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Panel 22. Sanctuary movements in different urban contexts: exploring commonalities and differences


  • Elena Vacchelli, Professor in Sociology and Social Policy, University of Greenwich,
  • Franca Roeschert, PhD student in Migration Studies, University of Greenwich,


At a time when the public debate on migration is increasingly targeting undocumented migrants and sanctuary movements are playing a central role in migration governance, this session explores ways in which sanctuary movements are articulated in different urban contexts. The session welcomes contributions exploring how social movements are seeking to create migrant integration at a local level, including urban movements that are not defined as ‘sanctuary’ but share similar objectives.

Ways in which the organisational structure and vision of sanctuary movements have evolved over time need to be understood in the broader context of policy shifts orienting national frameworks of migrant integration (Vacchelli and Roeschert, under review). Despite the progress made in countries such as the US and the UK in consolidating sanctuary policies and practices, their transformative possibilities are, however, only sporadically realised as most scholars recognise. The main critique is that sanctuary practices fall into the trap of reproducing problematic dichotomies which see receiving communities as heroes, hosts (Wilcock 2019), or ‘sanctuary-builders’ (Paul 2023, 4), whilst migrants are ascribed the role and portrayed as victims, guests (Wilcock 2019), or sanctuary-seekers. Similarly, urban practices of migrant integration at the urban level can potentially reproduce problematic narratives (Mosselson 2021) which are also perpetuated in the media where refugees are depicted as disempowered, helpless “victims”’ (Crawley 2022, 355), and othered as apolitical subjects whilst portraying receiving community as rescuers.

The proposed session directly addresses the conference’s theme of interconnected struggles within cities, in particular by exploring how sanctuary movements are contextual to political opportunity structures in the cities and communities where they take place. With this session we aim to focus on national and urban contexts where sanctuary movements are active, highlighting a range of research which makes use of different epistemological approaches.

We welcome papers addressing the following: 

  • Contested forms of citizenship and participation in sanctuary cities
  • Role of civil society organisations in brokering sanctuary at the urban level
  • Interconnected migration struggles within cities and extent to which sanctuary mobilisations join forces with other movements  
  • Policy driven vs grassroot driven sanctuary practices 
  • Capacity building within local governments to sustain sanctuary over time 
  • Critical urban theory including intersectional approaches to understanding sanctuary movements  
  • Participatory, co-creative and non-traditional epistemological approaches in exploring sanctuary movements

We particularly encourage submissions from scholars from the Global South and research exploring sanctuary movements in the Global South. 

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