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The urban reality of mixed migration: Insights from 5 urban case studies

We are living in a context of accelerating urbanisation, and the future of migration will increasingly be shaped by how cities address the issue. Cities are key destinations for internal and international migrants, whether for permanent residence, temporary settlement or short-term transit. Urban migration is central to intra-regional migration, as cities provide opportunities for millions of people on the move and boost regional economic growth. A city can move from being a transit hub with a highly mobile migrant population, to becoming ‘home’ to refugees and migrants who are blocked from moving on or who decide to stay because of local opportunities. Urban authorities are facing enormous challenges to provide services and develop policy with an inadequate body of evidence. Urban policy cannot ignore migration and migration policies cannot ignore the role played by cities.

As highlighted once again by the global Covid-19 pandemic, there is a crucial link between human mobility and cities in times of crisis. In some regions, we have seen thousands of internal migrant workers, facing the prospect of losing their already precarious income generating activities, quickly leaving cities to go back to rural areas. At the same time, migrants, internally displaced people, and refugees who stay in cities face complex and unique challenges due to legal status, informal employment, and restricted access to public benefits and healthcare systems. Their experiences are complicated by language and cultural barriers, xenophobia, racism, stigma, and exclusion.

Since the beginning of 2020, MMC increasingly focused on urban migration and the role of cities in mixed migration. A focus on mixed migration and cities by nature brings together and strengthens the humanitarian and development nexus and is essential when considering migration and inclusion policy and governance. This year we have dedicated our annual report, the Mixed Migration Review 2020, to the theme of urban migration to critically engage with some of the key aspects of the complex relations between cities and mixed migration, including the link between migration and development at city level, the protection concerns for refugees and migrants in urban settings, the link between national migration policies and cities’ governance of migration and integration issues, the complex interplay between cities, migration and climate change, and how Covid-19 impacted on the lives and migration experiences of refugees and migrants in cities.

In parallel, we have been using a similar approach to conduct five urban case studies in some key cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Between August and September 2020, MMC regional hubs have been interviewing refugees and migrants, migration experts, as well as local authorities and civil society representatives in Bamako, Bogota, Kuala Lumpur, Nairobi and Tunis to explore mixed migration dynamics in urban settings through three specific lenses:

Cities of opportunities: Which opportunities do cities present to refugees and migrants, and vice-versa? How to make the most of the myriad of opportunities that cities offer and what role does urban migration play for cities’ development?

Risky cities: what are the main risks for refugees and migrants in cities? What can governments, civil society actors and urban residents do better or differently to mitigate threats and increase protection? Can we identify good practices to learn from?

Urban migration and Covid-19: how has Covid-19 impacted the relation between cities and migration? How have government-imposed movement restrictions and closure of non-essential businesses impacted the situation of refugees and migrants in cities? How have they exacerbated risks, opened up new opportunities, or led to the deployment of new coping strategies?

The research methods, data sources and analysis structure, have been aligned across case studies, to allow the reader to compare between the specific situation of refugees and migrants, the responses to their needs and vulnerabilities and the attempts to better integrate and include them in these responses and local policy, across cities. Besides interviews with refugees and migrants and key informants interviews, the 5 urban case studies also relied on 4Mi data collected by MMC in these cities since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, following an adaptation of our 4Mi data collection initiative to assess the impact of Covid-19 on refugees and migrants.

The 5 urban mixed migration case studies are available for download here.

The 2020 edition of MMC’s annual flagship report, the Mixed Migration Review (MMR) examines the role of cities in mixed migration and human mobility as an overarching focus. The launch of the Mixed Migration Review 2020 took place in the form of a panel debate focusing on three aspects of the report: cities of risks, cities of opportunities and national vs. local migration policies. Click here to view the recording.