People have always been on the move, both within nations and across borders, but increasingly migrants tend to settle in cities. This puts cities and their responses at the heart of the conversation, something we are looking to highlight at the Global Parliament of Mayors (GPM) Summit here in Bristol.
There is a steady upward trend in the number of people who have left their homelands voluntarily for economic or other reasons, or who are forced to leave their homes as refugees or displaced persons for reasons of conflict or environmental disaster. Population diversity in most developed countries can be attributed to international migration, whereas in developing nations it is mostly internal migration that contributes to this diversity.
This is an important moment in the United Kingdom’s approach to the issue of migration. The upcoming Immigration Bill, expected toward the end of this year, will bring unprecedented reform of U.K. immigration policy. At the same time, the scandal over the treatment of the Windrush generation has brought to public consciousness the impact of this government’s “hostile environment” policy and the burdensome bureaucracy the Home Office is inflicting on individual human lives. A fairer, more compassionate system is needed, one in which no one is detained without knowing why and when they will be released. It is everyone’s legitimate right to enjoy a family life with loved ones and to realize the aspiration to provide for oneself and one’s family and contribute to society through employment.
However, national governments clearly do not have all the answers. Around the world, it is cities that are increasingly collaborating nationally and across borders, learning from each other and replicating good practice. Cities’ experiences have to be included in the national debate on how to take advantage of the full potential of migration and drive a change in policies and mind-set to ensure that migration is embraced as an opportunity rather than seen solely as a challenge.
That is why this will be high on the agenda at the GPM summit opening on October 21, with almost 100 mayors representing both developed and emerging states in attendance. Cities are where migrants interact with communities, society and, if only indirectly, with the host country. The social, economic, political and cultural activities in a city can play a crucial role in countering the anxiety and fears associated with migration, and help integration and inclusivity. Where the right policies and practices are in place, migration can bring huge benefits to communities and cities, fueling growth, innovation and entrepreneurship.
City responses to migration and refugees have been varied and multifaceted but they are characterized by the theme of inclusion, with city leaders attempting to design and implement policies that allow newcomers to contribute to, and benefit from, the flourishing of their new communities. These responses are rooted in an approach that is both principled and pragmatic – seeking to uphold human rights and dignity while at the same time identifying practical solutions to the challenges affecting local residents. At a time when, at national and international level, migration has been used by some as a political weapon to stoke resentment and tension, this city perspective has never been more vital in bringing both humanity and reality back into public discourse.
In seeking to develop inclusive solutions on migration, cities across the globe are innovating and developing new models of best practice.
Amsterdam has adopted a programme called “Everyone’s Police,” which encourages the reporting of crimes in the interest of more effective policing and community engagement.
New York City has created the I.D. NYC scheme, a government-issued identification card available to all residents regardless of immigration status that enables people to access a variety of services and discounts in the city.
Barcelona supports children and families applying for family reunification by providing comprehensive and personalized guidance on the legal, practical and psychological aspects of the process.
Sao Paulo has established the Coordination of Policies for Migrants’ Unite within its municipal structures to promote city policies for migrants across departments and disciplines and in a participative manner.
Amman has welcomed almost 2 million migrants and refugees in the last two decades as a result of conflicts in neighboring countries. And cities in Uganda have played a key role in implementing national policies designed to allow refugees to own land and set up businesses.
These are just a handful of examples of the great work already being done by many cities on these issues. These innovations will be examined in detail at the GPM summit, with city representatives sharing their valuable learning and experience.
A number of initiatives and networks have been established to support and catalyze such innovations and share best practice across different city contexts, from the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Migration to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth – and many more. Together these networks provide a wealth of resources and insight for cities seeking to make inclusion a reality.
A Voice for Cities on the Global Stage
Despite this vital work on the ground, cities remain underrepresented on the global stage when it comes to key decision-making on migration and refugee issues. This is the challenge the GPM summit will address.
The GPM has already been actively engaged in the negotiations on the United Nations global compacts on migration and refugees. As the mayor of Bristol I become the first city leader to speak in the deliberations on the compact on migration in May 2018.
At the summit we will debate and decide how, collectively, we can take a leadership role for cities in the implementation of the global compacts. We will hear from other key international stakeholders, as well as from mayors with direct and varied experience. And we will agree on practical steps to enable cities to implement the compacts in their areas of influence.
The price of inaction is huge – a critical global diplomatic process could once again largely pass cities by and leave national-level politicians bickering over watered-down commitments. The potential prize is just as significant – a recognized seat at the table for cities to review and implement global compacts, and a range of practical resources to maximize the contributions that migrants and refugees can bring to our communities.
Our conversations in Bristol represent a critical opportunity to better grasp the key issues for cities related to migration and integration, and to amplify the voice of city leaders in international policymaking relating to migrants and refugees.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Refugees Deeply.