Moving Cities
Inspiring Approaches

PalermoThe Open Harbours Policy

What is inspiring?

Palermo has shown that cities can play a role in border politics even if this is decided at the national level and government departments do not make their decision processes transparent. As a city with strong international connections – and as one of the Mediterranean’s major port cities – Palermo has taken an active stand against EU and national migration policies. In particular, the city administration resisted Matteo Salvini’s “closed harbours” policy, promoting the idea of an open harbours approach instead.

How did Palermo establish the open harbours policy on the ground?

When the first incident occurred and the then Italian Interior Minister blocked the ship Aquarius from docking in Italian harbours, Mayor Orlando openly challenged the national government, volunteering alongside other colleagues in major southern Italian cities (Naples, Messina, Reggio Calabria) to let the ship dock. Although this might have proven problematic in practice, it represented the first crucial step in publicly defying the legitimacy of this national policy.

What else did Palermo do?

When the government withdrew from search and rescue (SAR) operations at sea, and began policing and criminalising operations organised by civil society organisations, Palermo’s city administration remained one of the few clear institutional voices to take a stand against these policies. It did so not only through repeated public declarations, but also through further steps that included honorary citizenship for civil society organisations active in search and rescue at sea, such as Mediterranea Saving Humans, Sea-Watch and sea-eye, and the official letter sent to the Italian government demanding the repeal of the administrative impoundment of Search-and-Rescue vessels.

What is the outcome?

As in the case of the Charter of Palermo, the concrete achievements of the open harbours policy can only be measured partially in terms of achievements on the ground. In a policy area which hardly fits within a city’s official jurisdiction, the impact of this approach has primarily been felt indirectly. It has for example challenged the legitimacy of the government’s policy decisions, influenced public debates and raised public awareness.

All inspiring approaches