Refugees are an opportunity for cities – an interview with Leipzig’s Deputy Mayor

1 November 2022

Migration opens the door to new opportunities. that’s the message from the City of Leipzig’s Deputy Mayor Thomas Fabian. In this interview for Eurocities, he explains how the city has been dealing with the influx of Ukrainian refugees, and particularly how the city – and every city throughout Europe – can benefit from it, as well as the role of the EU and the importance of the gender dimension in integration policies.

Leipzig understands that more diversity, more workforce, more innovation, new ideas and expertise are what migrants and refugees bring to cities.

And Eurocities leads the EU-funded project CONNECTION, which promotes transnational learning on and implementation of integration policies with a gender dimension, as well as the UNITES project that trains and accompanies local authorities to co-design integration strategies with other stakeholders and migrants aiming at fostering the participation of citizens, including migrants but also vulnerable migrants in the whole process.

These projects, along with the 10th Integrating Cities Conference, which will take place between 16-17 November in Utrecht, are the key pieces that Eurocities member cities have to engage, plan, cooperate and debate policies, actions and measures related to migration and refuge. And at the world’s largest conference on migration and integration in Europe’s cities, politicians and experts from cities, member states, and the European Parliament and European Commission, as well as NGOs, migrant groups, activists and academics will gather to discuss the most pressing issues cities’ face.

Integrating Cities Event
Integrating Cities Event

Here’s the full interview with Thomas Fabian.

Q1. A lot has been said about welcoming refugees and migrants being a challenge to cities and local governments, but can their arrival also be seen as an opportunity?

Many cities all over Europe are showing great solidarity with refugees. They are providing protection and humanitarian support in their existential hardship. As cities, this is our humanitarian responsibility, our administrative duty and our inherent interest. Especially, because most cities are so proud of the diversity, inclusivity and vibrancy migration brings to our cities. Diversity has become a trademark of successful cities.

Thomas Fabian at Social Affairs Forum 2022. Photo by Barcelona City Council

Migrants as part of our society, of course, make up a considerable part of our city’s workforce. Without them, many healthcare providers, transport companies or simply restaurants and cafés would not be able to provide their services.

Q2. How important is it for Leipzig to partner with other cities (with the help of Eurocities) to be better prepared for integrating refugees?

Eurocities provides the possibility to exchange best practices but also to engage in mutual learning. It is always enriching to be inspired by different solutions to similar problems.

Q3. How do you evaluate the EU response to the current Ukrainian crisis? What more can be done?

In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the European Union has responded quickly, in a coordinated manner and consistent with democratic and humanitarian values. I am hoping to see this as a window of opportunity for the European Union to ensure that all refugees, regardless of their origin and religion, the colour of their skin, gender, or sexual orientation are receiving the same chances and have the same rights in all European countries.

Q4. How important is the gender dimension in migration policies?

The gender dimension is a very important aspect of migration policies. Everyday life and discrimination experiences for female migrants are often very different to those of men. In Leipzig, we see, that about 40 per cent of refugees living here are female. We have launched specific programmes for female refugees to facilitate their integration into the labour market. We also provide special housing for female refugees.

Q5. What are the initiatives now in place in the city of Leipzig after the first arrival of Ukrainian refugees?

More than half a year after the first arrivals of refugees from Ukraine, it is mainly housing, schooling and day-care for children as well as integration into the labour market that is currently playing an important role for the City of Leipzig.

Solidarity with Ukraine in Leipzig. Photo by City of Leipzig / S. Fink

Leipzig is currently hosting almost 9,600 refugees from Ukraine. Most of them have found a place to live by themselves or with the help of non-governmental organizations. The department of social affairs is currently providing housing for about 1,200 people. This number is continuously rising. Out of 700 applications for child care for under 6-year-old children, 268 children could be placed in child-care facilities. Around 2,100 children have filed a demand for schooling in Leipzig.

Q6. Finally, what’s the importance of an event such as the Integrating Cities Conference to help shape Leipzig’s migration policies?

The Integrating Cities Conference provides a unique opportunity for cities all over Europe to engage with EU institutions, and international and non-governmental organizations on matters of migration. It is a place to exchange experiences among each other on a city-to-city level, to phrase political demands and to work on joint solutions.

Thomas Fabian’s comments are in line with Eurocities’ statement ‘Caring Cities: Acting in solidarity with all refugees,’ where we draw on evidence shared by cities, especially those closest to the Ukrainian border that have received the greatest numbers of refugees, to call the EU and member states to action.

The statement was released during the Eurocities Social Affairs Forum in Barcelona, in May. In a written message to the 170 city representatives gathered in Barcelona, Rafał Trzaskowski, Mayor of Warsaw, said:

“There is a war fought just beyond Polish borders. It is obvious to us that Ukraine is also fighting for our security and that of the whole of Europe. It is a huge challenge for our city and country, and all the problems related to this crisis – both those that we are experiencing now and those that are still ahead of us – have a global dimension. That is why they require a global strategy, global solidarity, and finally mobilisation and action – also on a global scale.”


Raphael Garcia Eurocities Writer