Extracts from an article entitled “The refugee/migrant phenomenon and the role of Local-Self Government”, written by the Regional Governor of Attica, Ms Rena Dourou, and published in the newspaper “Nea Selida”, on the occasion of the international Conference held by the Region of Attica and hosted by the Committee of the Regions on Monday 23 April 2018 in Brussels.

What do French President Emmanuel Macron, Pope Francis, the newly re-elected Prime Minister of Hungary, Victor Orban and young Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz, have in common? The fact that each one of them, from his own perspective, places the refugee / migrant phenomenon high on their agenda. I am referring deliberately to a “phenomenon”, not a “crisis”, because crisis, as described by the former President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Anne Brasseur, “reaches its peak and comes to an end”, which is not the case for a “phenomenon” being of “permanent nature”. In other words, the refugee / migrant phenomenon “has come to stay”, not only in our country but more widely in the Old Continent. Whether it involves the need for a radical revision of the Dublin Regulation or the development of a European Asylum Policy. This is a matter in which Local and Regional Authorities of countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain have already played a key role in recent years, as they are the first to receive refugee / migratory flows, whilst they are also called upon to contribute to the integration of refugees / migrants into the social fabric.

In this context, the Region of Attica, through the establishment of the Logistics Centre for the Management, Storage and Supply of Relief Items for the refugees and migrants,in March 2016, (where assistance is also provided to social structures for our fellow citizens who have been affected by the crisis), has decided to actually intervene, thus providing its own contribution to addressing this phenomenon in our homeland. Yet, we did not stop there. We have managed to act at European level, either by intervening in the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe on the matter, or by sending a joint letter, together with the Region of Lazio and the Region of Sicily, to the Presidents of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council, on the need to strengthen and support local and regional authorities, especially in the EU’s border countries.

(…) The title of the Conference reflects the complexity of this matter, which, is acknowledged to be decisive for both the future and the form of Europe’s societies. This is perhaps the greatest challenge for the future of both Europe and its neighboring countries. This is because the aspects of the refugee / migrant phenomenon – i.e. reception, integration, the external dimension of the phenomenon, the EU’s relations with Turkey and the third countries of origin or transit – are related to EU policies such as Asylum, Social Cohesion, and the Multiannual Financial Framework. We will explore the needs and challenges while we shall try to outline the parameters of possible solutions to the issues raised by such a phenomenon, with the aim of welcoming and integrating individuals in a humane manner and with full respect for their fundamental rights and their dignity, the rule of law and social solidarity.

We are thus trying to set the terms for a necessary as well as urgent public dialogue, with the participation of all parties involved, at a critical time in which policies of exclusion, tightening up, border closure, racist and xenophobic behavior tend towards consolidation. The recent comfortable re-election of Hungary’s ultra-conservative prime minister, the tightening up by conservative and extreme right-wing governments in Austria of the framework for reducing migration, the reports by international organizations (UN, EU) on the expulsion of more and more refugees / migrants at the frontiers of Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovenia, etc., reveal the extent of the difficulties in shaping a European migration and asylum policy on the basis of fair sharing of responsibility.