Urban migration at the time of COVID 19: Cities as labs for more inclusive societies

Urban migration at the time of COVID 19: Cities as labs for more inclusive societies

Cities are on the frontline to fight the battle against COVID-19, and many of them are making a significant effort to do it in an inclusive way. Providing care to all citizens, especially to the most vulnerable, is what is at stake today. The input of cities has proven to be crucial in ensuring effective solidarity measures during compulsory quarantine, businesses lock down and reduced-mobility policies.

A human rights-driven approach, multilevel governance cooperation, trust-enhancing and evidence-based responses are paramount to inclusive cities, regions and countries. This sanitary, economic and social crisis takes an enormous toll on local governments hosting communities of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. However, this situation provides urban migration and integration analysts with a vast displaying of initiatives that could pave the way for long-term sustainability measures.

Language barriers that migrants face on a daily basis are certainly a challenge to integration, and such barriers become even dangerous when health is in jeopardy. To make information more accessible to migrant communities during the COVID-19 crisis, the City of Vienna’s Integration and Diversity Department implemented a multilingual service that provides those in need with reliable knowledge about the pandemic in 24 languages. Multilingual cross-platform contact points have been designed for communities who might experience linguistic obstacles while addressing their health or pandemic-related concerns. This initiative resonates with the whole portfolio of activities set up by the City of Vienna aiming at welcoming new citizens and facilitating their integration from their very first day of arrival (See more in this Vienna Migration City Profile) . As one can read on their website, “German and multilingualism” is one of the five pillars of the Vienna Integration Concept. In 2019, 30.2% of Vienna residents did not hold Austrian citizenship. In this With this in mind, Municipal Department 17 promotes the potential of multilingualism with targeted projects, while the “Start Wien” programme features a welcome package for every immigrant including access to German language courses.

Often, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) take up the relay in implementing actions specifically targeting immigrants in a way that complements existing services or other forms of actions. In Lyon, Radio Salam, which counts around 150.000 listeners per day, broadcasts relevant information on COVID-19 to its listeners. The radio, which holds an associative status, invited several medical professionals to participate in broadcasts to explain in both French and Arabic the main issues related to the COVID-19 crisis while answering live questions from the audience. According to Le Monde, Radio Salam has been solicited by the Rhône Prefecture to foster the relay of relevant instructions to its listeners. Especially for newly arrived immigrants of Chibani origin or other residents without sufficient knowledge of French, the radio is playing a key role in reaching communities who during this crisis might experience solitude and isolation.

When addressing a complex issue such as the one of the COVID-19 pandemic, cooperation between public services and civil society organisations becomes even more relevant. Effective integration measures require a multi-stakeholder governance mechanism, as advocated by the Mediterranean City - to - City Migration (MC2CM) project. Further acceptance for migrants’ rights can only be achieved through policies that ensure that no member of a community feels left behind. There is a strong need to address the pressing issue of host communities expressing dissatisfaction with the way migration is playing out in their territories and at the same time give a voice to cities (such as Amman and Lisbon) that make migration a terrific opportunity.

That is precisely what it is happening in Sfax, where in synergy with Terres d’asile Tunisie the Municipality has launched a call for solidarity with the migrant communities living in the area. A call to action targeting civil society, citizens, investors and all stakeholders concerned about the tough times migrant communities are experiencing. As reported by the UCLG Committee on Social, Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights, the fivefold strategy implemented by the city of Sfax foresees co-organization with associations for food delivery to migrants' homes as well as for awareness raising initiatives alerting on the severity of pandemic. As reported by Terres d’asile Tunisie, a WhatsApp group has been created, in order to quickly relay useful information about the pandemic in Sfax to migrants in vulnerable situations.

Adaptability, practicality, resilience. Three keywords to describe how these cities tackle the impact of COVID-19 to help their new residents. Cities tend to implement initiatives driven by pragmatism and problem-solving to foster integration and inclusion of migrants. Moreover, municipalities tend to cooperate on a much more regular basis with CSOs, when it comes to the delivery of local services. There is a huge potential for such initiatives that bring together the national level, the city level, the private sector and the people, be they migrants or non-migrants. If any of these are left out, we are likely to failWe need to stop paying lip service to cooperation and start enacting it in practice.