SPIMEC: Sanctuary Policies for Irregular Migrants in European Cities

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary University of London
Department Name: Politics


In times of closed borders and restrictive immigration laws, many European cities have enacted "sanctuary policies" (SPs) to support the growing number of residents with irregular migration status. Through SPs, local governments disrupt the monopoly of nationstates over immigration and citizenship, challenging conventional understandings of governance in liberal democracies.

The core question of Sanctuary Policies for Irregular Migrants in European Cities (SPIMEC) is to explain the varieties, drivers, and impacts of SPs in Europe. Bridging insights from multiple disciplines, SPIMEC theorises that local governments are situated at the crossroad of political mobilisation from the bottom up and institutional restrictions from the top down. These different, often contradictory forces shape the opportunities and constraints for SPs.

SPIMEC relies on a threefold comparative research design, analysing SPs across (1) national contexts (in North-West, South, and Central-East Europe); (2) local contexts (in terms of city politics and society), and (3) over time (looking at the "refugee crisis", Brexit, and COVID-19 as potential turning points for policy change).

A quantitative Large-N study compares Europe's 95 largest cities, drawing on existing datasets and secondary literature. Next, a quali-quantitative Small-N study zooms in on four city-cases based on original fieldwork data. SPIMEC aims to make a timely, urgent, and path-breaking contribution to migration studies. It will produce unique empirical data on European SPs to provide the information cities need to promote migrant integration, as well as new theoretical insights on urban politics and multi-level governance more broadly. Addressing this gap is of utmost importance from a substantive point of view.

SPIMEC shall provide policy recommendations to stakeholders supporting irregular migrants, whose condition of exclusion and invisibility is more relevant than ever amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


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