Commentary

Habitat III can help migration drive city development

Migration has been overlooked in the global debate on urbanization and development. Now, the New Urban Agenda needs to help local authorities lead on related policy and planning.

Public art in Berlin, 2015. (Radiokafka/Shutterstock)

Of the approximately 1 billion migrants worldwide, around half reside in cities, underscoring that migrants play an integral role in the global shift to greater urbanization. They also contribute significantly to urban areas and their development, bringing ideas, innovation and diversity, as well as connecting communities across borders to create new kinds of global cities.

Yet the role of migrants is largely overlooked in the global debate on urbanization and development. While many cities and local governments are attuned to the realities and policy responses that include migrants — and take migrants’ voices into account when putting forward agendas at both the national and local levels — others have ignored these issues in their development planning.

Nonetheless, migration plays a key part in several key international processes at the moment. In a world of increasing human mobility, for instance, the integration of migrants is a key variable in achieving several of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 10, for instance, aims to “reduce inequality within and among countries”. Likewise, well-managed migration will be key in the implementation of the ambitious Goal 11, the “urban SDG” that seeks to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.

We also need to look forward to Habitat III, the major urbanization conference that will take place in Quito in October and will result in a 20-year strategy called the New Urban Agenda. That summit is a timely opportunity to raise awareness around two issues: First, migration is a key driver of cities’ growth. And second, migrants are indeed individuals with specific needs during times of crises, but they can also become agents of development when the right policies are put in place.

[See: Learning the language of cities in crisis]

These priorities respond to calls by U. N. member states and others for broader and more coherent inclusion of migration in the preparatory discussions. States have highlighted the need to link humanitarian and development discussions and to promote an integrated and comprehensive approach to urban migration management.

Importantly, Habitat III will follow not only the adoption of the SDGs but also the new U. N. climate agreement as well as discussions at the World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled for Istanbul in May. Each of these processes offers a key framework for sustainable development as well as a reformed approach to crisis response and mitigation — plus, migration is a common element of all. Ultimately, the extent to which migration is integrated into local policy planning will determine how well human mobility can positively affect cities.

Local role

In October in Geneva, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) held a Conference on Migrants and Cities that set a new framework for global dialogue on migration involving all levels of migration governance. Importantly, local authorities were the main interlocutors during these talks, which gathered more than 600 participants.

“There is currently a policy vacuum on migration in urbanization policies.”

The conference demonstrated the significant role that local and city institutions play in the management of human mobility. Nearly two-dozen mayors, vice-mayors and prefects representing cities and communes from across the globe spoke about their role in migration policymaking and shared their best practices and challenges in managing this increasing trend.

A report summarizing these practices will soon be available here. The conference built on the themes of IOM’s new World Migration Report 2015: Migrants and Cities: New Partnerships to Manage Mobility. See here for a map of strong migrant-inclusion practices being implemented around the world.

For now, let’s look at a few of the main messages that came out of the conference.

First, local authorities must lead policy and planning on migration and urbanization. City leaders, especially of those cities facing increasing migration flows — such as Mogadishu, Palermo and Athens, among others — showed that they deal on a daily basis with the most practical and impactful aspects of migration and migrants’ needs.

This proves that local actors are particularly well placed to play a central role in the development and provision of policies on migration and urbanization. Their practical knowledge and management experience needs to feed into the policymaking cycle to enhance the efficacy of national policies.

[See: Pope Francis invokes Right to the City amid focus on migration]

Second, if the benefits of migration to cities are to be realized and potential negative effects mitigated, migration — including the integration of migrants into cities — must feature as a key element of urban planning.

Migration toward cities will continue to increase in the coming decades. Yet significant population flows to cities — triggered by conflicts, disasters, climate change and other shocks — can seriously challenge local authorities’ capacity to provide migrants with adequate access to services such as health, housing and education.

The vice-minister of El Salvador and mayors of Palermo and Madrid warned conference participants that stopping or controlling migration to cities is not a solution. Not only would this breach people’s basic human rights, but it would also negate the immense economic benefits that migration produces.

Instead, cities need to be better prepared to face the challenges that come with urban migration, particularly by adapting or promoting policy responses in ways that accommodate rather than halt migration. Since the challenges of migration and migrants’ vulnerabilities are responded to at the local level, municipal authorities need to strengthen their capacities and establish mechanisms to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from urban crises.

[See: Global Alliance for Urban Crises nearing launch]

Mayors and local authorities likewise have a crucial role in developing inclusive policies that facilitate the integration of migrants into local areas while contributing to the development of their countries and communities of origin. Indeed, comprehensive urban planning and sound integration policies can result in a “triple win” scenario, simultaneously offering benefits for the migrant, the country of destination and the country of origin.

Positive examples of this approach are readily available. Reducing economic disparities, for instance, is a key aim of New York City’s administration. A municipal identification programme called IDNYC offers a free card enabling access to schools, hospitals, libraries and financial institutions. The card is available to all city residents, regardless of immigration status.

Since migrants are absorbed into society at the local level, migration policy disseminated from central authorities needs to consider the needs and capacities of local authorities. In the same way, city leaders need to better understand migrants and their needs, including where they are settling and how they are organized, in order to inform their discourse on integration and to promote inclusive policies. The mayors of Saint-Omer, Quilicura and Palermo, for instance, underscored the importance in their daily city management of regular, direct dialogue with migrant groups.

Policy vacuum

Third, the negative impacts of urbanization on rural areas should not be overlooked as an area of both challenge and opportunity.

“Migration is a key driver of cities’ growth. While migrants have specific needs during times of crises, they can also become agents of development when the right policies are put in place.”

On the one hand, the president of the communes of Togo and the mayor of Karofane, Niger, pointed to how shrinking rural populations can have significant social and economic impacts on those left behind in those areas. This is particularly important as those groups — including the young, the elderly and the disabled — often have the greatest needs.

