Placing migrants’ and refugees’ human rights at the core: the commitment of the municipalist movement

by Anna Calvete Moreno

Migration, Research and Monitoring Officer at United Cities and Local Governments

In the midst of profound global transformations, marked by an unparalleled humanitarian crisis, local communities, especially migrant populations, are significantly affected. Within the backdrop of escalating global challenges, local and regional governments emerge as crucial leaders actively promoting the inclusion and safeguarding of refugees and migrants. The municipalist movement’s recent initiatives reflect a commitment to showcasing and furthering its engagement, along with that of local populations, in addressing these pressing issues.

At the Global Refugee Forum, the Local and Regional Governments Day sees the light for the first time

In December, mayors, governors, and national governments convened in Geneva for the 2023 UNHCR Global Refugee Forum (GRF) to discuss the implementation of the Global Refugee Compact. Fifteen mayors and governors actively participated in the official program, marking a significant milestone as the Local and Regional Governments Day made its inaugural appearance within a UN conference in Geneva. Facilitated by the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments and the Mayors Mechanism, this event underscored the pivotal role of local and regional governments in championing the protection and inclusion of refugees and displaced individuals (more information here).

The GRF served as the official platform for local governments to present over 100 people-centered and ambitious pledges gathered through the Call to Local Action for Migrants and Refugees (refer to the second report here). Recognized by the UN Secretary-General and hailed as a notable model of complementarity, the Call stands as the official pathway for local and regional governments to pledge to implement the Global Refugee Compact and the Global Compact for Migration in unison as a concrete avenue to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. These pledges, building on the political commitment of the 2018 Marrakesh Mayors Declaration for Migrants and Refugees, provide an opportunity for the international community to exert a meaningful influence by directly collaborating with local and regional governments and supporting grassroots initiatives. At the GRF, a unified front emerged, demonstrating that aligning local promises with global resources not only averts crises but propels us toward a world that is more equitable, dynamic, and inclusive.

At the Global Forum for Migration and Development, we contributed to strengthening a robust multistakeholder approach to migration 

In January 2024, a formidable representation from the municipalist movement advocating for the rights of migrants and refugees actively participated in the 14th Global Forum for Migration and Development (GFMD) Summit. Gathering over 1300 participants from more than 123 countries, including representatives from national and local governments, civil society, the private sector, and youth, the summit focused on the comprehensive theme “From environmental concerns to cultural aspects of migration“. Twenty-eight local and regional government representatives from 23 cities, regions, and city networks worldwide elevated the Call to Local Action during this pivotal multistakeholder forum, emphasizing the urgent need for global investment in cities to rescue the 2030 Agenda.

During the summit, the GFMD Mayors Mechanism, comprised of UCLG, the Mayors Migration Council, and the IOM, with the support of the UNHCR, orchestrated a networking meeting on “Localizing Global Migration Goals to Accelerate the 2030 Agenda.” This session, inaugurated by Amy Pope, Director General of the IOM, and a Thematic Roundtable on Multi-level Governance, aimed to foster collaboration and discussion on migration governance. 

Throughout their active engagement, representatives from local governments put forth several key recommendations, including addressing the climate crisis through localized funding solutions,  providing services for all city inhabitants (including those in irregular situations or without documentation), promoting the economic inclusion of migrants for local sustainable development, fostering balanced narratives on migration to build inclusive communities, strengthening local-national policy coordination mechanisms to accelerate 2030 Agenda implementation, and enhancing municipal access to international funding.

The UCLG 2024 Retreat: strengthening communities via territorial solidarity for dignified human mobility 

In February 2024, the United Cities and Local Governments yearly Retreat provided the over 300 participants with the opportunity to build momentum for connections between different parts of the UCLG ecosystem, involving both political leaders and technical staff, to converge as a network and to reflect on our priorities for the year.

The inaugural Human Mobility Policy Lab under the framework of the UCLG Lampedusa Charter was convened during the UCLG Retreat, uniting participants with diverse life experiences or engagement in migration-related matters. It provided a platform to delve into the intricacies of rampant irregular and perilous migration that often results in human tragedies and our shared responsibility towards it. Central to the discourse was the Lampedusa Charter, an innovative framework that sparked a global dialogue led by governments worldwide on the challenges faced by small frontier towns like Lampedusa.

