The Cities of Refuge Podcast

Barbara Oomen, Moritz Baumgärtel, Elif Durmus, Sara Miellet, Tihomir Sabchev

In Europe as elsewhere, immigration is an issue characterized by controversy and political deadlock. This podcast broaches the crucial yet often overlooked role of local government in regulating migration and promoting the rights of migrants and refugees.

All Episodes

In this follow-up episode on the emergence of cities in international law, Elif Durmus interviews Eva Garcia Chueca, Senior Research Fellow at CIDOB’s Global Cities Programme, about the involvement of local governments in the global arena and the legal and behaviour-shaping value of local and international human rights charters. They specifically zoom in on the drafting processes and the relevance of the European Charter for Safeguarding Human Rights in the City and the Global Charter-Agenda for Human Rights in the City, two documents that invoke the language and form of international law to claim some level of bindingness or at least legal significance. To what extent do local governments intend to be bound by such transnational, quasi-legal commitments? What is the charters’ impact on the ground and how could they be made more effective? The conversation also addresses the role of city networks in this process and the future direction of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' engagement with local authorities.For more on the relevance of normative documents created by local governments, see Elif Durmus and Barbara Oomen’s recent article in Local Government Studies:

Nov 28

49 min 10 sec

Cities are increasingly recognized as actors that participate in the implementation and even in the creation of international law. On the occasion of the publication of the Research Handbook on International Law and Cities, Moritz Baumgärtel speaks to the volume’s lead editors and pioneering scholars in the field: Janne Nijman, Professor of History and Theory of International Law at the University of Amsterdam, and Helmut Aust, Professor of Law at the Freie Universität in Berlin. In their conversation, they talk about how cities’ actions became a topic first in their own research, and then in international law more generally—and why people from outside the discipline should care about this development in international law. They also go through some of the examples where cities’ influence has been particularly pronounced, as well as the response of states to cities challenging (or at least negotiating) their sovereignty.The Research Handbook on International Law and Cities was published by Edward Elgar in autumn 2021; the introductory chapter by Janne Nijman and Helmut Aust can be accessed freely. The ILA City Reports are available on the website of the T.M.C. Asser Institute. This episode has been produced with the assistance of Sithis Yim Samnang.

Nov 15

40 min 47 sec

Welcome to another season of the Cities of Refuge Podcast! In this first episode, we talk about “From the Sea to the City”, a new and interesting consortium of civil society organisations working together with cities for a more human rights-based migration policy. “From the Sea to the City” held a major conference in Palermo back in June of this year that led to the creation of an "International Alliance of Safe Harbours” featuring 33 co-founding cities. Moritz Baumgärtel discusses the origins, process and goals of both alliances with two guests from the Humboldt-Viadrina Governance Platform, which has been driving the process: Professor Gesine Schwan and Dr. Malisa Zobel, respectively the co-founder of the Platform and the program director of its Municipal Integration and Development Initiative.For more information on “From the Sea to the City” (including videos of the conference panels), visit and read the initiative's 2020 report: You can also have a look at the Declaration of Mayors founding the Alliance: A visualisation of the various city and civil society networks can be found here: This episode was produced with the assistance of Sithis Yim Samnang.

Oct 31

40 min 50 sec

Global cities are often thought of as culturally diverse, welcoming to newcomers, and generally committed to human rights norms. To unpack this conception, Moritz Baumgärtel talks to Lisa Roodenburg, who recently defended her PhD dissertation entitled “Anticipating Friction: The role of human rights in urban debates on migration and diversity” at the University of Amsterdam. They discuss the insights that she gained from the three cases studies of Amsterdam, Hong Kong and Buenos Aires, which show that notions of human rights are not just manifold but often contested and contradictory, even within the same locality. Their conversation touches upon the importance of local political and institutional factors, the influence and strategies of civil society actors, and the merits and shortcomings of the human rights labels that global cities in particular like to adopt.

Jul 4

42 min 25 sec

Switzerland is a unique “fortress” in Europe, both geographically and socially speaking. This diverse but relatively exclusive country hosts many international organisations, yet also fewer refugees per capita than most other European countries, as well as a comparably high percentage of well-off expats. Switzerland also has a highly decentralized and stringently regulated four-tiered governance system, and so-called “city states” where the municipalities and kantons share the same borders. In this episode, Elif Durmuş interviews UCR alumnae Natalia Burduli and Lea Jörg, who wrote their BA theses on Geneva and Bern, respectively, within the framework of the Cities of Refuge project. Together, they explore the role of civil society in shaping local migration policies and practices of inclusion, exclusion, and urban citizenship, including through the novel practice of city ID cards.For more information on the Declaration mentioned in the episode, undersigned by "Cities and Municipalities for the Reception of Refugees" and urging the Swiss government to react to the situation of refugees and especially minors in the Greek refugee camps, see

