Cities say yes to Afghan refugees

18 August 2021

Eurocities members across Europe are offering to host refugees after the blistering Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, amid mounting concerns over the safety of Afghan women, activists and minority groups.

London has just added its voice to the chorus of cities opening their doors to people fleeing the war-torn Asian country.

“London has a proud history of providing refuge to those seeking sanctuary and we again stand ready to help,” Mayor of London Sadiq Khan wrote on Twitter. “I’m urging the Government to give boroughs the financial support they need to resettle Afghan families and help them build a stable future”.

Afghan refugees may also soon find a new home in Lisbon. The city “needs to do its part” and is making itself fully available logistically and financially “to support the Afghan people,” the Portuguese capital announced on Facebook.

Elsewhere on the continent, German cities were among the first to raise their hand, drawing a line of solidarity along the national map.

“#Munich is #SafeHaven and can help. 260 people can be taken in immediately at any time. More if needed,” Munich’s Deputy Mayor, Verena Dietl, wrote on Twitter. She later told German media that civilian employees who helped the German army or German authorities in Afghanistan, women’s rights activists, members of the LGBTQ+ community, democrats and artists “would be in acute mortal danger”.

“Hamburg was the first federal state to offer to immediately & unbureaucratically take in 200 rescued people,” Mayor Peter Tschentscher wrote on social media. Nuremberg and Bonn also threw their names into the hat: Mayor of Nuremburg Marcus König announced that the city is ready to shelter those Afghans who supported the German army as it took part in the US and NATO-led military mission in Afghanistan.

“We will offer the federal and state governments to host local forces and their families with us in Nuremberg,” König said in a press release. Mayor of Bonn Katja Dorner said her city is also ready to take in the refugees “quickly and without bureaucratic hurdles”.

Afghan children in Kabul @SohaibGhyasi

A show of solidarity

In nearby Austria, a parallel offer has echoed from the capital. “Vienna is not a human rights city for nothing. Now we have to stick together!” Mayor Michael Ludwig wrote on Twitter.

Spain’s two largest cities are also pitching in.

Barcelona is ready to welcome 50 Afghan refugees. “If more will be needed, more spaces will be added,” Mayor Ada Colau said while calling on the international community to set up a humanitarian corridor for those fleeing Afghanistan, especially women and girls.

The Spanish capital is matching that offer. Madrid will give emergency shelter to 25 Afghan women, a number that may be expanded to 100, Deputy Mayor Begona Villacis said.

“We are watching what is happening in Afghanistan with great concern”, Villacis added. “Cities have to be sensitive to this reality and as a woman I don’t want to imagine the terror that many women living in Afghanistan are experiencing.”

In Italy, the city of Milan is already making plans as it awaits decisions at a higher level, Mayor Beppe Sala said. “The issue of Afghanistan needs to be managed and coordinated at an international level. We’re waiting for instructions from the government. In the meantime, together with our social services, we’re getting ready to host refugees who may be sent to Milan,” Sala wrote on social media.

Milan is also teaming up with NGOs, “some of which have direct experience in Afghanistan”, Sala added.

And Afghan refugees may soon find a home some 23 kilometres from there in the city of Bergamo, which sits outside the Eurocities network.

Mayor Giorgio Gori said: “There are many of us, mayors of Italian cities, who are ready to immediately host refugees. If there’s any residual chance of redemption for the West, it’s in our communities’ embrace of those fleeing from terror.”

Meanwhile Lille was one of the first French cities to step forward. Mayor Martine Aubry said that “in line with its solidarity and hospitality values”, Lille is ready “to get involved to host Afghans who are in danger in their own country”.

Afghans face an uncertain future

The Taliban are returning to power just a few weeks before US troops could complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Although the Islamist group said they plan to create an “inclusive, Islamic government” and have invited women to be part of the government, the international community remains wary. Many fear the Taliban ultraconservative views may set the clock back and dissolve the gains Afghan society made over the past two decades.

The Taliban ruled the country from 1996 to 2001 before being ousted by the US and their Western allies in late 2001, in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks.

During those five years at the helm of Afghanistan, the Taliban imposed a strict interpretation of Sharia law – or Islamic law – with brutal, often public corporal punishments such as amputations, whipping and stoning. Under their rule, women all but disappeared under the blue burqa full body covering; they weren’t allowed to receive an education, work, or even leave the house alone.

This article has been updated several times to include cities that are gradually coming forward and expressing their willingness to help.


Daniela Berretta Eurocities Writer