Municipalities taking a different course in the reception and assistance of refugees

Forced migration is one of the most contested political issues. It is a fault line in national politics and has prompted very different local responses. Some local authorities pioneer progressive migration policies, while in others, municipal actors lobby for ever-more restrictive policies and laws. In her dissertation, entitled ‘Unmoored, not Adrift’, Sara Miellet examines what prompts municipal actors to develop rights-based approaches to the reception and inclusion of forced migrants, for which she conducted qualitative, empirical research in Utrecht, Nuremberg and Heidelberg, as well as small-sized Dutch towns and rural municipalities.

The dissertation offers insight into why municipal actors draw on human rights, how they understand human rights and develop rights-based approaches to the reception and inclusion of forced migrants. Some examples are asylum-seeker centers that mutually benefit refugees and other residents, and municipal political support for building safe legal pathways and expanding refugee relocation programs. The research also brings into focus how municipal and other local actors claim involvement in migration governance and contest the potential and limits of human rights-based approaches to forced migration. The case studies show that local authorities can strengthen the protection of human rights and the rights of migrants, even when faced with a restrictive political and institutional context and a succession of political crises.

The title "Unmoored, not Adrift" refers to municipalities taking a different course from higher levels of government in the reception and assistance of refugees. But it also refers to a state of mind: to being unsure of how to act.

Sara Miellet about the title of her dissertation

As this dissertation demonstrates, it is important to understand that municipal involvement comes in very different forms. Some municipal actors, often in tandem with other local actors, contribute to the struggle for migrants’ rights through silent diplomacy. Others, such as in self-designated ‘human rights cities’, have publicly proclaimed their commitment to protecting human rights and forced migrants’ fundamental rights. This thesis, therefore, traces the local politics of human rights, from ‘human rights cities’ to small towns and rural localities where encounters with forced migrants give rise to experiential understandings of human rights responsibilities.

Van 'Cities of Refuge' naar 'Welcoming Spaces'

This dissertation is part of the broader project Cities of Refuge, a 5-year (2017-2022) research project funded by the Dutch Research Council (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek). The project explored the relevance of international human rights law, practice and discourse to how local authorities welcome and integrate forced migrants. Empirically, it focused on conducting research in localities in six countries that differ substantially in terms of constitutional dispensation, level of decentralisation, and intensity of arrivals: Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Turkey.

Sara Miellet is now participating in Welcoming Spaces,financed from the EU Horizon 2020 research fund). This programme studies how to contribute to the revitalisation of shrinking areas in the EU while also offering a welcoming space for non-EU migrants to pursue their life projects?