Address by the Mayor of Zürich, Corine Mauch
Your Excellency Bishop Sánchez Sorondo
Ladies and Gentlemen
I thank the Holy See for convening this conference and for its initiative in organising today's exchange of thoughts. As the Mayor of the City of Zurich, it is my great privilege and honor to be here with you today.
Even though lunchtime is fast approaching, I hope I will succeed in passing on my enthusiasm for a somewhat special idea from the City of Zürich.
Switzerland and the City of Zürich are facing issues similar to those encountered by many local authorities, issues arising from the current influx of refugees. In autumn 2015, the number of asylum seekers arriving in the City of Zürich increased substantially. And, like many of you, we were confronted with difficult challenges. At that time, our priority was to provide adequate reception facilities and accommodation, all at short notice. Today, and as many of you have already noted, integration is the crucial goal. And of course we are fully aware that our responsibility in this emergency extends beyond the purely local.
A year ago, facing an exceptionally dramatic situation, we asked ourselves: how should we, as a rich Western European city, respond to this emergency? How can we make a meaningful contribution that also takes into account the bigger picture. How can we stand in solidarity with towns and cities that are most affected by this crisis.
The result of our deliberations is a course of action embedded within our refugee policy. Launched in September 2015, the programme takes the regular refugee and integration policy of our city a step further and covers local as well as international endeavors.
On a local level we have, amongst other measures, initiated additional language courses, and we support and promote the pronounced civic commitment displayed by the people of Zürich, who help secure accommodation for the refugees and provide leisure-time options and language-learning opportunities for them. We embarked on this course of action because we are convinced that this approach is central to a successful integration programme.
The international commitment of the City of Zürich is based on the idea of independently putting into practice a cross-border 'from town to town' initiative. The project we developed sees Zürich supporting a so-called 'town of initial refuge'. As a privileged city, we want to work directly with a town close to a conflict zone – with a town that is having to deal with a much larger number of refugees than Zürich. Allow me to give you a brief outline of this project.
As you know, the towns and villages of Lebanon – already burdened with Palestinian refugee camps – are struggling to cope with a situation brought about by the flood of refugees from Syria, a situation we in Europe can hardly begin to imagine. We therefore intend to support one of the many 'towns of initial refuge' in Lebanon, pragmatically and in direct collaboration with the local authorities.
The aim of this 'from town to town' aid is to help the local political and administrative authorities and the people to better provide for and integrate 'their' refugees.
In selecting a partner 'town of initial refuge' in Lebanon, we are drawing on the expertise of a Swiss NGO with many years of experience and in-depth familiarity with the political situation in that country.
In an initial project phase, we are now backing three projects developed by individual towns and villages that support local communities, projects that benefit both the Syrian refugees and the local Lebanese residents. This two-pronged approach is crucial both in preventing the emergence of anti-refugee sentiment and promoting social cohesion.
The first-phase projects will be under way very soon. From the very beginning, we applied a participative course of action which - in concrete terms - means that all the involved parties were consulted, including the Syrian refugees. It became apparent that planning tendering processes is a difficult task in this specific context, and we had to deal with some delays. Now, however, we have selected three projects developed by Lebanese communities and are funding them with roughly 30’000 Euros each.
One of the projects covers the renovation of a school in Homin el Fawkaa to enable it to take in more Syrian refugee children. The second project aims to renovate and re‑equip a hospital in Kaakyet El Jeser. The hospital is located in a region where relations between the mostly poor local people and the refugees are under severe strain. We expect our project to benefit both groups, and by that reduce friction between the locals and the new arrivals. Qsaibet has been chosen for the third project, where a new well will be built. As a consequence of the substantial population increase and due to the contamination of many of the existing water sources, many communities no longer have an adequate supply of clean drinking water. Again, this can trigger animosity between the local population and the refugees.
In phase two, the City of Zürich intends to enter into a project partnership with a Lebanese community. On the strength of the experience gained with the community support projects, we plan to select a town for a more comprehensive partnership which goes beyond the scope of singular projects. One option for this second phase is a partnership based on one of the first-phase projects. We could, for example, support a project in the field of vocational training. At this point in time, we plan to run the project for a period of three years and anticipate costs of approximately 500,000 euros.
It is my firm conviction that such partnership-based town-to-town aid is a valuable supplementary contribution to the good work that is already being done by various national governments, international organisations and NGOs. Our towns have the in‑depth know-how in the field of communal infrastructures and services, know-how that can benefit the communities in the affected regions. Refuse collection is a good example in this context: as a consequence of the population increase, the waste disposal systems in these 'towns of initial refuge' are no longer able to cope with the waste volumes. Our municipal waste management professionals have the know-how and experience to help these towns. Moreover, thanks to a pragmatic approach, one based more on practical considerations, we might well meet with greater acceptance and openness than NGOs or state agencies and thus be able to interact on a somewhat different level with authorities and administrative departments.
Obviously, these projects do not fall into the 'mega' category. And, bearing in mind the fragile situation in Lebanon, bringing them to fruition will be no simple matter. In providing aid of this kind, the City of Zürich is venturing into uncharted waters, and we are still testing those waters at this point in time. If you should be interested in how the projects develop, we will be happy to share our ups and downs with you. And if any of you worked on similar projects in the past, we would certainly be eager to learn from your experiences.
As we understand it, assistance made available to 'towns of initial refuge' is supplementary to the aid provided within the scope of 'Solidarity Cities', a European initiative launched by Athens to which I also attach great importance.
In conclusion, allow me to say this: the current refugee flows can be attributed to several causes, of which war and persecution are the most prevalent. Persecution is preceded by discrimination and social exclusion – exclusion of ethnic groups, of those of different faiths, beliefs or customs. And, sadly, this pattern of human behaviour is again on the rise.
Municipal governments must therefore do all they can to promote a basic mind-set of openness and tolerance within their communities. Because this is how we can make an eminently important contribution to creating and sustaining a culture of peace and well-being within our societies. The reason that the City of Zürich has been able to launch this special refugee programme lies in the fact that solidarity-based policies are widely accepted by the people of Zürich. And this is why we want to – and can – help other towns, locally and internationally.
I hope and wish that you also enjoy the backing of the people in your communities for your refugee and integration projects. And I look forward to providing you with information on our experience with our 'towns of initial refuge' project partnership in Lebanon.
Thank you very much.