Local Solutions for Global Challenges: How Cities Can Contribute to Shaping International Migration

Recent years have seen cities increasingly speaking out in the migration debate, often as a counterbalance to gridlocked national positions and multilateral discourses. And what they have to say is well worth a listen. 

An opinion piece by the Robert Bosch Stiftung | November 2020
People cross a street in a big city
Mauro Mora

When it comes to migration issues, cities are an important link between the population and the national government.

After the fire in Moria, numerous cities – a group that has since grown to around two hundred in Germany alone – offered to take people in from the now destroyed Greek refugee camp. European Union member states emphasized, above all, the need for a lasting European solution. Yet they often seemed to be talking at cross purposes – some want to do the right thing, others to do things right. But are these two perspectives really mutually exclusive? Moria is not the first example to demonstrate that cities are increasingly getting involved in migration issues, piloting solutions that focus on the human dignity of migrants and refugees. As early as December 2018, more than 150 mayors from around the world met in Marrakech/Morocco and called, in a joint declaration, for their expertise and priorities to be given greater consideration in international migration policy as well as for greater support for local programs. Cities are, however, yet to be sufficiently included and involved at this level.

When it comes to migration issues, cities are an important link between the population and the national government. The majority of migrants head to big cities as their first destination, looking to live and work there. Cities want and need to create livelihoods and lasting opportunities for all their residents. Their approach to migration is characterized by pragmatism and a focus on human dignity as well as by their experience in practical implementation. They are the ones to deal with the consequences of increasingly mixed migration flows, even where both existing protection mechanisms and international law no longer apply.

People sit at a podium
© Mayors Migration Council

The newly created Mayors Migration Council, a global association of mayors, supported also by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and government agencies, focuses exclusively on international migration issues.

While the number and importance of global city networks is growing, more opportunities will need to be created in order to empower local authorities to contribute their perspectives and expertise to global migration policy. The newly created Mayors Migration Council, a global association of mayors, supported also by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and government agencies, focuses exclusively on international migration issues, pursuing this exact goal. In Europe too, even the most impressively connected cities lack partnerships with cities in other regions of the globe that go beyond traditional exchange and visitor programs. This is where another initiative comes into play: A dialogue initiated by the mayors of Milan/Italy and Freetown/Sierra Leone brings together some twenty mayors from European and African cities. On the agenda is a discussion of their positions on European and African migration debates. The dialogue has a symbolic message as well: Cities in Europe and Africa have common interests and work in partnership with one another. At the same time, these city leaders want to promote greater legal mobility and migration opportunities in order to strengthen the economic development of their communities.

In the years to come, cities will play an increasingly important role in solving global issues. They have long served as a laboratory for innovations, ranging from creating opportunities for new migrants to addressing climate change and fighting poverty. To support their activities, cities need financial and human resources as well as opportunities to get involved. Their participation does not contradict national migration policy – on the contrary, it enriches interaction on all levels: those who (seek to) manage migration and those who welcome and integrate migrants into their cities.

News and stories

You could also be interested in

Reviving the Transatlantic Relationship

Joe Biden won the U.S. presidential election. His victory will provide a major opportunity for the U.S. and its European allies to rethink the nature of their relationship. An essay by James Goldgeier and Agneska Bloch.

Read more

Science Without Barriers

Every year, the “Falling Walls Engage” forum honors projects that break new ground in science communications. We are presenting four of the winners.

Read more

Go Big or Go Home?

These days, one in three Germans lives in a mid-sized town, and this trend is on the up. For this year’s World Cities Day, we asked: What is it that makes towns with under 100,000 inhabitants so appealing?

Read more