Five Ways Cities Benefit from Migration

by May 11, 2015Smart Cities

Lisa Reudenbach

Lisa Reudenbach is an urban analyst at the Cities Alliance. She oversees the organisation’s Catalytic Fund, which provides grant support for projects that promote change through innovation and promote knowledge and learning among cities.


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Around the world, an estimated one billion people are on the move. Their reasons for migrating are just as varied as the migrants themselves; some are pulled by social and economic opportunities, while others are pushed by conflict, political upheaval, social repression or disasters.

However diverse their motives and backgrounds, at some point in their journey most migrants will likely find themselves in a city, either as a transit point or a new home. It is in cities where these migrants will attempt to integrate into existing settlements and realise their aspirations for a better life.

Whether they do so – or live excluded from opportunities in the city – depends on how a city responds to migration, and its ability to develop practical solutions that take into account how migration transforms, expands and diversifies urban areas.

Migration-2This is a complex task, as solutions and policy approaches to migration often need to be found in very difficult circumstances. Typically, those cities experiencing the greatest impact from migration are often the ones with the greatest backlogs, and weakest capacities in urban planning and management – cities that are already struggling to fulfil their citizens’ most basic needs.

Moreover, in most cases policy responses to migration are developed at the national level and adopt a blanket approach to migration, without taking city contexts into consideration.

However, cities that do adopt inclusive policies and approaches to migration, with rights and opportunities for migrants, can benefit significantly. Here are the top five ways:

  1. The city becomes more socially inclusive. Outdated policy frameworks and weak local administrations often result in tensions between new migrants and the existing, settled population over access to services and social and economic opportunities. In some cases, these tensions have led to xenophobic responses or violence. Yet, it is also in cities where solutions for intercultural dialogue, conflict resolution and ethnic tolerance can be found – all of which substantially strengthen the social fabric and long-term potential of both city and community.
  2. Economic opportunities are created. Cities that provide urban citizenship and opportunities to their new residents stand to benefit as migrants in informal settlements gradually evolve into tomorrow’s middle classes. The flow of money, knowledge and ideas between destination and origin cities can catalyse innovation and development at both ends, potentially making migrants key players in city growth, resilience and sustainability.
  3. Ignoring migration can worsen poverty and inequality. With nowhere else to go, many migrants end up in overcrowded slums and settlements that lack the most basic services, social protections and access to the labour market. Excluded from the very opportunities they pursue, these men and women are often stigmatised as a problem and prevented from using their energy and enterprise to rise out of poverty. Tackling these challenges and addressing migration at the local level can help therefore reduce poverty and inequality.
  4. There is a unique opportunity to address gender equality. Nearly half of the world’s international migrants are women. Ignored by most legal frameworks and migration policies, these women tend to experience significant gender, ethnic and racial discrimination, and are often unable to access the labour market or social protection systems – leaving many vulnerable to exploitation. At the same time, women migrants are a driving force for economic prosperity, such as through remittances. By promoting gender equality for migrants, a city can help protect the human rights of its female residents and tap into their considerable economic potential.
  5. The city becomes more culturally vibrant and diverse. The topic of migration touches upon the very essence of a city: the notion of cities being a melting pot, whose characteristics are determined by their ability to assimilate and empower people of different backgrounds. How a city responds to migration shapes its economic, social and cultural vibrancy.

Because migration is an increasingly pressing issue for cities, the Cities Alliance is promoting both on-the-ground work and policy discussions on the links between urban governance and responses to migration. We also selected “Migration and the Inclusive City” as the theme for our 2015 Catalytic Fund Call for Proposals, and look forward to supporting innovative new tools and approaches that will help cities benefit from their migrant populations.

Based in Brussels, the Cities Alliance is a global partnership for urban poverty reduction and the promotion of the role of cities in sustainable development. Learn more about us at www.citiesalliance.org.

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