IPI was the scene on September 18, 2017 of a policy forum opening the annual Global Mayors Summit, where international mayors presented local and city-level solutions to help in developing two separate but related compacts on the treatment of migrants.
The compacts, to be signed next year, were created during last year’s UN Leaders Summit to deal with “refugee responsibility-sharing” and “safe, orderly and regular migration.” The forum was entitled “Shaping Priorities with States: Cities, Migrants and Refugees,” and co-sponsoring it with IPI were Concordia, the (New York) Mayor’s Office for International Affairs, and the Global Policy Initiative at Columbia University, the director of which is IPI Chair Michael W. Doyle.
Professor Doyle moderated a morning-long conversation with a panel of mayors and said his takeaway was, “Mayors need global engagement and the globe needs mayoral engagement.”
Setting the theme for the meeting, Louise Arbour, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Migration said that “cities are uniquely positioned to harvest the benefits of well-managed migration policies, and conversely they are also at the front line of addressing migration challenges as and when they occur.”
She told the mayors that “you play the leading role in both receiving migrants, providing immediate services and in guiding longer-term efforts at social and economic inclusion.”
Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, picked up on this reference, saying that “inclusion” was the key element in effecting successful migration and that cities were the place where inclusion most often occurred.
While the word “refugee” often conjures the image of a camp, he said, in fact most migrants were fleeing from cities and relocating in new cities. Of the estimated 66 million refugees and displaced persons in the world, he said, up to 80 percent of them lived in cities.
Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Ireland and speaking on behalf of The Elders, said she welcomed the increasing attention on the plight of displaced people, but she stressed that it was action that was now urgently needed.
“We are acutely aware that for people on perilous journeys across the Sahara, Mediterranean Sea, stranded in camps in Greece or Kenya or elsewhere, or those in host communities from here to Lebanon, noble words, spoken or written at the United Nations become meaningful only when they are translated into real changes on the ground,” she said.
Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol, England identified himself as the first mayor of African descent in Europe and said, “Being elected to my city as a mixed race man with a white Scottish mother, Irish grandmother, and a Jamaican father puts me in the crosshairs of this internationalism that we want our cities to live up to.”
He said that Bristol was a sanctuary city and had programs that reached out to newcomers from abroad, providing employment mentors and health services for people for whom English is a second language. “These are very grassroot things,” he said, adding, “national governments talk about numbers, in cities we talk about lives and people and families.”
Andreas Hollstein, the mayor of the small town (population 17,500) of Altena, Germany, said he had consciously set up procedures for accommodating the refugees who suddenly arrived three years ago from Syria. “In my town,” he said, “we do not deny refugees regardless of status. We don’t want a parallel society in our town. We like it that there is no segregation in our town. We are serving language courses starting with the first day by volunteers. Housing is decentralized. Refugees live in normal flats with normal neighbors. We try to act as a welcoming city.”
The situation is very different in the under-resourced city of Kampala, the capital of Uganda and, according to its mayor, Erias Lukwago, the biggest host of refugees in the entire region. “They come from Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, DRC Congo, and many other African countries, and the conditions are quite appalling.” In addition to its population of 34 million people, he said, the country had to take care of 1.3 million refugees.
Kasim Reed, the mayor of Atlanta, said that the benefits of immigration flowed both ways. “Economically, immigrants and foreign born individuals help make communities that embrace them real power houses,” he said.
He illustrated that by noting that while immigrants compose just 13 percent of the population nationally, they make up 16 percent of the labor force in Georgia. Also, foreign born workers make up 10 percent of the state’s population, but 17.7 percent of the state’s entrepreneurs. “Over 40 percent of our Fortune 500 companies in Georgia were founded by immigrants or their children,” he said.
His city encouraged immigrants, he said, but he cautioned that anti-immigrant forces posed a threat to this progress. “What’s happening to us on this issue is that we’re being outpassioned. We have a bunch of folks who have very mean motivations on the other side, and we’re going to have to meet that intensity with an intensity for right.”
Asked by Professor Doyle what he needed from the international community, Mayor Reed said he benefited most from consultation with fellow mayors–“I always take a call from another mayor”–and he urged mayors around the world to commune with one another and compare experiences.
“What we need from you all,” he said, “is a platinum standard of who is doing the best work so we don’t waste our time on well-meaning individuals who aren’t delivering concrete results.”
The meeting also heard from the Permanent Representatives to the UN of Switzerland, Jürg Lauber, and of Mexico, Juan José Gómez-Camacho. Both are co-facilitators of the Global Compact on Migration to be signed in 2018.
“The most successful cities are those who find the best ways to integrate migrants and bring them together, and now we need to bring the experience of these cities into the process,” said Ambassador Lauber.
Ambassador Gómez-Camacho emphasized the contribution that migrants made to the global economy. “We know that migrants represent 3.2 percent of the global population, but they contribute almost 9 percent of global GDP, producing almost 7 trillion US dollars every year,” he said. “That’s far bigger than the GDP of the vast majority of countries in the world.”
IPI President Terje Rød-Larsen and Penny Abeywardena, New York City Commissioner for International Affairs, made welcoming remarks, and Colleen Thouez, Senior Training and Research Adviser at the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) joined Professor Doyle in moderating the discussion.