World Refugee Day: 11 mayors call on Europe to tackle “xenophobic” debate

Volunteers pose before a truck which will deliver aid to refugees and migrants living in Calais. Image: Getty.

A coalition of European mayors has called on the continent’s governments to change the tone with which they discuss refugees.

In an open letter published for World Refugee Day this morning, the 11 mayors warn that “there remains a nationalistic, isolationist and at times xenophobic undertone” to many of Europe’s debates about migration.

“We are a continent born out of the ruins of nationalism and war, and we thrive on peace and cooperation,” they added. “Only by working together can we overcome the challenges brought on by war, poverty and persecution in other parts of the world.”

The letter is addressed to Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission; Martin Schulz, president of the European parliament; and Donald Tusk, president of the European Council; as well as national leaders.


It is signed by the 11 mayors who make up the executive committee of EUROCITIES. They include the organisation’s president, Johanna Rolland, the mayor of Nantes; John Clancy, the leader of Birmingham city council; and the mayors of Barcelona, Florence, Ghent, Leipzig, Ljubljana, Rotterdam, Stockholm, Vienna and Warsaw.

The letter also calls on the continent to recognise the role cities play in dealing with the ongoing refugee crisis. “It falls to us, the leaders of major European cities, to get integration right,” it argues. “Many refugees and asylum seekers will settle in our cities, and we must ensure that they are given a decent start in our communities.”

You can read the full letter below.

 

Dear President Juncker, President Schulz, President Tusk and national leaders,

World Refugee Day is a moment for us to reflect on our common European values of solidarity, humanity and dignity.

The refugee situation remains a top priority for Europe and for cities. As European city leaders, every day we manage the immediate and long term challenges this poses.

Our experience tells us we need to refocus the debate at European level. There is too much talk of quotas, numbers and borders, and not enough of people. These are people who are fleeing war, persecution and destitution. How we treat them when they arrive in our local communities will determine the success of long term integration and social cohesion in Europe as whole.

The decisions we take at this critical point in time will shape the future of our European Union.

Europe can set an example. We are a continent born out of the ruins of nationalism and war, and we thrive on peace and cooperation. Only by working together can we overcome the challenges brought on by war, poverty and persecution in other parts of the world.

The guiding principles of solidarity, humanity and dignity upon which the European Union is founded should define our approach to the reception and integration of refugees. Particular focus needs to be put on the most vulnerable groups: women, children and unaccompanied minors.

It falls to us, the leaders of major European cities, to get integration right. Many refugees and asylum seekers will settle in our cities, and we must ensure that they are given a decent start in our communities. Many of us have signed up to the EUROCITIES Integrating Cities Charter through which we commit to the principles of non-discrimination and equality in our cities.

We have been overwhelmed by the positive response from civil society, volunteer organisations and businesses in our local communities. Nevertheless, there remains a nationalistic, isolationist and at times xenophobic undertone to some debates at national and European level. This does nothing to support the long term integration of refugees and asylum seekers and only serves to hinder Europe’s social cohesion.

We are determined to counter these narratives with clear, honest and transparent communication with our citizens. We want to set an example at local level that fully embraces our shared European values.

The debates at European level should better reflect the principles we outline here. These are principles that are put into practice every day in our cities, in most cases without direct access to the necessary resources from the EU and national governments.

Now is the time to put our shared European values of solidarity, humanity and dignity to the test. Cities are where the integration of newcomers will succeed or fail. We, the mayors of major European cities, want you, European leaders, to work with us, not only by acknowledging our challenges but also with concrete actions such as direct financial support to cities. Only together can we confront the biggest humanitarian challenge Europe has faced since the Second World War.

Signed: Members of the EUROCITIES executive committee

Johanna Rolland, Mayor of Nantes, President of EUROCITIES

Daniël Termont, Mayor of Ghent, Vice president of EUROCITIES

John Clancy, Leader of Birmingham City Council

Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona

Zoran Janković, Mayor of Ljubljana

Karin Wanngård, Mayor of Stockholm

Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, Mayor of Warsaw

Burkhard Jung, Mayor of Leipzig

Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence

Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam

Michael Häupl, Mayor of Vienna

 
 
 
 

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Seoul Metro System but were too afraid to ask

Gwanghwamoon subway station on line 5 in Seoul, 2010. Image: Getty.

Seoul’s metro system carries 7m passengers a day across 1,000 miles of track. The system is as much a regional commuter railway as an urban subway system. Without technically leaving the network, one can travel from Asan over 50 miles to the south of central Seoul, all the way up to the North Korean border 20 miles north of the city.