On the other hand, conference participants recognized that impacted rural areas can also be positively affected by smart, responsive planning. Such approaches promote economic diversification and competitiveness while also ensuring sufficient levels of investment to meet the needs of those who stay in rural communities.

[See: The New Urban Agenda’s rural-urban conundrum]

Fourth, there is currently a policy vacuum on migration in urbanization policies. The challenges of urbanization include the effective integration of migrants and the development of adequate infrastructure and services, and these need to feature in all aspects of public policy. Participants noted that access to migrant-sensitive health services is particularly essential to promoting positive outcomes for migrants and their communities.

Fifth, local leaders can change the national perception of migration. The immense potential contributions of migrants — and the proven benefits — should be emphasized to balance and ultimately drown out negative perceptions about immigration. While overall discourse on migration is set at the top, it is local leadership and community actors who can often play the largest role in promoting positive perceptions toward migration and migrants.

One such perception-change initiative is IOM’s “i am a migrant” campaign, presented in collaboration with the Swiss Eritrean community. The project offers humanizing stories of migrants’ journeys, told in their own words. The campaign also underscores the importance of local responses to combat discrimination while attempting to change the lens through which people view migrants and migration in cities across the globe.

Governance disconnect

Sixth, new approaches to urban governance and migration policies, including meaningful dialogue at all levels of government, are called for.

Good governance of human mobility in the urban context requires partnerships between local and central authorities and all relevant actors, including the private sector. Yet currently there is a disconnect between central and local authorities in the policy-planning process, with governments often failing to sufficiently acknowledge and support the role of local authorities in national development planning.

[See: Local linchpins: Mayors commit to the SDGs]

If strengthened, collaboration between the two levels can allow for coherent policy responses, which can maximize the positive outcomes of migration and human mobility. Moreover, partnerships between local and central authorities can ensure that national policies align with the needs and capacities of local authorities at the heart of implementation.

Migrants can also be key partners with local authorities in efficiently managing migration and the challenges of inclusion and diversity it implies. Migrants and diasporas can act as bridge-builders and promoters of development. They can contribute to reducing risks of urban crises, in building the resilience of cities of destination and in developing localities in their areas of origin.

IOM and the 100 Resilient Cities initiative plan to jointly produce a planning guide and toolbox as guidance for well-managed urban migration. (Note: Citiscope receives support from the Rockefeller Foundation, which oversees 100 Resilient Cities.) This project is aimed to help local authorities across the world build or re-design more-resilient cities that take into account the dynamics and diversity that migration brings, both in normal times and during crises. This tool will also serve as IOM’s guidance to the work of the Habitat III “policy units”.

Four policy goals

IOM’s latest World Migration Report provides the evidence base for well-managed migration, and the recent Conference on Migrants and Cities clarified the scope and applications of these recommendations for the Habitat III process. Together, these offer a potent opportunity to comprehensively address ongoing concerns and firmly integrate migration into the urbanization discussion.

[See: Since Habitat II, a ‘transformative’ 20 years]

Bringing together the migration-relevant elements for action at the city level means supporting the following policy objectives in the preparations for Habitat III:

  • Target data collection and the development of solutions for areas where migrants and communities interact that can lead to increased vulnerability.

  • Build on the outcomes of the related international processes taking place in the run-up to Habitat III, including with regard to the SDGs, the Paris climate summit and the World Humanitarian Summit. These can be used to formulate comprehensive operational guidelines that combine humanitarian and development funding and migration management efforts in understanding urban risk, preventing and responding to urban crises.

[See: Cities, regions to form five-year vision on climate action]

  • Support local solutions to migration, where possible, and move to strengthen existing functional governance systems. This means better recognizing and leveraging the different capacities and comparative advantages of local, national and international actors. Doing so would also rely on capabilities and resources already in place in cities, rather than re-creating or duplicating systems.

  • And finally, clarify guiding principles on how to implement sustainable migration policies and management measures that complement and are supported by all governance structures, roles and funding mechanisms at all levels of government.

For more information on the conference, please visit IDMCMC or contact the International Dialogue on Migration team at IDM@iom.int. IOM is the global lead agency on migration. It became a member of the U. N. Task Team in May 2015 and is actively involved in preparations for the Habitat III conference.

Stay up to date on all Habitat III news! Sign up for Citiscope’s weekly newsletter here.

Get the Toward Habitat III newsletter.

Back to top

More from Citiscope

Latest Innovation Feature

Latest CitiSignal

Comments Policy

Citiscope is a place for the world’s urban leaders — mayors, councils, business, civic, neighborhood and independent observers — to exchange ideas and learn from each other. Comments are most welcome. Participants must first sign in to Disqus. (Not registered? It’s easy: Sign up here or connect with a social media account.) We ask that you use your real first and last names and say what city you’re from. Comments that do not follow Citiscope’s comments policy will be removed.

Paula Benea

Paula Benea is a migration policy officer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), based at IOM Headquarters in Geneva. Paula focuses on migration policy and governance, international cooperation on migration, and the links between migration and development. For four years, Paula has supported the conceptualization and implementation of IOM’s main migration policy dialogue, the International Dialogue on Migration, with the most recent event dedicated to a Global Conference on Migrants and Cities (October 2015).

Ioana Popp

Ioana Popp is a migration policy officer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), based at IOM Headquarters in Geneva. Ioana acts as focal point for Habitat III.

Amy Rhoades

Amy Rhoades is the humanitarian communications programme manager for IOM. Working at the intersection of community engagement, media and humanitarian communications, Amy has eight years of international experience, including recent fieldwork in Haiti, Burundi, Iraq and the Philippines. She is currently based in Geneva.