Urban migration

Migration is a driver of urbanisation (IOM, 2015), and urban migration (both national and international) is an increasing trend of the twenty-first century. Figures are subject to much debate, but it is estimated that globally there are 740 million internal (UNDP, 2009) and 232 million international migrants (UNDESA, 2013b). Accordingly, debates on the impact of migration flows and migrant dynamics on the social, economic, political and cultural relations of societies and cities have assumed increased prominence (Çağlar, 2015). Skeldon (2013) comments that increased migration to urban centres is inevitable given the global realities of ageing societies, slow and uneven regional and national economic growth and environmental and political instability. Meanwhile, there are an estimated 65.3 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide (UNHCR). Approximately half of these seek refuge in urban areas, and in Jordan, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Pakistan and Iraq, between 60-95% of internally displaced persons live in urban settings (IDMC, 2014: 15). See box below on Lebanese municipal responses.

Both international and internal urban migration involves increasingly different types of migrants, with varying motivations. These include those searching for better jobs (formal and informal), single women migrating to support family, women joining husbands, asylum seekers, students and trainees etc. Environmental disasters and conflict also contribute to urban migration nationally and internationally.

Moving to cities can enhance well-being, offering an escape from poverty and providing access to better opportunities, employment, health and education (IOM, 2015: 4). Findings from Myanmar (World Bank, 2016) highlight that households migrate for many reasons, including insecure rural livelihoods, shocks that make subsistence difficult, and the desire for upward mobility. However, an influx of migrants strains the ability of cities to cope, meaning migrants may be unable to access social support or afford adequate housing. This makes them more vulnerable to deprivation, disease and violence and often exposes them to forced eviction (de Boer, 2015). Migrant women, especially those who are undocumented, are more likely to experience labour market exploitation and are at greater risk of kidnap or trafficking (IWPR, 2015: 9).

Despite the scale of rural–urban migration, many city and local governments fail to consider it in urban development planning (IOM, 2015). Migrants are generally overlooked in discourses on urbanisation and urban governance, or viewed as a problem rather than a potential asset. In many countries, migration is seen as contributing to shortages of adequate housing, basic infrastructure and services (Tacoli et al., 2015).

Surveys of government policies on population growth indicate that many governments, particularly those in urbanising regions, believe rates of urbanisation are excessive. In 2013, 70% of governments in less developed regions wanted a major change in where their populations live; 84% had policies in place that sought to reduce rural–urban migration (McGranahan & Schensul, 2015).

Even though migration affects urban areas and local governments most, migration policies are generally set nationally. Local authorities, especially in LICs and MICs, often lack the capacity or revenue to respond to migration, but they clearly have a role to play in developing more responsive and targeted policies (Tacoli, 2010). Migration policies can affect cities in positive or negative ways. Restrictive, inadequate or unclear policies on labour mobility (in Africa, Asia and Europe) may encourage irregular migratory flows and the growth of informal urban settlements (IOM, 2015: 171). Similarly, strict border control policies can generate urban transit hubs where migrants become stranded on their way to intended destinations. Improving municipal government policy requires more understanding of migration, its challenges and methods of engaging with both migrant and host communities, and more attention to the following:

  • Permanent versus temporary migration: Migration is often perceived as permanent, resulting in restrictive migration laws. Yet research indicates that most migration to cities is temporary and cyclical (UNDESA, 2004; Potts, 2012).
  • Civic identity: Migrating to a new country or city is a multi-stage process. Integration of migrants depends on many factors, including command of local language, availability of jobs, legal status, participation in civic and political life and access to social services (UNDESA, 2004).
  • Participation and representation: Crucial to managing urban migration is ensuring the representation and inclusion of migrants in decision-making processes. Identifying effective ways of working and communicating with diverse communities and groups is critical.
  • Vulnerability to urban violence and criminality: Migrants are more vulnerable to urban violence and criminality, including people trafficking (especially children and women), labour exploitation, fake documents, irregular housing, illegal service provision, unregulated recruitment agencies and corrupt police.

Municipal authorities, non-state actors and civil society (including migrant associations and NGOs) need to play an active role in the development of urban migration policies (Çağlar, 2015). These may include local economic development, formalisation of the informal sector and provision of education, health, housing and urban safety. Policy interventions can also include promoting temporary work opportunities and facilitating homeland return. For receiving countries and cities, properly managed migration can be an opportunity, for example by filling labour supply gaps.

Lebanon: social cohesion and municipal governance programmingSince the onset of the Syrian conflict, an estimated 1,033,500 refugees have entered Lebanon, equivalent to a quarter of the national population. Municipalities have been at the forefront of responding to refugee needs while balancing those of host communities. Tasked with registering new arrivals, maintaining security, ensuring adequate services, providing shelter and mediating community tensions, they are struggling to cope with pressure on communities and resources. However, there have been a number of municipal success stories in responding to the crisis.

Surveys in 12 municipalities show that, despite the scale of the challenge, municipalities are registering and providing housing assistance to refugees: 89% of municipalities are facilitating assistance provision; 78% have increased their security presence in communities; and 78% are providing dispute resolution facilities. Over 65% of Syrians felt welcomed on arrival, and, though this decreased as time passed and economic pressures grew, only 23% felt unwelcome. The generosity of the Lebanese was identified as a factor accounting for these perceptions. Eighty-five percent of Lebanese interviewed said their actions arose from a common sense of humanity and shared culture and history, with 42% donating to a charitable organisation and 23% participating in voluntary work. Lebanese municipalities have created a measure of trust between Lebanese constituents and Syrian refugees, despite operating with limited resources and technical and administrative capacity. Factors facilitating this response include:

Leadership and accountability

  • Motivation and initiative
  • Allowing organisations access to implement services within municipalities
  • Inviting donors to municipalities to learn about needs
  • Establishing employment policies/procedures
  • Engaging host community in municipal response

Coordination and planning

  • Preparedness and forward thinking
  • Maintaining an updated refugee database and understanding pressing needs
  • Coordination with organisations

Information management

  • Communicating with all stakeholders
  • Communicating with municipalities in the same region
  • Promoting social cohesion and alleviating tensions
  • Allowing organisations to use municipal spaces to implement work

Despite achievements and given the prolonged nature of the crisis, tensions persist. The majority of Syrian refugees are living in difficult socioeconomic conditions with limited livelihood opportunities. Many refugees pay high prices for inadequate and overcrowded accommodation. The alternative is to move to Palestinian camps, abandoned buildings, or tented settlements. High unemployment levels are reported amongst Syrian refugees, most notably amongst women (68%). Those that have secured work are mainly engaged in agriculture, personal and domestic service and on a smaller scale, in construction. These jobs provide little income, security or protection.

More broadly, the Syrian crisis has damaged the Lebanese economy and labour market. Economic growth has slowed, private investment reduced, the trade deficit has increased and real estate and tourism declined. The influx of refugees into poor communities in peripheral regions of Lebanon has imposed enormous challenges on the country in general and on host communities in particular.

Sources: Mercy Corps (2014a; 2014b), ILO & WIEGO (2013).