For Cities, Migration Brings Challenges and Opportunities

Over the course of the past decade, it has become more and more evident that the ability to provide viable solutions to the challenges brought about by human migration is one of the greatest tasks facing our world.

The challenge is complex and ranges from important human rights concerns to foreign policy tensions, and from national identity and security anxieties to nothing short of democracy and social cohesion being increasingly tried by the rise of populism, nationalism, radicalization, and violent extremism.

However, even though all of these aspects are predominately debated and decided on the level of national governments, migration is increasingly an urban challenge.

More than 60% of all refugees and 80% of all internally displaced persons today live in urban areas. This comes at a time when many of our cities are already struggling with overpopulation and depressed economies.

If cities fail to manage and support these displaced people, they could face increasing public health, security, and human rights issues, but most importantly, they will be missing the opportunity to improve their infrastructure, services and governance systems, to enhance their democracy and response capacity of their local communities.

Why Cities Matter

The issues that affect migrant populations in cities span city functions, including both short and long-term needs.

Many nation-states seem unprepared to handle the challenges brought on by migration. Increasingly, they seem to regress into being more conservative, sectarian, xenophobic, and authoritarian in the face of it.

Within national contexts, cities are more and more called to serve as migrants’ first points of arrival, transit hubs, and ultimate destinations thanks to the infrastructure, services, and opportunities that urban centers provide.

In fact, despite often lacking adequate resources or policies to support sudden influxes of migrants, cities play a central role for displaced persons in the short, medium, and long term – from providing emergency food, shelter and healthcare at arrival, to granting housing and subsistence, to ensuring employment and social integration in the long run.

Due to their central role, cities are called on to be the agents of change.

We are here to create new instruments and new alliances in order to turn the challenges of migration into assets. We can do that by addressing multiple challenges at the same time and prioritizing key interventions that allow us to yield co-benefits, or what we call the “resilience dividend.”

The Greek Context

In Greece, national and regional authorities are unable and unwilling to think about long term solutions: from being prepared for possible future scenarios to having an integration strategy.

Over the last few months, Athens has moved from being a hub and place of transition – almost a million people came through the city last year – to a de facto destination. We don’t know if Athens will remain a destination in the future, which primarily hinges on how the status of the EU-Turkish agreement will affect migration.

Planning for the Unknown

Exchanges like this week’s in Athens are a critical opportunity for cities to learn from one another and from partners and experts in the field.

Uncertainty makes it difficult for cities to plan. We can manage our resources and plans based on today’s numbers, but the future is unknown. This is why we have to plan in a resilient way. We have to create benefits for all residents and plan for the unknown.

Cities such as Ramallah, Paris, and Thessaloniki – all represented by Chief Resilience Officers and resilience teams at this week’s Network Exchange – have great uncertainty about migration in their cities.

Refugees don’t come to stay, don’t know if they can or will stay, or how long they’ll be able to stay. In turn, cities have a hard time understanding how to plan for their accommodation and integration. It’s clear that cities must create opportunities and benefits for the whole city and plan with this uncertainty in mind.

This uncertainty and resolve unites cities. Brought together and supported by 100RC, the cities at our Exchange can share knowledge, identifying key projects, programs, and policies that cities can leverage. We can apply resilience thinking to our challenges, reflecting on how interventions can be enhanced to build our cities’ resilience for everyone. We can identify opportunities for multi-sectoral collaboration to advance new solutions

Lastly, it is a call to action – a challenge to better understand the barriers to implementation and figure out how we can address them.