An international network of cities is advocating for the just distribution of refugees and migrants in the European Union. During a founding conference in Italy, they articulated their vision of a welcoming Europe.
On Friday (June 25), 33 European cities signed a declaration in the Italian city of Palermo to establish the "International Alliance of Safe Harbours". All signees are united in their willingness to take in more refugees and migrants.
"Cities that are willing to take in more people should be allowed to do so voluntarily," said Mike Schubert, the mayor of Potsdam in Germany, one of the cities that co-signed the declaration.
"With the new network, we want to provide speedy relief for the cities along the Mediterranean," the Social Democrat politician said.
In addition to Potsdam and Palermo, the capital of the Italian island of Sicily, Amsterdam, Munich, Leipzig, Würzburg, Athens, Barcelona and the French city of Villeurbanne -- among others -- signed the declaration in the Italian port city as part of the "From the Sea to the City" conference.
"Instead of concentrating the burden through hotspots and camps with many of them in a few cities along the Mediterranean, we rely on a wide distribution among many cities, which distributes the burden for the individual city through the power of a broadly supported alliance," the declaration reads.
'Committed to humanitarian values'
"As European cities and municipalities that firmly believe in the defence of human rights, we have been offering refugees and migrants a new home for decades. We are unconditionally committed to humanitarian values, universal human rights and the right to asylum, even in difficult times," the statement reads.
Among other things, the alliance calls for the right to asylum to be upheld in every European state, for quotas for the voluntary acceptance of refugees in the municipalities and for direct funding by the European Union to the municipalities for taking in migrants.
In addition, the signees demanded legal immigration channels for a pragmatic immigration policy and a fair distribution of burdens between EU states.
During said conference, Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando stressed that all people in distress at sea needed to be rescued, regardless of whether they are fishermen or migrants. The outspoken politician also suggested a European civil service for young people to help sea rescue efforts to support private aid organizations.
Difficult legal situation
The international alliance joins the existing German Safe Harbors coalition, which declared it would take in migrants and refugees rescued from distress at sea or stranded in overcrowded camps on the EU's external borders.
The city of Potsdam, located on Berlin's doorsteps, coordinates the nationwide initiative, which was established in June 2019 and currently consists of more than 100 cities, municipalities and districts.
In January of 2020, the coalition demanded that Chancellor Angela Merkel's government allow them to immediately begin resettling refugees rescued on the Mediterranean Sea.
However, the legal situation for the voluntary reception of migrants beyond the European distribution mechanisms is far from clear-cut. Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has so far rejected any proposals from state governments like Berlin, Bremen and Thuringia.
Since then, Cities of Safe Harbours has been asking the government to change Section 23, Paragraph 1 of Germany's Residence Act, which mandates that the distribution of specialty humanitarian residence permits requires the approval of the federal interior ministry.