Five cities of refuge are selected for the comparative framework, with European cities being the primary empirical domains. Athens, Berlin, London are currently experiencing the shocks of the “refugee crisis”, even if differentially; Los Angeles and Hong Kong have long experiences as cities of refuge and thus provide a spatial and temporal comparative dimension to the analysis. All cities share three common characteristics: they are all digital cities with rich digital infrastructures, networks and cultures; they constitute important case studies within the history of sudden and/or unwelcome population change as a result of forced migration; and their current position as cities of refuge is shaped in the midst of heated local and global debates on the “refugee crisis” and migration control.
The main research question that drives the project is:
• In what ways does digital communication enhance or hinder urban communities’ resilience in the aftermath of refugee arrivals to the city?
Resilience is examined through the experience of the different constituents of urban communities: settled residents and newcomers. Fundamental to the project is a horizontal perspective into the city. Particularly, by engaging with established communities, civic actors and newcomers alike, the project destabilises conceptual, empirical and policy assumptions that often predetermine who speaks, on behalf of whom, and who should listen in the context of migration. A horizontal perspective into the city of refuge tackles three dominant limitations in policy and research that either examines citizens and the civil society alone or migrants as isolated actors. Instead, a horizontal approach to the city of refuge: (i.) destabilises assumptions about citizens and noncitizens being divided between benefactors and beneficiaries, with citizens and institutions being privileged in their capacities and right to speak and to be heard; (ii.) opens us spaces for understanding and promoting relations of trust and cooperation between those receiving and those arriving in the city; (iii.) enables conceptual and empirical opportunities to understand different forms of agency and acts of citizenship within the city, especially by recognising that newcomers, citizens and civil society do and can develop different capacities to deal with challenges associated with urban life and migration.
Such a holistic approach highlights the importance of studying urban diversity and the need to examine how a wide range of urban dwellers use digital communications to develop capabilities for the growth and revitalization of their community. This holistic perspective also underscores the great potential of migration to enhance social, cultural and economic benefits after the initial shock of change.