European cities have a rare opportunity today (10 September) at the Integrating Cities conference in Tampere to discuss their differing responses to the needs of irregular (undocumented) migrants – rare because of the sensitivity of the issue and tendency to exclude this group of migrants from integration debates.
A workshop for cities organised by COMPAS at the conference will hear the approaches taken by Dutch and Italian cities Utrecht and Genoa, with an overview of emerging findings from a COMPAS study exploring the reasons why governments, regions and cities do provide a level of services to irregular migrants, within an overall pattern of marginalisation and exclusion. The Director of the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) will contribute from their long experience in the field.
Supported by an Open Society Fellowship, the COMPAS study is finding that the priorities at city level do not always mirror those of national governments because of their differing responsibilities and need to respond to the immediate situation on the ground. They are constrained (but also empowered) by national laws on entitlements which can be complex and unclear. Cities regularly provide a minimum level of access to health care (where they are the health care provider), education and, in some cases, shelter, advice, language classes, safe reporting for victims of crime, food, emergency welfare payments and other services. Their reasoning can reflect municipal statutory duties of care or human rights law, humanitarian concern and medical ethics. It can also, however, come down to more pragmatic reasons – that city priorities such as cohesion and tackling street sleeping cannot be achieved without inclusion of this group of residents, or that their inclusion is necessary for the efficient management of public services.
Stark evidence of the consequences of exclusion has led to open discussions in some cities on the need for provision. More often, it is a grey area on which little is said. Provision may be funded through NGOs to distance controversy, and the personal information on service users, from the authority. Significantly, there are instances where practice at city and regional level has paved the way for changes in national law. The COMPAS study fieldwork concludes this year and the analysis, when published, will be posted on this site.