The world’s cities must prepare better for mass migration if they are to cope with a leap in inflows of people uprooted by conflict and, increasingly, the effects of climate change, said an international city network.
Cities need to lessen the shock to “fragile urban eco-systems” by using their limited resources flexibly to improve how they accommodate, integrate and provide work for migrants, said a new report from the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) initiative backed by The Rockefeller Foundation.
“Cities must meet the crisis head on, and seize this critical opportunity to become more resilient by implementing creative solutions that uplift struggling populations and build greater social cohesion,” said Michael Berkowitz, 100RC president, in a statement.
The total number of international migrants stood at nearly 244 million in 2015, according to the report, including a record 65.3 million people forced from their homes by conflict and persecution worldwide. It noted estimates that a further 200 million could be displaced by climate change by 2050.
The vast majority of the world’s migrants have settled in cities, with over 90 percent of immigrants in the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia based in urban areas, where they can more easily blend in and draw on support from migrant networks, said the report.
Cities will face problems relating to health, security, water scarcity, community cohesion and disaster risk if they do not take steps to address rising population density, according to the report, which stressed that cities should aim to take full advantage of the socio-economic benefits migration offers.
“The mass migration we are witnessing today is not a temporary state of emergency, but the beginning of a new reality,” said the report. “Rather than resist this new reality, cities must embrace it.”
Given the unpredictable nature of migrant flows – whether triggered by conflict, natural disasters or economic crises – cities need to be ready to accommodate waves of new arrivals, said the report, which analyzed the impact of migration on cities including Athens, Medellín, Amman, Los Angeles and Paris.
Some cities are lowering the barriers to work by improving migrants’ access to financial services and offering training schemes or cash-for-work programmes, said the report.
The resulting economic benefits include tax contributions and jobs created by migrant businesses, it added.
“Migrants make clear economic contributions to destination cities, refuting common misconceptions that they detract from the financial health of their new homes,” said the report.
Cities need to push for more government funding and promote greater private-sector involvement, to cover the increased cost associated with migrant arrivals, said the report. Policies for infrastructure and affordable housing should also be adaptable.
In Athens, for example, which struggled to cope with the arrival of thousands of refugees fleeing the war in Syria, some rent subsidies were provided to allow migrants to move into central parts of the city with access to key services and support networks.
“While we have managed ‘the crisis within the crisis,’ our biggest challenge remains how to successfully absorb newcomers in our society,” wrote Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis in the report, explaining that migrants could help counter-balance Greece’s population decline.
Some refugees in Paris have been housed in private homes rather than reception centers, in a bid to help them integrate more quickly and find jobs, said 100RC.
Emphasizing the need to factor migration into urban infrastructure plans, the report said Amman was investing in its waste management sector to cope with a 25 percent increase in waste generated in the Jordanian capital, now home to large numbers of Syrian refugees.
“As mass migration challenges our cities in unprecedented ways, we must work to incorporate it into our visions for a resilient future,” the report said.