Across Europe, urban solidarity movements are gaining momentum. Under the label of ‘Welcoming Cities’, ‘Cities of Refuge’ or ‘Solidarity Cities’, civil society groups, local politicians and city administrations are defying the growing restrictions of border regimes and migration policies on the European and national level. At the same time, these movements develop specific municipal policies for the protection or social inclusion of people with precarious status. Finally, they act as discursive counterweights to the rise of right-wing parties across Europe who are pushing for the fortification of borders and the criminalisation of migrants.
The ‘Sanctuary City’ concept has existed in North America since the 1980s, when hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war-torn countries of Central America sought protection from persecution in the USA and Canada. The US governmentunder Ronald Reagan granted asylum to only a handful of these war refugees, leading to increased pressure from religious organisations and migrant initiatives on local politicians and authorities to protect refugees from deportation and to improve their legal status. San Francisco was the first city to pass a ‘City of Sanctuary’ resolution in 1985, followed by a decree in 1989 which prohibited municipal authorities and police from cooperating with national authorities in the identification, persecution, incarceration and deportation of non-status migrants (Bauder 2016: 176, Lippert/Rehaag 2013). This Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy spread quickly across North America. To date, over 500 American and Canadian cities and municipalities, as well as some US states, have joined the Sanctuary movement.
The prevailing debates in politics and civil society briefly outlined in this text show that left-wing actors in Europe have a growing interest in the experiences and ideas of other ‘cities of solidarity’. However, the respective administrative and political premises, as well as the individual actors, priorities and practical approaches differ on a case-by-case basis. In other words, there is no such thing as a uniform Solidarity City concept. These differences start with the heterogeneous nature of migrant communities and refugee groups in individual cities, and continue with the question of responsibilities on the municipal level, such as the role of the police or the competences of city governments. Other questions include: what are the possibilities for municipal influence and decision-making? What are the legal conditions for residence and migration? How is access to welfare services regulated? Within Germany, there is no uniform answer to these questions, and the differences are even greater when we compare the various approaches that exist across Europe. Furthermore, there is a lack of empirical studies that examine these differences (and parallels) on an international level. This publication aims to contribute to filling this knowledge and research gap. Our first objective is to incorporate the findings and results of this publication into the debates concerning the development of leftwing migration policy strategies in Germany and Europe. Secondly, we aim to gather the existing approaches and experiences of solidarity cities and present them to the public for discussion. Finally, we seek to include the migrant perspective in the ongoing debates on the municipalist movement and ‘rebel cities’.