Developed through two years of consultations and extensive peer-learning sessions involving numerous local governments, the Charter incorporates principles aimed at safeguarding human dignity, with a focus on the treatment of migrants, both living and deceased. Each of the seven principles outlined in the Charter delineates five working priorities, setting the foundation for tangible action and implementation.

Inspired by the island of Lampedusa and the Lampedusans’ resolute commitment to preserving the dignity of arrivals, whether alive or deceased, and of their grieving families, the Policy Lab served as a catalyst for conversations on the challenges faced by local and regional governments. Delving into the intricacies of ensuring dignified last rites and migration management via collaborative strategies with civil society, stakeholders emphasized the imperative for enhanced coordination, knowledge-sharing, and inclusive policies grounded in human rights. From addressing mourning processes to improving service accessibility and nurturing inclusive citizenship, participants underscored the collective endeavor required to navigate the complexities of migration. While the path to dignified human mobility is fraught with challenges, it presents an opportunity to pave the way for a more inclusive and compassionate world, irrespective of one’s origin or circumstances.

In the words of UCLG Secretary General Emilia Saiz, the migration discourse goes beyond mere acts of solidarity; it resonates with the fundamental fabric of our society. The collaborative work with Lampedusa stands as a beacon of hope, a testament to our shared humanity, and a call to action for global leaders to prioritize dignity in all migration governance related initiatives. You can read a summary of the Retreat session here.

Navigating the future: Outlook for 2024 and beyond

As we approach the 2030 deadline for achieving the SDGs, the global community is actively reshaping the multilateral system to foster a more inclusive and integrated future, embracing the acknowledgment and participation of all stakeholders. With just six years remaining, the urgency to ensure the realization of SDGs across all world regions, regardless of legal status, is paramount.

However, challenges persist, including the exclusion of migration from national and local policy discussions and actions, the new EU Pact on migration and asylum that could fail to protect human rights, inaction towards facilitating safe and regular pathways, the impact of false narratives and discrimination on migrants’ lives, the undervaluation of stakeholders in migration and development, an outdated multilateral financial system failing to reach migrants and other vulnerable groups, persistent siloed approaches at all levels, and the oversight of migrants through data hindering a comprehensive understanding of their specific needs and aspirations.

In the bustling landscape of 2024, marked by pivotal processes and forums shaping the destinies of migrants, the municipalist movement remains steadfast in advocating for a paradigm shift. Central to this transformation is the prioritization of migrants and human rights at the core of sustainable development, emphasizing comprehensive whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches.

A crucial milestone awaits at the UN ECOSOC High-Level Political Forum for Sustainable Development in July 2024. By integrating migration into the HLPF agenda, this event is poised to elevate migration as a cross-cutting issue across other vital agendas in 2024-2025, including the G20 agenda, the 30th-anniversary UNFPA’s International Conference on Population and Development, the Summit of the Future, and the Social Summit. These initiatives will build upon the momentum generated by the landmark multilateralism reform.

The incoming Colombian Chair of the GFMD shoulders the responsibility of consolidating the widespread consensus established in the January GFMD, ensuring collaboration among myriad stakeholders. It is only through these collaborative endeavors and acknowledgment of grassroots leadership that a more integrated and effective approach to sustainable development can be fostered within a renewed and inclusive multilateral system. This approach aims to position migration as a developmental engine, fostering social cohesion, integration, and addressing inequalities and vulnerabilities.

Picture: “Localizing Global Migration Goals to Accelerate the 2030 Agenda” networking meeting at the 14th GSDR Summit in January 2024. From left to right, Sophie Van Haasen (MM Coordinator), Emilia Saiz (UCLG Secretary General), Amy Pope (IOM Director General), Maggie Powers (Mayors Migration Council Director of City Policy and Advocacy) and Safak Pavey (UNHCR Senior Advisor). Credit: Prachi Metawala for UCLG/CGLU

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