Ahead of the European elections 2024, debates on migration and the welcoming of refugees are resurfacing on the local, national and European scale. The Temporary Protection Directive is an excellent example of solidarity implemented in Europe, but only applicable to those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
Over the years, the City of Rennes, its ‘Centre Communal d’Action Sociale’, and Rennes Métropole have added their own initiatives to be able to welcome migrants regardless of their country of origin. For instance, by setting up a hotel scheme, making some vacant municipal property available, financing accommodation set up by associations with landlords or property developers, and, finally, creating a municipal emergency accommodation centre.
“In Rennes, we are not faced with the same number of migrants as in many other European cities, but it remains a challenge of the same proportions,” explains Stéphanie Poppe, Senior Policy Officer at the Europe and International Department of Rennes. “It is also a challenge for all European cities today, which are trying to find the means, in a role that falls to the States, to provide a dignified welcome and ensure that no child is sleeping rough in 2023.”
As a result, a system with more than 900 places – the only one of its kind in France for a local authority – has gradually been set up to provide shelter for families with underage children. “In cities,we don’t want to see people in the streets,” Poppe continues. “We are proposing to host citizen migrants, but we are running out of financial means. It starts to be a big problem.”
No child left behind
The City of Rennes has decided to shelter homeless families with minors, regardless of their administrative status but taking into account their vulnerability, based on the principle of continuity of accommodation. The municipality has generated a shelter system that protects children and prevents them from living or staying on the streets.
As a result, around 200 families are accommodated today, including some that have been in the system for many years. Among them, some families are in extreme vulnerability, for example, one member needs a transplant, another one suffers from long Covid, and in a third family, one child has a disability. These situations require special care that the municipality itself is short of providing, since it goes beyond its competences.
The programme also covers families that cannot access social housing since the parents have different statuses. For instance, a family in which one parent has been recognised as a refugee, but the other one is waiting for the Prefecture to return their application for a residence permit as refugee spouse.
Guaranteeing a dignified reception of migrants in Europe
Students in Rennes lead an initiative to improve the conditions in which migrants are received. Rennes is the only municipality that has initiated a Europe-wide citizens’ proposal for the European Commission.
The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) is supported by hundreds of associations, a committee of citizens from seven European Union countries and approved by Rennes citizens through a referendum in 2021.
“For us, it was a way to help citizens to make their voice heard in Europe,” says Poppe. “We see the city as a bridge between the citizens and European institutions for them to engage with our citizens, stakeholders in a European democracy, and to strengthen the public ownership of European issues.”
Despite the support across Europe, the ECI needs one million signatures by April 2024 to be considered by the Commission. The ECI demands that the European Commission establishes reception standards in the Member States regarding food, health, housing, education and work for asylum seekers, and introduce a new distribution mechanism based on their free will and practical solidarity between member states.