Thoughts after the trip to Germany

10 October 2015


Refuge City

Yesterday we got back from the trip to Leipzig, a German city with 500,000 inhabitants that has had to ready itself to receive about 5,000 refugees in a very short space of time. It was a technical trip: we wanted to see what the plans we are developing on paper to shelter refugees in Barcelona looked like on the ground. There was a political side to it as well: to establish institutional relations with a city that we can learn a great deal from, and with which we will be sharing strategies from now on. As cities we must come together to make ourselves heard where decisions that affect us are made. Because the US and EU dictate the laws, but in the end it is the cities that take people in.

There was a third reason for organising this trip: the civic dimension. We wanted to gauge the situation in the city, listen to its residents, those who have thrown themselves into welcoming the refugees and those who are afraid, who have doubts and contradictory feelings. There is no more effective way of dealing with fear than being able to express it. Nor is there a more effective way of responding to doubts than providing honest, firsthand information. Leipzig City Council should be congratulated for the information sessions they organise with the residents of each neighbourhood, for having realised that the process of welcoming and socially including the new arrivals will not be successful if the citizens do not get involved, share responsibility, and collaborate in it. And when I say "citizens", I'm including the refugees themselves.

We are talking about the biggest challenge Europe will have to face in the coming years. This is no temporary crisis: the vast majority of people who arrive in our cities in the coming years ahead will be here to stay. And they will keep coming, however many barriers and however much barbed wire are put up by those who try to stop them. Faced with this situation, there are several things we must be very clear about:

  1. Nobody flees their country without a reason, and fighting to preserve and enjoy a better life is a human right.
  2. We can't chose whether or not we accept refugees, because it is our moral and legal duty to do so, but we can chose how we do it. And turning our city into a model for taking in refugees could be a chance to make Barcelona a better city. We should make the most of it to reassert our best values and feel proud, to come together and learn from any problems that arise. This experience has taught me that defending the rights of one group means defending the rights of all and, if the city comes out of it with its values of justice and solidarity strengthened – no easy task – then it will be a joint victory.

The day before yesterday we visited one of the 20 facilities that Leipzig has turned into a refugee centre. While a social worker was telling us how it worked, one of the boys living there, provisionally, came up to us. He asked us where we were from, so we said from Barcelona and, smiling, he said "Welcome!".

A welcome is, always, a two-way journey.

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This blog features ideas, thoughts and reflections on my daily life as the Mayor of Barcelona.

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