Most people who cross borders – including refugees fleeing persecution and conflict, victims of trafficking, and people seeking better lives and opportunities– do so to reach cities. An estimated 60 percent of refugees reside in cities and one in every five international migrants is estimated to live in just 20 cities around the world. Urban areas are increasingly becoming the primary destination for refugees and migrants, whether for permanent residence, temporary settlement, or short-term transit. Given the growing trend of urban mixed migration, urban policies cannot ignore migration and migration policies cannot ignore urbanisation. In other words, the future of global migration will be directly shaped by how effectively cities are equipped to address accelerating urbanization.
Reliable data on the profiles, needs, and preferences of refugee and migrant populations residing in cities is vital to effective urban migration policies. Recognizing this, the Marrakech Mayors Declaration on “Cities Working Together for Migrants and Refugees” – which stems from the adoption of the Global Compact for Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees – includes over 150 mayors and city governments that have committed to, “improving data collection and measurement of progress,” and calling on the international community, national governments, and the private sector to, “work with key international city networks to improve multilateral cooperation, implement local or joint programs, measure progress, and gather and share data with national and international actors.”
While research projects on mixed migration are commonplace among the international community, few heed the call of the Marrakech Mayors Declaration to work in direct and equal partnership with city governments on the design, collection, and analysis of research methodologies and the uptake of the data they produce.
This is where the Mayors Migration Council and Mixed Migration Centre’s (MMC²)’s 4Mi Cities project comes in. Working in close partnership with three city governments (Medellín and Barranquilla in Colombia, and Mexico City in Mexico), MMC² designed and implemented a pilot data collection project to better survey refugees’ and migrants’ urban experience to cultivate improved policy and service provision at the city government level.
Like many other urban centers, the three cities included in this pilot project are hosts to refugee and migrant populations, including Venezuelan refugees and migrants from Central America. On the one hand, whether the cities represent an intended or final destination or not, they each offer migrant populations economic opportunities, access to services, and a diaspora community. On the other hand, barriers such as xenophobia and a lack of knowledge regarding available services and programs persist among migrant communities in all three cities. As grantees of the Mayors Migration Council’s Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees (GCF), each of the three city governments have deployed ongoing projects to meet refugees’ and migrants’ needs, but previously lacked the data to better understand how to expand these projects to serve as effective building blocks to the cities’ long-term migration policies, programs, and objectives.
As project partners, these city governments contributed to survey design and mapping, utilized their own staff to serve as survey enumerators, and hosted multi-stakeholder workshops to validate the over 300 individual surveys collected in each city. Across each Latin American city in the pilot project, common findings included:
- The main reasons behind refugees’ and migrants’ decision to choose the three research locations as destinations were presence of friends and relatives previously established in the city, better economic opportunities, and easier travel.
- Refugees and migrants’ access to healthcare and education in these cities is limited. While lack of documentation (residence permit or other) is often the main obstacle, other factors such as lack of information, financial resources, and overcrowding of public facilities also play a role.
- Often refugees and migrants do not earn enough to cover their needs and may resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as borrowing. This trend seems to be further deteriorating over time, as initial financial capital invested in migration is depleted.
- Relations with the local population are complex: while respondents generally indicated to have good relations with the local population where they live and work, they also reported a high perception of discrimination against refugees and migrants.
- Civic engagement is very low among refugees and migrants. They rarely participate in decision-making spaces where discussions about improving life in their neighborhood or the city are held.
- The support provided to refugees and migrants by city governments, international organizations and NGOs is mostly focused on short-term assistance to cover urgent needs, rather than long-term integration.
- Overall, despite the challenges they face at their destination, most respondents believe these cities have offered them a better life and plan to remain there.
To ensure the data didn’t sit on the shelf, MMC² worked with each city government to leverage these findings into concrete commitments for future policies and programs relevant to each city. For example, to address gaps in migrant and refugee civic engagement, Mexico City pledged to create opportunities for migrant and refugee voices to influence city planning decisions through existing community engagement platforms. To address a similar issue, Barranquilla developed plans to strengthen migrants’ and refugees’ participation in decision-making processes at the city level through their Migration Platforms (Mesas Migratoria) and at the neighborhood-level through the Community Action Boards (Juntas de Acción Comunal). To address the risk of homelessness among migrants and refugees revealed through the survey data, Medellín promised to expand their strategy for temporary accommodation of migrants, refugees, returnees, and receiving communities with the support of the Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees. The detailed reports and ways forward for Barranquilla, Medellín, and Mexico City are available on both the Mayors Migration Council’s website and the Mixed Migration Centre’s website.
The success of the initial pilot in modeling good partnerships for collecting, analyzing, and elevating data on a global level empowered MMC² to expand 4Mi Cities to East Africa, in partnership with the city governments of Arua and Kampala in Uganda and Nairobi in Kenya. These three cities have long provided for their fair share of migrants and refugees without proper research support to understand how they may improve their efforts. The reports for Arua, Kampala, and Nairobi – as well as their commitments to leverage the data – will be available in May 2022.
Following through on the values of the Marrakech Mayors Declaration, 4Mi Cities proves the power of working with city governments to improve the knowledge base of the profiles, needs, and experiences of local migrant and refugee communities. It is a model that has the potential to create a data-informed pathway towards more inclusive cities. While the data and plans generated through 4Mi Cities will prove effective for the city governments involved in the pilot, the project’s partnership-based approach is one that international actors should replicate in cities around the world.