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Cities must stop underestimating their need and ability to respond to migration

In October, world leaders gathered in Quito to officially adopt the 20-year road map on sustainable urban development known as the New Urban Agenda. Notably, that document expressly commits to respect the rights of refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons, regardless of their migration status. This statement comes as the U. N.’s refugee agency has pledged to work beyond camps to protect the rights of those seeking protection in urban areas.

While laudable, achieving that aim will mean shifting many of the incentives driving urban politics and planning — processes that often marginalize cities’ most vulnerable, including the displaced. Beyond moral appeals and platitudes, how can we reshape urban politics and institutional processes to promote the positive inclusion of displaced populations in cities?

A first step is to recognize that cities and their leaders are at the centre of a global humanitarian crisis. According to the U. N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR), over 60 percent of the world’s 19.5 million refugees, and 80 percent of the world’s 34 million internally displaced, live in urban areas. More than 7 of every 10 people displaced across or within international borders seek safety and futures in cities.

Yet while debates rage over integration in Europe, North America and Australia, cities outside the wealthy West are where thousands — sometimes hundreds of thousands — of displaced people first arrive. Amman, Beirut, Gaziantep, Kampala, Peshawar and Nairobi already accommodate many of the displaced from Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Congo and Sudan, according to UNHCR, and will host many more. Meanwhile, tourism centres such as Dar es Salaam and Bangkok are becoming increasingly important sanctuaries for those fleeing conflict.

Local authorities already struggling to meet the needs of rapidly growing and diversifying populations often perceive the immediate priorities of citizens and refugees as mutually exclusive. And naturally, citizens come first. However, ignoring the displaced is no solution.

Article originally posted at Cities must stop underestimating their need and ability to respond to migration by C.W. KIHATOL.B. LANDAUA. SARKARR. SANYAL, APRIL 25, 2017

[See: Providing shelter in urban Iraq: Where the displaced meet the poor]

Many urban planners simply wish refugees will go away. But if the past decades teach us anything, it is that displacement is enduring. In many places, refugees are fully part of an expanding urban population, and ignoring them is likely to heighten poverty, marginalization and social fragmentation across cities. Alternatively, recognizing and capitalizing on their presence can promote cohesion and prosperity for all.

Even urban planners and municipal officials who realize the benefits of addressing population displacement must typically overcome institutional systems, political incentives, planning and democratic processes working against them. Because refugee and immigration policy and enforcement are usually national mandates, urban policymakers often underestimate their ability to respond.

Beyond mandates, proactive planners will face colleagues unwilling to address refugees’ needs. The displaced typically are not political constituents — even when they can vote — and resources are simply too scarce to go around. Ironically, the more democratic a city is, the more political leaders may turn away or against the displaced. Participatory planning processes, lauded as empowering long-time marginalized urban dwellers’, can lead to the exclusion of newer urban residents seeking economic opportunity and protection.

[See: Sustaining peace in an urban world]

Even where local democratic participation is open to refugees, the displaced may lack the political security, language or incentive to participate. Elsewhere, they simply cannot compete with more-powerful host communities. Where politics is fragmented or contentious, urban responses that exclude, alienate and exploit refugees are likely to win local favour.

Cities wanting to “leave no one behind” — an overarching goal adopted by the United Nations — must confront these messy politics and institutional practices. But what are the options for mayors or city officials? What pathways exist for city leaders to grow urban economies, expand opportunities for all, provide sustainable and affordable urban services to both host and refugee populations, and protect all who live in cities?

Six recommendations

While there are no easy answers or best practices, here is some of the advice offered at a recent conference of multilateral organizations, municipalities, urban planners and humanitarian organizations working in cities in the Middle East and Africa. (The meeting was supported by the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center. Citiscope also receives support from the Rockefeller Foundation.)

“Ironically, the more democratic a city is, the more political leaders may turn away or against the displaced. Participatory planning processes, lauded as empowering long-time marginalized urban dwellers’, can lead to the exclusion of newer urban residents seeking economic opportunity and protection.”

