We continue our series of articles looking at how European cities are responding to the unprecedented refugee crisis.
“Zagreb is a city of solidarity, unity, positive programmes for people in need, regardless of whether they are refugees or not, coming from all parts of the world. They are all welcome in the troubles that have befallen them.” Milan Bandić, mayor of Zagreb
Since joining the EU in mid-2013, Croatia had never experienced a major influx of asylum seekers. Between June 2014 to June 2015, it received just 325 applications for asylum, barely 10 per million inhabitants and the lowest per capita rate in the EU, together with Slovakia.
But everything changed when Hungary closed its border on 14-15 September this year.
At least 15,000 asylum seekers and refugees who had travelled to the Hungarian border through Greece, Macedonia and Serbia made it to Croatia within two days, turning Zagreb into a potential new migratory ‘hotspot’.
While most reception centres and camps are located in eastern Croatia, the city of Zagreb did everything it could to prepare for the influx.
Milan Bandić, Zagreb’s mayor, called on every family in the city to welcome a refugee family, pledging to house two himself. He confirmed on 16 September that his city was ready to receive at least 2,000 refugees.
A coordination structure was promptly put into place, under the leadership of city hall and involving a wide variety of city departments and organisations: the city office for managing emergency situations; the fire department; the Red Cross; the department of emergency medicine; the police; Zagreb Fair; the office for social protection and people with disabilities; the office for health; Freight Terminals Zagreb; Zagreb Holding; the ‘Andrija Štampar’ teaching institute of public health; and the office for managing sports facilities.
As a result, the following facilities were prepared to welcome refugees:
Kosnica shelter, with capacity for 50 people
Hotel Porin with capacity for 600 people
Zagreb Fair with capacity to shelter 1,500-2,000 people in two pavilions
office for managing sports facilities with capacity for 800 people in two halls
All the logistics, including 2,600 mattresses, food, sanitary facilities and translation have been prepared, and preventive measures for public health and order are now in place. The city has called on its business community to donate food and toiletries.
Finally, at the request of the Croatian national protection and rescue directorate, one of Zagreb’s civil protection units has been mobilised and sent to assist with setting up a refugee camp in Ježevo, while special civil protection units have been put on standby.
Zagreb is among a number of European cities responding to the unprecedented refugee crisis. We are pushing for stronger financial and political recognition of cities’ efforts, to allow them to continue and strengthen their responses.
Follow our ‘cities welcome refugees’ series for more examples of cities showing leadership, also on Twitter via #citieswelcomerefugees.
Photo credit: Mario Fajt, Flickr CC