Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Barcelona as a 'shelter city' (on World Refugee Day)

"*The following is an edited transcript of an interview [with Barcelona city council spokesman Marc Serra] conducted for European Alternatives’ forthcoming documentary Demos: Solidarity in Europe.

In February 2017 thousands of citizens marched in the city of Barcelona following the mayor’s call to challenge the national government over its failure to accept the country’s quota of refugees set by the EU. Like many other EU members, Spain has not fulfilled this quota, with only 1,279 people entering the country in 2018, while its citizens demand more migrants are welcomed. If cities are ready to house these people, and citizens are willing to cooperate with local institutions, what is stopping the process?
European Alternatives: What is the Shelter Cities program and how does it work?
Marc Serra: The Shelter Cities program started around the summer of 2015, when we witnessed the states’ failure to manage the human rights crisis, the refugee crisis. When the cities verified that the states were auctioning off the cities that could accommodate less refugees, we said that’s enough. It started as a cry of anger. Barcelona said “We are actually willing to take in people looking for shelter, fleeing war (in this case it was above all the conflict in Syria) in our cities.” Then, little by little, other cities joined the cry started in Barcelona. Today, almost three years later, a program called Shelter Cities exists, it combines the initial advocacy –– we have been to the United Nations, the European Commission, the Spanish government, even to the Vatican, to demand safe and legal channels to receive refugees–– with local policies, providing housing, translators, human resources teams (social workers, social educators…) to accommodate the refugees who, despite the difficulties created by the states and the EU, are arriving in our cities and, for whom, therefore, we must provide decent living conditions to – it is our duty and obligation.
European Alternatives: What would you say has been, up until today, the greatest success of the program?
Marc Serra: I believe the greatest success of the Shelter Cities program has been to manage to channel the desire to show solidarity, a growing desire among the citizenship. It has been difficultbut I believe we have been able to seize this opportunity. We must take into account that Barcelona has a very long history of solidarity; that the city had already invested a great deal in welcoming East European refugees fifteen years ago, that there had been protests against the war in Iraq, and that here the biggest protests in Europe and perhaps in the entire world took place in favour of the refugees.
The city has opened up and since the beginning of the term the number of asylum seekers it assists has grown threefold. We took care of 4,400 people applying for asylum in 2017, through our service providing counselling for immigrants and refugees, obviously for free, offering free legal assistance, hosting those in need of emergency housing, and developing a local shelter program for vulnerable families.
I believe that, above all, the program has been able to channel this desire to help despite the institutions, so also counteracting the declarations expressed in the public debate, which treat the issues of migration and refugees in a populist manner, therefore allowing us to take a stand against fascism and extremism.
European Alternatives: You talk about institutions, and right now we are in a situation where, on the one hand, Barcelona is an example of wanting to welcome people coming from countries at war, and on the other, despite the EU has imposed national refugee quotas on member states, in order to try to manage this arrival of people, the nation states are blocking that arrival. How does Barcelona cope with this “duality”, this double policy of these two institutions, at the national level and the European one?
Marc Serra: In light of the Spanish government’s reiterated refusal to fulfill the quotas, we went to Brussels to ask the European Commission to take action, as it has already done with some states that have neglected the quota issue in an even more evident way. The fact is that the deals signed in 2015 are still in force, even though they have expired, because they are agreements made not only with the EU, but also with the entire citizenship. Therefore the European Commission can, and must, initiate disciplinary procedures against the states that have failed to comply with the quota system. We want the Spanish government to actually take in the 17,000 people it has committed to take in. We want it because the citizenship wants it, and we will do everything we can to remind both the Spanish state and the European Commission of this..."

Read more from source at European Alternatives here.

spoke with Marc Serra from the City Council of Barcelona about ‘Shelter Cities’, a program initiated by the city to manage the arrival of asylum seekers at a local level.  
We spoke with Marc Serra from the City Council of Barcelona about ‘Shelter Cities’, a program initiated by the city to manage the arrival of asylum seekers at a local level.  

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