Consider the needs of displaced populations across sectoral planning processes: Displacement intersects with everything that cities do. While it might be symbolically and politically tempting for municipalities to “externalize” displaced people to see their needs as requiring the action of others — national government and humanitarian organizations — refugees are consumers, taxpayers, entrepreneurs, labourers, tenants and parents whose everyday activities intersect with multiple sectors and all aspects of urban planning.

[See: Could special economic zones be a win-win for refugees and host countries alike?]

Special refugee programmes may have a place in urban policy, but they run the risk of engendering local hostility and duplicating resources. Instead, cities need to consider human mobility as they formulate sectoral and urban development plans. For an urban planner, it matters not whether the garbage was produced by a refugee or citizen. What matters is how to ensure that the city’s urban services and infrastructure can sustainably meet urban dwellers’ demands without becoming hazardous to the environment and its people.

Make displacement work for you: Even the most humanitarian-minded bureaucrat or official recognizes that displaced populations are not the only people needing help. In many instances, locals may be as or more vulnerable. So how to overcome the politics of helping others while facing severe resource constraints for your own voters?

While we reject the idea that the displaced offer universal or automatic economic benefits, a refugee presence can be economically and politically useful to the community. In many places, the least skilled and most vulnerable refugees head to camps or are unable to move at all. As such, many of those coming to the city are relatively healthy and skilled. In Maputo, for example, central African refugees brought new small-scale trading skills and networks to the previously socialist economy where few had such trading experience.

Whether it is through their contributions to municipal revenues and taxes, entrepreneurship or labour, refugees have skills and human capital that can grow urban economies, create jobs and increase city income streams. In Nairobi, daily trading permits, issued regardless of immigration status, have allowed the city to benefit from refugee traders, many of whom work as street vendors. Ensuring that regulatory frameworks — banking, by-laws, licensing — enable such trade can create jobs and lower commodity costs while providing taxes and levies to municipalities.

[See: ‘Migrants are agents of development’, says U. N. migration chief William Lacy Swing]

Leverage humanitarian development aid: Beyond their own capital, there is a global humanitarian funding regime invested in the rights and welfare of those displaced. The trick for city leaders is getting that funding to work for their city. By working strategically, local authorities can partner with humanitarian organizations, directing their resources to align with local development agendas, while taking ownership of the services delivered.

Channelling refugee assistance toward place- rather than people-based interventions can expand urban services such as water, waste and electricity as well as investment in roads, community parks or clinics in refugee-settled areas in a city. In Lebanon, for example, humanitarian NGOs are increasingly shifting toward area-based approaches and upgrading urban services in neighbourhoods where both host and displaced communities live. Partnering strategically with these organizations could win municipalities political goodwill from their constituencies.

Know thy partners: The partnerships called for to accomplish any of these goals will require a deep understanding of humanitarian and development actors in a city — their priorities, funding cycles and local programmes — on the part of municipal authorities. This implies strengthening research, relationship-building and negotiation skills within and across municipalities. To make human mobility work for cities, municipal actors have to be proactive about identifying appropriate partners, integrating them into their development plans, and co-producing outcomes that are beneficial for all parties. Rejecting aid is sometimes the best option.

Enhance local literacy: Municipalities have to understand the needs of marginalized populations in their cities. Local literacy is particularly critical in cities beyond the wealthy West where large segments of the population live in slums because it easier to access housing and employment. In cities such as Nairobi, Kampala and Peshawar, these sites are often outside the control of local government. Making humanitarian aid work for the city means being able to identify needs, understand land and property markets, and think smartly about how to promote common interests between local and displaced populations. The presence of humanitarian aid may provide support for research that enables this level of local literacy.

[See: U. N. summit on migration crisis fails to address front-line role of cities]

Build solidarity: All this calls for municipalities to build solidarity across different levels of government, host and refugee populations, municipal, humanitarian and development actors. In addition to the technical skills required to provide urban services, municipalities need to invest in the “soft” skills of negotiation, relationship building, and winning hearts and minds.

