On the occasion of World Refugee Day 2019, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency thanks mayors in scores of cities across some 50 countries for adding their support to a global statement of welcome and inclusiveness for families forced to flee. The statement is part of UNHCR’s year-old Cities #WithRefugees initiative and has now been signed by some 175 cities.
This gesture of solidarity with refugees is all the more important as UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report, released only yesterday, shows that approximately 61 per cent of all refugees and 80 per cent of internally displaced people live in urban areas. Cities, local authorities and municipalities play a central role in supporting and welcoming refugees and other displaced people. They offer safety and shelter and can enable access to local services, education and job opportunities.
Overall the Global Trends report shows that the number of people displaced by war, conflict or persecution has doubled in the past 20 years.
In the face of ever higher levels of forced displacement – and alongside growing levels of xenophobia around the world – cities including Paris, France Montevideo, Uruguay, Lahore, Pakistan, Bucharest, Romania, Vancouver, Canada, Atlanta, USA are also appealing to other mayors and local authorities around the world to join with them in making concerted efforts to welcome and include refugees in their communities.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi said:
“Cities are at the forefront of pioneering new approaches in terms of receiving, including and offering opportunities to refugees,” he said. “I have great admiration for those mayors, for those local authorities and the people of those cities that are standing in favour of solidarity. We look to them to uphold these values and continue this important work.”
Marvin Jonathan Rees, the Mayor of Bristol in the United Kingdom, and an early Cities #WithRefugees signatory, describes the unique role of local leaders:
“We don’t have the luxury of playing politics because we have to make things work, not only for newcomers but also for the established communities in our cities. What we do have is the ability to bring together a range of different voices and resources to make inclusion a reality – harnessing the contributions of the public, private and voluntary sectors to come up with practical solutions to our most pressing challenges.”
At the global level – the UN Global Compact on Refugees, which aims to implement a more holistic approach to managing refugee crises, recognizes the important role that local authorities play as first responders to large-scale refugee situations. UNHCR will be holding the first ever Global Refugee Forum in December 2019 –which will provide an opportunity to catalyse innovative partnerships across sectors and for all relevant actors – Governments, civil society, private sector, international organizations, and others – to make a real difference in the lives of refugees and of their host communities.