Jun 17

38 min 57 sec

Italy as one of Europe’s migration “front line” states has gone through tumultuous years of migration policy, which found their apex during the former government with its Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. To break down the practical and theoretical implications of this period and its aftermath, Moritz Baumgärtel is joined by Tiziana Caponio, Associate Professor at the University of Turin and Marie Curie Fellow at the European University Institute. The interview starts off by considering the status quo of Italian migration policy post-Salvini before pivoting to the concept of multi-level governance and how it applies, with some significant limitations, in the context of Italy. They also discuss the “whole-of-community” approach to migration governance, which is at the heart of Tiziana Caponio’s new Horizon 2020 project ("Whole-COMM"), as well as the use that this approach could have for small and medium-sized towns in Italy and across Europe.More information about Tiziana Caponio's new research project "Whole-COMM: Exploring the Integration of Post-2014 Migrants in Small and Medium-Sized Towns and Rural Areas from a Whole of Community Perspective” can be found at

Jun 1

40 min 52 sec

Dutch politics have seen heated migration-related controversies in recent years, on topics such as the relocation of migrants from the Greek islands or emergency shelter for refused asylum seekers. To discuss the haphazard process of policymaking in this area, Barbara Oomen and Sara Miellet speak to Bram van Ojik, a former Member of the Dutch House of Representatives for the GreenLeft Party, who has been very active in this area for decades. Their conversation tackles a range of questions including the different policy rationales of national and local policymakers, the ambiguous relation of the Dutch political class to human rights principles, the problematic effect of partisan politics, and the definition of success for advocates of a more progressive approach to immigration.

May 16

42 min 56 sec

The arrival of millions of Syrian refugees has had profound and complex effects on Turkish municipalities. In this episode, Elif Durmuş interviews Sinan Özden, the National Project Manager of RESLOG Turkey, which uses the concept of resilience to build a local governance toolbox in relation to migration challenges. In their discussion, they go through the methods and knowledge generated, codified and disseminated for and by local governments and their partners; questions of municipal ownership over the resulting concepts and approaches; as well as the durability of the successes that have been achieved so far.RESLOG stands for Resilience of Local Governance in the Face of Migration and is a larger programme initiated by the Swedish Association of Local Administrations and Regions (SALAR) with branches in Sweden, Turkey and Lebanon. RESLOG Turkey is operationalized by its specialized management team together with the Union of Turkish Municipalities, the Marmara Municipalities Union, and the Çukurova Municipalities Union.

May 2

1 hr 4 min

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. For this 10th episode, the entire Cities of Refuge team comes together to go through some of the most illustrative and symbolic pictures that it took on the various sites of the fieldwork in the past three years. As the visual journey takes us to Heidelberg, Vlissingen, Samos, the north of the Netherlands, Ankara and lastly Marrakesh, the crew touches upon a range of aspects including the politics of representation, “mundane” dimensions of integration, the power of walls and barriers, the importance of cooperation, and local migration policies being deliberately hidden from public view. To have a look at the photos, visit

Apr 18

42 min 21 sec

Urban public spaces play a vital role in the experience especially of refugee youth, and therefore also for their integration. Sara Miellet speaks with Ilse van Liempt, Associate Professor in Urban Geography at Utrecht University, about her ongoing research on this topic. Their discussion addresses aspects such as the difference between formal and informal spaces of encounters, the everyday expressions of integration, the ways refugees claim public space, and the role that local authorities can play to facilitate such processes. They also consider the changing character of public space in times of a global pandemic – and what we can all learn from refugees as involuntary “lockdown experts”.Ilse van Liempt is a member of the HERA research project Refugee Youth in Public Space and the research leader of the focus area Migration and Societal Change of Utrecht University.For more information on home-making and place attachment of refugees in the Netherlands, read this article (open access), co-authored by Ilse van Liempt and Sara Miellet (forthcoming in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies).

Mar 28

39 min 15 sec

Many local authorities in Greece have been surprisingly proactive in the policy areas of refugee reception and integration despite their limited competencies, experience, and resources. Tihomir Sabchev talks to Lefteris Papagiannakis, Head of Advocacy, Policy and Research at the Athens-based NGO Solidarity Now and former Vice-Mayor of Athens, to discuss the extent and reasons for municipal activism in Greece, as well as the limits and potentials of thereof. Their discussion tackles central questions such as the legal constraints confronting progressive localities, the complex political environment in Greece, the leading role of larger cities and mayors, and the importance of creating durable policy solutions in a crisis-worn context.

Mar 14

43 min 39 sec

Due to the war in neighbouring Syria, Turkey is currently the world’s top refugee hosting country, having welcomed nearly five million people over the past decade. To discuss the role of local governments as on-the-ground providers of human and refugee rights in such a challenging context, Elif Durmuş speaks with Bahar Özden, Programme Consultant at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law of Lund University. More specifically, they discuss the Institute’s recent human rights cities project in Turkey, the rights of refugees as one focus point of these efforts, and the project’s resilience in the face of contested local elections, a global pandemic, a heavy economic crisis, and an increasingly hostile and xenophobic environment towards Syrian refugees.

