Social and Economic Inclusion, particularly for migrants, refugees and other vulnerable groups, becomes more and more important in an urban context as millions of people displaced by conflict or economic challenges move  into cities around the globe.  They cross national borders or they move from the country to the city.  In either case, they take up residence in cities that are often ill-equipped to handle them.  Often they remain “under the radar” and excluded from the services and opportunities of the city.  When they arrive in large numbers, as currently in Europe and the Middle East, they are sometimes housed in temporary camps and other accommodation for processing and re-settling.  They often also find themselves in conflict with residents of the cities to which they have come.

Current Situation

What is Important to Know

In many cities, refugees, migrants and other minority communities are often the most vulnerable, and face the largest challenges in access to basic services, education and opportunity. This type of exclusion prevents cities from achieving goals of opportunity and prosperity for all citizens.

Approximately 3 million people move into cities every week. In popular entry cities such as New York, Dubai or Brussels, migrants make up a third to one half of the entire population. While some migrants enter a city formally for a specific job or educational opportunity, many people migrating to cities come hoping for a better life than they came from, whether that be due to conflict, poverty, or lack of opportunities.

Migrants and other marginalized groups are disproportionately poor and living in informal settlements. Informal settlements represent easy entry points for recent migrants who lack significant assets, but they often create significant hardships for residents. Slums can lack secure tenure, sustainable water and sanitation infrastructure, electricity, and social services.

Alongside continuing rural to urban migration, migration within country and between countries has also increased dramatically in recent years, due to war and the humanitarian crises that arrive from protracted conflict and repressive regimes.

The UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) mid-2015 estimate found 15.1 million refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) worldwide, the highest level in two decades. More than half of all refugees of concern to UNHCR live in urban areas.

Unfortunately, the significance of migration into cities is often ignored, and when it is recognized it is viewed and a pattern to stop or reverse not encourage. The United Nations found that of its 193 member states 80% had policies in place to reduce rural to urban migration. This number has risen substantially in recent years as migration especially in least developed countries has risen as well.

What is at Stake and How Does it Impact Urban Equity?
SOACHA, COLOMBIA  ©Habitat for Humanity International

If cities are to grow into inclusive and equitable places to live and work for all people, migrants, refugees and other marginalized communities must be integrated in the larger fabric of the city. Examples abound highlighting what can happen if migrants and refugees are marginalized or ignored by the communities they live in or the government itself.

Over 40% of the population of Jakarta Indonesia is considered migrant, with many people migrating to the city from other parts of Indonesia and as well as the broader region. As much of this migration is in violation of existing rules, there are limited opportunities for employment, secure land tenure, water and sanitation, or health services (IOM World Migration Report 2015).

Migrants often must face legal, cultural and social barriers when attempting to access housing, basic services, employment and other support systems. Being new the city or country means that many migrants may face language barriers and other cultural impediments that prevent them from fully integrating into their new community.

This is in addition to formal and legal exclusion. In China, millions of internal rural-to-urban migrants lack official documentation, and are therefore excluded from formal urban services, including health care (IOM World Migration Report, 2015).

Failing to account for migrants and other marginalized communities in risk management plans, community upgrading processes and other larger planning agendas prevents them from benefiting equitably from a growing city fabric.

What Can be Done?

Social and economic inclusion for marginalized groups and specifically migrants and refugees is still an emerging topic for those promoting inclusive and sustainable cities. However current migration crises in the Middle East and Europe have generated new attention on the importance of local and national attention to migration.

Syrian refugee students line up for classes at Bourjhammoud Public School #2 in Beirut, Lebanon on June 2, 2014. Photo © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

The Need for Data

  • More data is desperately needed, in order to understand the patterns, motives and needs of both internal and international migrants. Most of the data that is available on a national level comes from census surveys, which vary in quality depending on a country’s resources. Undocumented migrants and slum-dwellers broadly are also frequently discounted or undercounted in official surveys, making census data more questionable.
  • Definitions are also extremely important when interpreting what data is available. Different definitions of what a migrant is, how to account for legal status, and how to define rural or urban areas make analyzing global data difficult. Globally agreed upon standards are needed to assess data across regions. 

Successful Interventions

  • The recently launched (April 2016) New York Proposal for Inclusive Growth of Cities is supported by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Ford Foundation, is a local level initiative championed by mayors from 43 cities across the globe, ranging from Ashaiman, Ghana and Merida, Mexico; to Los Angeles, California and Seoul, South Korea. These mayors have embraced a set of principles that support inclusiveness emphasizing greater income equality. The principles include: 
    • Education systems that enable people of all ages and backgrounds to improve their life chances.
    • Labor markets that promote entrepreneurship, access to quality jobs, and policies that make the most of women, youth, retirees, and foreign-born populations in the workforce.
    • Housing markets and urban environments that provide quality, affordable housing, in safe and healthy neighborhoods and avoid trapping people in segregated areas with few or no opportunities.
    • Transport networks that provide access to jobs, services and consumption opportunities for all, as well as affordable and reliable public services, such as water, energy, waste management and high speed internet.[1] 
  • A program called Ventanillas de Salud, Institute for Mexicans Abroad, was created to assist the Mexican immigrant population in the United States. Beginning in 2003 in California and spreading to all Mexican Consulates in the US provide health information and screenings and referral services to their citizens living in the US, partnering with local nonprofits to provide services. They also assist in helping those eligible to enroll in federal and state health programs. See more here.
  • The International Labor Organization in 2014 organized a training course in India, as part of their “Decent Work Across Borders” project. The course targeted trade union leaders, and in order to “strengthen the capacity of trade unions to participate in the shaping of migration policies, promote sound labour migration practices, reach out to migrant workers, and ensure that the benefits of migration, when it occurs, are maximised for all.” Find more information here.

[1] New York Proposal for Inclusive Growth in Cities, Campaign and Roadmap for Action. Inclusive Growth