We fully recognize that realizing these principles depends on municipalities’ own legal mandates, financial and decision-making autonomy, which dictate what they can or cannot do in their countries. Yet whatever the levels of decentralization, much of what we suggest is possible with political will and strategic thinking.

As we move toward more urban forms of displacement, the challenge of managing cities will become only more complex. Realizing the New Urban Agenda’s vision of sustainable and just cities demands deliberate action: changing institutional processes and politics towards a more inclusive urban practice.

Article: Cities must stop underestimating their need and ability to respond to migration by C.W. KIHATOL.B. LANDAUA. SARKARR. SANYAL, APRIL 25, 2017

Image byFibonacci Blue

Could special economic zones be a win-win for refugees and host countries alike? | Citiscope

In 1980, the Chinese city of Shenzhen was a railroad stop with a population of 30,000. Flash forward 40 years, and it was home to 12 million.

Why such massive growth? The Chinese government declared Shenzhen a “special economic zone” with more-liberal tax and business rules than the rest of the country. Coupled with its proximity to the financial hub of Hong Kong, the special status turned Shenzhen into a global economic powerhouse.

Now, an attorney who has developed special economic zones in over a dozen countries thinks that the model can be applied to the world’s refugee crisis. Calling his proposal Refugee Cities, former World Bank consultant Michael R. Castle Miller imagines a political solution with an economic rationale to solve the desperate plight of refugees, from Syrians crowding boats in the Mediterranean to Central Americans braving a harsh desert border crossing.

The crux of Castle Miller’s proposal — and so far, that’s all it remains — is that more often than not, refugees can work, whether high skilled or low skilled, but their uncertain status in host countries means that they can’t get an appropriate job. Whether the lack of a work permit shunts someone into the informal sector or incompatible education systems lead a PhD holder to drive a taxi, the refugee crisis has created a labour imbalance.

[See: Providing shelter in urban Iraq: Where the displaced meet the poor]

But if a national government were to delineate a refugee city using the legal tools of special economic zones, those migrants could work legally for companies with both an economic and corporate social responsibility incentive to hire them. Then, when the famine, civil war or other unrest subsides, most of the migrants could return home, alleviating the host country of permanent resettlement while generating economic activity.

Citiscope’s Gregory Scruggs spoke with Castle Miller about this idea earlier this year. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Article: Could special economic zones be a win-win for refugees and host countries alike? | Citiscope  by GREGORY SCRUGGS, APRIL 18, 2017

Gregory Scruggs: Why should leaders apply the “special economic zone” model to the world’s migrant crisis?

Michael R. Castle Miller: It’s the second-best solution. The ideal scenario in my mind is for more nations to welcome more refugees into the formal economies nationwide. But the sad reality is that’s just not going to happen for the vast majority of refugees. Less than 1 percent of refugees are resettled to third countries, and those that flee to neighbouring countries to a conflict are normally confined to camps, where they aren’t given access to formal labour markets, are not legally allowed to work and are not legally allowed to start their own businesses, except in rare circumstances.

So what are we going to do for those people? The U. N. and other refugee advocacy organizations are pursuing things on one front, trying to urge nations to include more refugees into their nationwide economies, and that’s great — we need to keep doing that. But we’re not going to make it, especially with the current political climate. What are we going to do for people now?

Michael R. Castle Miller

So a work programme is a middle-ground solution. Something that is more politically acceptable for countries than either Western countries resettling people or countries of first asylum — like Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, other places — letting refugees work anywhere in the country. And most economists will tell you that it’s in the countries’ best interest to allow refugees to work.

It also is a politically desirable solution, especially if the refugee city is built in an area where there’s no economic activity happening, or very little. In that case, it counteracts the argument of refugees “stealing” jobs from nationals in the country. You take an area that’s currently unoccupied, where there’s no businesses, and you build a refugee city, and a bunch of investment comes in and starts creating jobs — then you can point to that and say the refugees didn’t steal jobs, they brought those jobs. And they brought them not just for the refugees but for host-country nationals. And of course, the refugees will start their own businesses and employ other refugees and host-country nationals, as well.