Feb 28

32 min 24 sec

The newly found confidence of local governments also extends to the global level where cities are teaming up in networks to influence migration governance. Moritz Baumgärtel is joined by Colleen Thouez, the Director of the Welcoming and Inclusive Cities Division at the Open Society Foundations (OSF) to discuss the growing activism and recent accomplishments of local authorities on the international stage. They go through the reasons behind the proliferation of inter-city networks, the creation of the Mayors Migration Council by OSF and their partners, the difficult question of access to and representation in these networks, their relationship to international organizations such as the UNHCR, and the promise that inspirational mayoral leadership holds for the future.For more information on the rise of global city networks, read:Colleen Thouez, "Cities as Emergent International Actors in the Field of Migration", Global Governance (2020): Oomen, "Decoupling and Teaming up" (open access), International Migration Review (2020): of Refuge, "Transnational City Networks and Migration Policy" (open access), policy report (2018):

Feb 14

44 min 8 sec

Local elections, unlike national ones, are rarely perceived as the gamechangers that they often are for the reception and integration of newcomers. Moritz Baumgärtel, Elif Durmus, Tihomir Sabchev and Sara Miellet take a closer look at their highly varied impact and more generally at the dynamics of local politics based on the PhD crew’s insights from their research in Turkey, Greece, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands. In their discussion, the team also probes common assumptions regarding the relevance of political colour and partisan politics, the relation of local to national politics, and the belief that welcoming approaches are necessarily a political liability.

Jan 31

39 min 53 sec

In June 2019, 13 German cities decided to create the municipal alliance “Cities of Safe Harbours” that stands in solidarity with the “Seebrücke” movement in its quest to create safe pathways for refugees and end the criminalization of maritime rescue. Moritz Baumgärtel, Sara Miellet and UCR student Franziska Pett look at the origins of the initiative, the motivation behind cities’ participation, and some of the actions that have resulted from their commitments. They also zoom in on the roles played by Berlin and Potsdam, two of the alliance's founding cities, and discuss some of the tensions that exist between their municipal authorities and local civil society organisations.Franziska Pett is a graduating student at University College Roosevelt (UCR) in Middelburg. She wrote her senior project on the Safe Harbours alliance and more specifically on the motivations and strategies of Berlin and Potsdam as two of its key members.

Jan 17

38 min 59 sec

A growing number of communities in Europe are exploring options to “sponsor” refugees by directly resettling them from abroad and integrating them into their localities. Tihomir Sabchev talks to Lawrence Robinson, Senior Policy Coordinator at the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative, about the potential and the challenges of importing this model from Canada, where over 300,000 refugees have been welcomed under this scheme since 1979. Their discussion tackles key issues such as the respective roles of local and national governments in this model, the principle of additionality to national resettlement quotas, the merits of naming specific refugees or groups, as well as resources and funding.The Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI) is based at the Refugee Hub of the University of Ottawa as a joint initiative with the Government of Canada, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Open Society Foundation, and the Giustra Foundation.For a primer on city-led refugee resettlement, read this short article on the topic, published by Tihomir Sabchev and Moritz Baumgärtel in the February 2020 issue of the Forced Migration Review.

Jan 3

34 min 30 sec

In less than a month, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th US president. Moritz Baumgärtel speaks with Hiroshi Motomura, Professor at the UCLA School of Law, about the immigration legacy of the Trump era, possible differences between the former Obama and a forthcoming Biden administration in their approach to migration policy, as well as the role that US sanctuary jurisdictions have played and will play in the future.Hiroshi Motomura is the Susan Westerberg Prager Distinguished Professor of Law at UCLA and the author of Immigration Outside the Law (2014) and Americans in Waiting (2007). His most recent article, "The New Migration Law", was published in the Cornell Law Review earlier this year.

Dec 2020

36 min 21 sec

Localities across Europe have responded to the humanitarian crisis on Lesbos and other Greeks islands by declaring their willingness to receive refugees. In the Netherlands, likewise, they have continued to put pressure on a reluctant national government. In this first episode of the podcast, Barbara Oomen and Moritz Baumgärtel discuss the most recent developments related to the transfer of 100 unaccompanied minors and vulnerable migrants to the Netherlands and the broader lessons that we can draw from the Dutch debate.

Dec 2020

18 min 14 sec

Coming December 10th, the Cities of Refuge research project based at Utrecht University will launch a podcast of the same name. In this introductory episode, Barbara Oomen and Moritz Baumgärtel tell us more about the project and the team, and offer a glimpse into what we can expect from the first few episodes. Learn more about the project at and on Twitter: @UUCoR.

Dec 2020

5 min 30 sec