor individuals, often in serious health conditions, can no longer bear this burden alone".
Women, who, according to the United Nations, account for almost half of all migrants, face specific and serious problems at every point of the journey from their home countries to Europe, said
Antje Grotheer (DE/PES), Vice-President of Bremen City Parliament and rapporteur of the CoR's opinion on the
New Pact on Migration and Asylum . Women travelling alone and others particularly vulnerable to trafficking, violence and exploitation should be given immediate protection and access to specialised advisory services when they reach Europe, she argued. Mrs Grotheer emphasised that women face double discrimination, as women and as migrants, and stressed that challenges common to migrants after settlement in Europe are compounded in the case of many women by problems linked to education and skills.
As a result, she said, "the European Committee of the Regions advocated for an intersectional perspective, with special reference to vulnerable groups such as migrant women, when responding to the European Commission's Gender Equality Strategy".
The CoR also contributed to a discussion on communications, with
Ian Barber, the director for communications, saying that the CoR embeds its migration-related communications in the idea of building resilient communities and on the principle that cohesion – the idea that no place should be left behind – is a fundamental value of the EU. The CoR also highlights inspiring examples of work done by members in their communities, and promotes evidence-based policymaking. Local politicians are, he argued, in a particularly strong position to encourage a balanced debate on migration in the EU, because polls show they enjoy greater public trust than national or EU politicians.
CoR speakers cited examples of interesting policies and projects from the members of the CoR's
Cities and Regions for Integration of Migrants network, from the regions of Catalonia, Valencia, and Murcia in Spain, and from the municipalities of
Solna (Sweden), Bremen and Heilbronn (Germany), Braga (Portugal), Milan (Italy) and Ioannina (Greece).
The conference was characterised by the emphasis that speakers placed on the need for people-centred migration policies and for support for local governments, to help them address the needs of migrants, refugees, and IDPs. The conference also reviewed some of the challenges of the pandemic, with
Liam Patuzzi of the Migration Policy Institute Europe saying that "cities were able to develop models to address challenges very creatively".
Others could learn from their experience, according to
Odile Robert of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. "Cities are laboratories where solutions are found to the most pressing needs and to the most pressing challenges. These experiences and voices should be heard at all levels of governance," she said.
Speaking for the EU, Oliver Várhelyi, the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, said there was a need for a "whole-of-government approach, to work closely with partner countries and member states at different levels".
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