This piece draws on recent research focused on the humanitarian politics of the refugee ‘crisis’ and its relationship with European futures. Our aim is three-fold: first, we contextualise the rise of right-wing populism and the politicisation of refugees in Europe. Second, we reflect on how state austerities place precarious refugees alongside marginalised European citizens, with under-explored consequences and tensions. Third, we point to the hopeful practices around the ‘experimental humanitarianism’ that we encountered across the four capital cities in which we conducted research. The paper highlights the limitations of state-centric provisioning and the potential pathways that existing experiments of solidarity can build on the margins of European cities. These are often unseen or off-grid nodes of hope set against a backdrop of generalised European political malaise.