Refugees: Local and regional leaders call for targeted financing

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Happy-go-lucky Aya is kissed by her sister, Labiba. She has taught her how to go to the bathroom, wash her hands, and dress. [UNHCR UN Refugee Agency/Flickr]

European institutions and member states need to guarantee the necessary resources, via targeted financing for the towns and regions that host them, the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) states in a petition.

This petition follows up on the call launched by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) for a real common European asylum policy. This call was adopted by CEMR’s member associations on 20 April 2016 in Nicosia, Cyprus.

Mayors and local and regional leaders are at the forefront of the challenge to host refugees and preserve social cohesion in their territories. They are the ones who make sure that refugees, who are often worn out by the hardships they face, have access to accommodation, social assistance and healthcare.

Although mayors and local leaders pursue their mission to host refugees with full determination, they cannot be left alone to face the key challenge of social integration. To keep their promises and overcome this humanitarian crisis, they need real support from all levels of political leadership, from national governments as well as from the European Union.

Last summer, heads of state and government agreed on a plan to relocate 160,000 refugees over a period of two years. One year later, although a vast majority of Europeans want increased intervention from the European Union on migration issues, its record on the matter is far from great. Less than 3,000 refugees have been relocated to any European country. These numbers alone show the inaction demonstrated by some of our national leaders. As heads of state go from one European summit to another, local and regional leaders mobilise support and take action.

For this reason, we call for the implementation of monitored and well-managed relocation procedures; going a step further than the agreement reached in September 2015 for the relocation of 160,000 refugees in Greece and Italy, under the protection of international and European law.

Following the principles of solidarity and fairness, this permanent relocation system for refugees in all EU countries needs to be done directly from the main registration centres and EU neighbouring countries, guaranteeing them safe passage.

However, to stay true to our values; towns, cities and regions have to be able to align both the regulation of migration flows and the pursuit of local public action for solidarity. To this end, European institutions and member states need to guarantee access to the necessary resources to host refugees, via targeted financing for the towns and regions that host them.

The support that we call for goes hand in hand with a consultation between local, regional and national governments in order to be able to better coordinate operations and to relocate refugees in a fair and equal manner between all towns and regions in Europe.

Just as importantly, it is essential to encourage the exchange of best practices and cooperation between European local governments in this field. They do not all have the same capabilities or the same experience to be able to guarantee the successful integration of refugees.

As local and regional leaders, it is their duty to give a concrete, fast and collective response to one of the biggest humanitarian challenges that Europe has had to face. As Europeans, it is their duty to hold high the banner of solidarity and human dignity, and to defend and reaffirm these values. It is also what we expect from our national and European leaders.

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