Fares are incredibly low for a developed country. A basic fare of 1,250 won (about £1) will allow you to travel 10km; it’s only an extra 100 won (about 7p) to travel every additional 5km on most lines.

The trains are reasonably quick: maximum speeds of 62mph and average operating speeds of around 20mph make them comparable to London Underground. But the trains are much more spacious, air conditioned and have wi-fi access. Every station also has protective fences, between platform and track, to prevent suicides and accidents.

The network

The  service has a complex system of ownership and operation. The Seoul Metro Company (owned by Seoul City council) operates lines 5-8 on its own, but lines 1-4 are operated jointly with Korail, the state-owned national rail company. Meanwhile, Line 9 is operated jointly between Trans-Dev (a French company which operates many buses in northern England) and RATP (The Parisian version of TfL).

Then there’s Neotrans, owned by the Korean conglomerate Doosan, which owns and operates the driverless Sinbundang line. The Incheon city government, which borders Seoul to the west, owns and operates Incheon Line 1 and Line 2.

The Airport Express was originally built and owned by a corporation jointly owned by 11 large Korean firms, but is now mostly owned by Korail. The Uijeongbu light railway is currently being taken over by the Uijeongbu city council (that one’s north of Seoul) after the operating company went bankrupt. And the Everline people mover is operated by a joint venture owned by Bombardier and a variety of Korean companies.

Seoul’s subway map. Click to expand. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The rest of the lines are operated by the national rail operator Korail. The fare structure is either identical or very similar for all of these lines. All buses and trains in the region are accessible with a T-money card, similar to London’s Oyster card. Fares are collected centrally and then distributed back to operators based on levels of usage.

Funding

The Korean government spends around £27bn on transport every year: that works out at 10 per cent more per person than the British government spends.  The Seoul subway’s annual loss of around £200m is covered by this budget.

The main reason the loss is much lower than TfL’s £458m is that, despite Seoul’s lower fares, it also has much lower maintenance costs. The oldest line, Line 1 is only 44 years old.


Higher levels of automation and lower crime rates also mean there are fewer staff. Workers pay is also lower: a newly qualified driver will be paid around £27,000 a year compared to £49,000 in London.

New infrastructure is paid for by central government. However, investment in the capital does not cause the same regional rivalries as it does in the UK for a variety of reasons. Firstly, investment is not so heavily concentrated in the capital. Five other cities have subways; the second city of Busan has an extensive five-line network.

What’s more, while investment is still skewed towards Seoul, it’s a much bigger city than London, and South Korea is physically a much smaller country than the UK (about the size of Scotland and Wales combined). Some 40 per cent of the national population lives on the Seoul network – and everyone else who lives on the mainland can be in Seoul within 3 hours.

Finally, politically the biggest divide in South Korea is between the south-west and the south-east (the recently ousted President Park Geun-Hye won just 11 per cent of the vote in the south west, while winning 69 per cent in the south-east). Seoul is seen as neutral territory.  

Problems

A driverless train on the Shinbundang Line. Image: Wikicommons.

The system is far from perfect. Seoul’s network is highly radial. It’s incredibly cheap and easy to travel from outer lying areas to the centre, and around the centre itself. But travelling from one of Seoul’s satellite cities to another by public transport is often difficult. A journey from central Goyang (population: 1m) to central Incheon (population: 3m) is around 30 minutes by car. By public transport, it takes around 2 hours. There is no real equivalent of the London Overground.

There is also a lack of fast commuter services. The four-track Seoul Line 1 offers express services to Incheon and Cheonan, and some commuter towns south of the city are covered by intercity services. But most large cities of hundreds of thousands of people within commuting distance (places comparable to Reading or Milton Keynes) are reliant on the subway network, and do not have a fast rail link that takes commuters directly to the city centre.

This is changing however with the construction of a system modelled on the Paris RER and London’s Crossrail. The GTX will operate at maximum speed of 110Mph. The first line (of three planned) is scheduled to open in 2023, and will extend from the new town of Ilsan on the North Korean border to the new town of Dongtan about 25km south of the city centre.

The system will stop much less regularly than Crossrail or the RER resulting in drastic cuts in journey times. For example, the time from llsan to Gangnam (of Gangnam Style fame) will be cut from around 1hr30 to just 17 minutes. When the three-line network is complete most of the major cities in the region will have a direct fast link to Seoul Station, the focal point of the GTX as well as the national rail network. A very good public transport network is going to get even better.