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Solidarity cities: dealing with the refugee crisis

Solidarity Cities, a European network that was created in the wake of the refugee crisis.
Hello, everybody. Today we will look into the role cities can play in addressing pressing issues for societies, such as the refugee crisis that Europe has been facing since 2015– the worst since World War II. Recent events show that while some European states have been– and some still are– reluctant to open their doors to refugees, a number of European cities, in fact, have stood up for solidarity and have welcomed people fleeing conflict zones, such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
In this context, in 2016, out of an initiative of the mayor of Athens, the Euro city’s network launched Solidarity Cities that stands and advocates for a more constructive and humanitarian response to the crisis and stresses the leadership role municipalities can play in welcoming asylum seekers and refugees and addressing the many challenges raised for Europe. More so, Solidarity Cities works to set up a common framework of action for the reception and integration of refugees and favours mutual help among cities– for example, for education. Now, let’s be concrete and look into a recent case to better understand what kind of support Solidarity Cities can provide.
In 2016, as a result of the restrictions put on the circulation along the Balkan route, thousands of refugees arrived in the Greek city of Thessaloniki through Turkey. Due to the deficiencies of the EU programme to relocate refugees across different member states, the city, formerly conceived as a place of transit, has become a place to settle. This has raised new and numerous issues with regards to integration, education, and language acquisition. Nowadays, in fact, more and more asylum seekers and refugees wish to learn Greek, find a job, and find schools for their children.
However, despite the commitment and efforts of civil society organisations, private donors, and volunteers have been essential, accessibility for asylum seekers and refugees to informal education services has remained uneven. To support the city of Thessaloniki in its endeavour, the Solidarity Cities network organised a mentoring visit. Delegations from the municipalities of Amsterdam and Zurich provided Thessaloniki with recommendations to develop an overarching integration strategy. The recommendations have been to provide intercultural training for volunteer teachers; use public schools as sustainable centres for learning, cultural and social services; set up mechanisms to coordinate the activities of NGOs and volunteer initiatives; collect feedback from NGO workers, citizens, and refugees.
The example of Thessaloniki and of the Solidarity Cities Initiative shows how instead of waiting for the actions of national or EU authorities, cities are on the front line to respond to the consequences of the refugee crisis.

This video focuses on Solidarity Cities, a European network that was created in the wake of the refugee crisis. It explains the support that the city of Thessaloniki obtained thanks to this network.

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Do you think municipalities are the right actors for dealing with the refugee crisis? In your opinion, what effective actions can be taken at this level?

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