Q: What does this actually look like as a practical matter? Will a refugee city resemble the massive encampment in Dadaab, Kenya?

A: You could call places like Dadaab or Mae Sot, on the border of Myanmar and Thailand, refugee cities, but I would prefer not to for my purposes, because these places are a mess. Part of the reason is that the countries that they’re in are not including them in the formal economy. So most of the businesses that operate in places like that are illegal. They’re not licensed there, and therefore those businesses can’t have access to formal sources of financing. They’ve got to go to loan sharks, or reselling aid.

These are all things that people do to respond to their circumstances. Anytime people come up with solutions to address their own problems, it’s a creative activity. And that’s often very good. So what we want to do is create a platform that facilitates good, constructive, creative activity. In other words, it doesn’t relegate it to the black market as the informal economy but allows it to flourish as formal economic activity — so that the businesses are legal, and people are able to access input to production processes legally and employ people legally.

Q: Do you imagine building a new town, like a planned community, but populated by refugees?

A: One model is to have a “quick start” refugee city that would begin with a some basic master planning for the area. We’re thinking of it as a refugee camp but a little bit more city-like. And that would [include] hiring an architecture planning firm to draw up a master plan for an area where they parcel out pieces of the property. They build some basic infrastructure, have a basic road layout. They have some basic utilities, like water, sanitation — which is actually way more than most refugee camps. And then supplying modular homes that are quick and cheap to assemble, and laying them out according to the spatial plan that they’ve developed. Also, setting aside some facilities for businesses to operate in.

[See: Today’s refugee camps are tomorrow’s cities]

That’s a quick option, because that allows you to bring in a whole bunch of refugees really quickly. Then you’d also set up basic institutional structure, where there’d be some type of governing authority over the area and a major service provider. So we’d have the developer, a service provider, as well as security.

Q: In that case you wouldn’t charter your own municipal waste company. Rather, you would try to have all this done by third-party contractors?

A: What I’ve described is the “quick start” project. But then there’s the “best practices” version, which is a bit more like what you have in special economic areas today, especially in big special economic areas in city-like areas. There we do a lot more planning, first to study where the greatest opportunities for a refugee city lie, in terms of delivering the most positive economic impact for the host country, in terms where is going to attract the most investments for businesses to employ people.

And then we would have a concession agreement with the government, which would basically be the government either selling or leasing the land to a development company — maybe under a long-term lease, maybe 40 years. And that would give the developer the right to lease that property and the land to businesses and to residents and begin to make back all its initial development costs.

Q: But you’ve got refugees arriving with just the clothes on their backs. How do you anticipate that they would even be able to afford a nominal rent on these prefab homes?

A: There is still a role for aid, for governments and for donor organizations like the U. N. to be channeling aid money, but it’s under a very different model. It’s under a model that provides a pathway for refugees to become self-sufficient. So you’d have initial cash assistance for refugees that can’t afford to pay rents or can’t afford to pay their water bill or electricity bill. You could still even deliver food to people, and clothing. You could still provide free dental care, just like they do in refugee camps now. Except the alternative is, first of all we have the infrastructure to deliver all the same much more efficiently — for instance, water and sanitation infrastructure. The temporary measures that they use now are much more expensive.

Also, it’s on a model where there are opportunities for refugees to become self-sufficient, so they can gradually earn more and more money for themselves and they can begin paying rent themselves. That way, the developer, rather than basically receiving indirect subsidies from the aid that is being provided by humanitarian organizations, will end up collecting revenue from residents.

[See: In Canaan, a pop-up city rises on an empty promise]

But initially the developers’ revenue isn’t just going to come from either the residents or from the aid that channels through them, but it will also be collecting revenue from the businesses that rent properties. In fact, that might be the largest source of its revenue — marketing the area in order to attract, especially early on, major anchor tenants. Major anchor tenants are businesses with a really strong corporate-social-responsibility reputation that can come and employ large numbers of people.

Q: What kind of businesses do you think would benefit from employing presumably low-wage unskilled labour?

