In this series of short articles we give examples of how EUROCITIES member cities across Europe are responding to the refugee crisis.
“These emergency reception measures are part of the long tradition of Utrecht as a human rights city. It is heart-warming to see that people and organisations in the city also want to contribute”,Margriet Jongerius, deputy mayor of Utrecht.
Utrecht has been active for many years within the EUROCITIES Migration & Integration working group. Utrecht has always strongly focused on the fate of irregular migrants left under the care of local authorities and the need to provide services to all. Utrecht’s identity as a ‘human rights city’ is promoted by the local Human Rights Coalition which brings together city authorities, civil society organisations and volunteers. It is no surprise then that Utrecht has been preparing intensively for the arrival of asylum seekers directly into the city and those who have been relocated from other member states.
During the week of 7-13 September the city had to respond within 24 hours to an urgent request from the COA (Centraal Orgaan opvang asielzoekers - the national agency for reception of asylum seekers) as 4,200 asylum seekers arrived in the Netherlands. From 16 September, hundreds of asylum seekers, mainly men from Eritrea and Syria were housed in emergency shelters managed by the city. Families were housed in other locations around the city. The city was able to provide warm meals and mattresses immediately as well as access to sanitary facilities. Jaarbeurs, an exhibition and convention centre located near the Central Station is currently being used to shelter 500 people. Margriet Jongerius, deputy mayor for welfare, care and social affairs, met with asylum seekers there. This solution is only temporary while the city actively looks into more permanent reception measures. In the meantime, Utrecht has organised an information session for residents and those interested in volunteering in collaboration with the COA.
Like many other EUROCITIES members, Utrecht is communicating very actively and openly about the migration crisis on its own website, where a specific page has been created. Residents can find information about what the city is doing and why, what the needs are and how they can help. There are also links provided to citizens’ initiatives such as the 'Utrecht for refugees' (U voor vluchtingen) website. Beyond providing practical information, this helps to debunk myths and to address residents’ concerns over the arrival of the hundreds of asylum seekers into the city in a very short period of time.