Published on People Move

Reimagining Human Mobility - The role of local authorities for migrants’ inclusion in cities

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In observance of the International Migrants Day, Dec 18

18 December 2020.  Most migrants, along with the majority of refugees and internally displaced people, live in urban areas, drawn by the prospect of safety and better opportunities. However, many migrants in cities and towns struggle with inadequate working and living conditions (in particular overcrowded and unsecure housing), limited access to services and severe human rights abuses.
Migration has shaped territories and cities throughout history and had a positive impact on innovation and development, but cities need to be prepared to accommodate and serve more and more diverse people. This means that local governments need to plan for the provision of more services such as waste and water management, electricity and energy, but also for more food, public space and recreational facilities, schools, hospitals and health facilities and more affordable, adequate housing options. There is also a need to plan for the increased demand for land for livelihood generation, industrialization or infrastructure. 

Most migrants and displaced people move to urban areas looking for a better life and opportunities for economic and social development. They come with valuable skills, experiences and knowledge, and contribute to the social, economic and cultural development of our cities and countries. Their integration as well as overcoming discrimination is essential for ensuring dignity and self-sufficiency. 

A whole-of-society and whole-of-government approach to migrants’ inclusion in urban areas requires the close cooperation of all relevant stakeholders and a stronger collaboration across sectors and levels of government. Yet, for effective responses, local governments need to have the necessary resources to serve their communities and all people living in their cities, irrespective of their migration status. 

As the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the inclusion of people in vulnerable situations such as migrants has now become a necessity and building resilient and safe communities should be a global priority.

COVID-19 has brought to light the inequalities in our societies between those who have access to basic provisions such as health services, decent housing, food, water and sanitation, as well as protection, human rights, information and formal employment opportunities and those who do not. 

                                                                             “No-one is safe until everyone is safe”  
                                                                                   WHO Director Tedros Ghebreyesu


COVID-19 has also put a spotlight on the importance of migrants for our urban societies – as doctors and nurses, in trade, commerce or food production and other critical sectors. Recovery strategies addressing the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 must aim for building more resilient and inclusive societies and for “reimagining human mobility”, as advocated for with the official slogan of this year’s International Migration Day. 

                                      "Migrants contributions are valuable. We must provide opportunities for their full integration into host societies"
                                                                                     IOM – Campaign for International Migrants Day 

The global community needs to work on reducing development gaps – between countries, between regions, between rural and urban areas and between neighbourhoods within cities. The COVID-19 pandemic shed light on existing inequalities regarding adequate housing, access to water and sanitation, health services and information, with many migrants at risk of being left behind. We need to further advocate for multi-level governance, cross-sectoral cooperation and the inclusion of all relevant actors in urban decision-making processes for inclusive societies and for local authorities to be empowered to play their major role to play in advancing the social and economic inclusion of migrants in cities and reducing inequalities, discrimination and xenophobia.


Stephanie Loose

Human Settlements Officer, UN-Habitat

Christophe Lalande

Housing Unit Leader At UN-Habitat

Helen Yu

Urban and Environmental Planning Specialist, Humanitarian-Development Team at UN-Habitat

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