A: First of all, that’s one of the things that’s different about refugees from most migrants: A lot of refugees have very significant skills. When a conflict happens, it drives out a huge cross-section of the country, from high-skilled people to low-skilled people. So there probably will be a lot of high-skilled people that are there available to be employed.

But even if not, or we can’t attract the type of employers that would employ them, there’s still huge markets out there for low-skilled labour, too. In places like northern Africa and the Middle East, they’re importing construction materials, for instance, from places like Europe and other places. Garment manufacturing has become the classic example of an industry that is able to employ large numbers of low-skilled workers.

That’s really where the feasibility studies come into play, because the ultimate answer to your question is going to depend heavily on the particular context. What is the labour market like of the refugees and the-host country nationals living in the area? What are their skills levels, or what have they done in the past? Are you located near a port, or how far is it from a major consumption market like Europe?

[See: Sustaining peace in an urban world]

Q: Do you anticipate building refugee cities along the lines of a Shenzhen that is just over the border with a financial capital like a Hong Kong?

A: When we’re looking at the best opportunities for a refugee city, it’s the same thing with special economics zones: It’s always best to have it located near existing economic activity. The more economic activity, the better. Another factor is near existing infrastructure access, especially when you think about major ports, seaports, major airports and other transportation connections. It’s not necessarily crucial for the success of a refugee city, but it certainly helps.

Q: Are you concerned that planning for a refugee city’s permanence could undercut the quality of the city to begin with?

A: For a lot of the Middle East and North Africa, there’s a need for new cities in these areas, for new urban space. So worst-case scenario is the refugee city gets built, there’s a lot of money invested in the infrastructure and buildings, and a lot of the refugees end up going back home when the conflict ends. In that case, the city is getting a whole bunch of great, high-quality infrastructure and buildings for free, or whatever they negotiated with the developer. Worst-case scenario, they’ve got a new city.

Article: Could special economic zones be a win-win for refugees and host countries alike? | Citiscope  by GREGORY SCRUGGS, APRIL 18, 2017

Citiscope is a nonprofit news outlet that covers innovations in cities around the world. More at Citiscope. org.”

New Municipalism in Poland

This post originally appeared on European Alternatives

Today’s challenges, from the flight from war-refugees to the management of the commons, and the environmental crisis, are being tackled at the local level from some City Councils across Europe. Some cities are proving to be spaces with an outstanding capacity to confront and face reality with reachable solutions.

While the European Commission is set soon to examine Poland’s response to its recommendation of December 2016, regarding the rule of law in this Member State, a number of NGOs have submitted an open letter to the European Commission demanding to take action against Poland for its “complete disregard and undermine” for the rule of law. The Polish democratic crisis is only one of the many examples of states where national political institutions are not longer responding nor dealing with the global trends affecting the rule of law in their countries. Today’s challenges, from the flight from war-refugees to the management of the commons, and the environmental crisis, are being tackled at the local level from some City Councils across Europe. Some cities are proving to be spaces with an outstanding capacity to confront and face reality with reachable solutions. It is in the city where dynamic and organic transformations of social struggles are happening thanks to citizens-led measures and new forms of political participation. Barcelona, Madrid or A Coruna, are some of the most cited cases of successful municipalists governments in Europe. But these are not the only existing examples. In the Polish case, in a country accused of systemic threats to the rule of law, the city of Lublin is successfully translating the political struggles at the national level into political participation and re-appropriation of the public space for its citizens. Lublin is the ninth largest city in Poland and the capital of Lublin Voivodeship with a population of 349,103 people. In 2010, Mr Krzysztof Źuk was elected the Mayor of the City of Lublin and he was re-elected for the second term securing a majority of 60.13% in the first round of the local government elections held at the end of 2014. We spoke to Piotr Choroś, political scientist and head of social participation office in Lublin’s Municipal Office. He is specialist in the field of cooperation with local government, intercultural competence and anti-discrimination policies, and in the Lublin municipal office, he is responsible for the use and development of new technologies in communication with the residents.

Read more at the source: New Municipalism in Poland