Urban Diversities: Exclusion and Inclusion of Immigrants and Refugees at the Local Level

Local contexts are a crucial site for the management of ethnic, cultural, and religious diversities. It is at the local level – first in large metropolitan areas, but increasingly also in medium-sized cities and small towns – that what has been termed “superdiversity” becomes a crucial challenge. Thus, in an increasingly differentiated array of local contexts, cultural and religious diversity must be understood, negotiated, and managed vis-à-vis the assimilative pressures and expectations of receiving societies. Whilst in the last decades of the twentieth century, multiculturalism was the prevailing framework within which these issues were framed, today – at least in Europe – they are inserted in a predominant scenario of “multiculturalism backlash.” For this reason, the correspondent authorities responsible for the policies of immigration are forced to define new frames, narratives, and action guidelines.

Among these responsible authorities, local governments are increasingly involved in the elaboration and mainly in the implementation of migration policies. The “multilevel governance of immigration” and the “venue shopping approach” converge in highlighting the growing role of local authorities in producing and implementing immigration policies, both on the control and the integration sides of foreign sojourners. Furthermore, the mobilizations by civil society actors, in favor or against migrants and asylum seekers, occur mainly at the local level; as well as the mobilizations by migrants themselves, and their struggles for recognition and rights that particularly take place at the urban local level.

Decisions about the settlement of reception facilities, the admission of migrants to local services, and the construction of worship sites for minority religions involve local authorities. Cities of refuge (also called “Sanctuary cities” mainly in the American context) and cities of rejection are the two sides of the spectrum of different political orientations and policies. Hence, from a social point of view, it is mainly at the local level that ethnic, cultural, and religious diversities can be accepted, promoted, or rejected, allowing or hindering migrants to perform in public events and become part of the urban life. In recent years, the issue of the acceptance and inclusion has attracted much public debate, and also in this case the role of local authorities and urban societies has become crucial. In this framework, the conference will discuss the following issues:

  • The role of local authorities in immigration policy making and implementation;
  • The reception of different categories of migrants – including asylum seekers – at the local level;
  • Modalities of acceptance and/or refusal of ethnic, cultural, and religious diversities;
  • Mobilizations and activities in favor of – or against – immigrants and asylum seekers at the local level by the civil society;
  • The performance of diversity in the urban life through music, dance, fine arts, food, etc.: the “aesthetics of multiculturalism”;
  • Struggles for recognition: migrants’ activism and political mobilizations at the local level;
  • Immigration and local diversity: how the above mentioned issues could be influenced by specific local contexts of reception (e.g. big and medium-sized cities vs. small and peripheral contexts)?
  • The role of private companies, foundations, and NGOs in promoting the integration of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers through local programs of corporate social responsibility.

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