Cities and migration: Working to enhance social inclusion, a global opportunity

by: Mohamed Boussraoui, Lamine Abbad, Eva Chueca

If today everyone praises the positive effects of the globalization of economies, we must accept the fact that migration is one of its key drivers. It is not insignificant that some countries, more than others, open their borders more easily and facilitate the arrival of migrants and refugees, since the contribution of migration could prove to be beneficial in the long term, from an economic and social point of view, and especially when it comes to demographic renewal issues.

All regions of the world have received and continue to receive, in different proportions, migration flows that have impacted their development. Nowadays, two major reasons push people to leave en masse, sometimes leaving everything in haste as a consequence: armed conflicts and natural disasters. As specialists argue, the latter will certainly increase under the effect of climate change, implying increased demographic flows for many cities of the world. In many cases, the lives of these new populations will not be easy in their respective host countries as a result of the political instrumentalization of the migratory and refugee issue by populist parties for electoral purposes.

Another key challenge to be highlighted is the urban dimension of migration. The arrival of migrant populations and refugees takes place in territories managed by local governments who, despite limited resources and competences, assume wide responsibilities to house, inform, educate, care for, integrate and give work to these populations. Their role is therefore essential, not only in ensuring the inclusion of migrants and refugees in host cities, but also in building cohesive and sustainable societies where peaceful coexistence among newcomers and local populations can be a reality. For this reason, it is crucial to support their action by providing more competences and resources, and by including local authorities in the governance of migration. In building this new political and institutional framework, the commitment of the international community, and particularly States, will be crucial. 

Against this framework, the New Urban Agenda and the 2030 Agenda constitute key instruments that contribute to a move towards the better inclusion of migrants by ensuring their rights, as well as their access to basic services and active participation in the life of the city. In particular, the values and commitments conveyed by the Sustainable Development Goals go in this direction and give international legitimacy to all actions aimed at including migrants – as a vulnerable population – in the achievement of sustainable development. 

The New York Declaration adopted by the United Nations in September 2016 and the resulting Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which will be adopted in 2018, have also demonstrated important progress in recognizing the right to mobility, the role of migrants in development and the centrality of cities in fostering the inclusion of migrants as a means to boost the social and economic potential of diversity. 

In this new international context, and with these new instruments at their disposal, local governments are increasingly showing greater commitment towards migrant populations and the safeguarding of their human rights. In this regard, a growing number of cities are currently adhering to the “sanctuary city” initiative and claiming recognition of their role and their right to be taken into consideration in policymaking processes, both at national and international level. Thanks to the advocacy role of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and the subsequent support of various United Nations agencies (primarily the IOM, but also UN-Habitat and UNDP, among others), the participation of cities has progressively increased in international meetings, where they are able to share their knowledge and experience, make recommendations and participate in the definition and implementation of international and national migration policies.

Among the most relevant international gatherings in which local governments have been able to participate are the Conference on Migrants and Cities held in October 2015 at the IOM headquarters, the various editions of the Global Mayoral Forum on Human Mobility (the latest of which was held in Berlin in June 2017 in the framework of the Global Forum on Migration and Development) and the World Summit of Mayors on Migration organized by the City of New York in September 2017.

In sum, the contribution of cities to the governance of migration and to the inclusion of migrants stems from their commitment towards the right to the city, which implies ensuring access to equal rights to all urban dwellers, regardless of their administrative status, origin, gender, sexual orientation or belief. However, the work of cities can only have a long-lasting impact if it can count on increased coordination with other spheres of government, as well as the support of organized civil society, which also play a fundamental role in accompanying migrants during their integration journeys and in ensuring their inclusion. 

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