UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, protects people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. Headquartered in Geneva, UNHCR works in over 130 countries protecting refugees, stateless people and internally displaced persons (IDPs), by responding with life-saving support, safeguarding fundamental human rights and helping them build a better future. This includes in cities which now host ~60% of the world’s refugees and ~80% of the world’s IDPs. Indeed, while refugees and IDPs used to live predominantly in camps a few decades ago, the majority of them now live in urban areas, hoping for a better access to basic services and employment opportunities.
Given the current scale and protracted nature of forced displacement crises, more actors are needed to work together to provide refugees with adequate protection and assistance, but also with a future to look forward to. In line with the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) which promotes a “multi-stakeholder and partnership approach”, UNHCR has been engaging with municipal authorities, city networks and other partners. While engagement with these key stakeholders is not new, strategic engagement within the GCR framework is vital for creating political will and momentum to make gains towards more predictable and equitable burden and responsibility-sharing in the protection of and assistance to refugees.
UNHCR is engaged with worldwide municipalities in the field. Below is only a brief selection of UNHCR’s important global policy work, where UNHCR has partnered with local authorities, city networks and others to:
- bring to the fore local best practices in the area of refugee protection, hosting and inclusion. Cities will continue to be encouraged to communicate about the initiatives they are undertaking to support refugees and participate, when appropriate, in the series of regional webinars on the steps partners are taking to support refugees. Participating cities in 2020 included Bergen, Norway, Ioannina, Greece, Victoria, Canada, Quito, Ecuador, São Paulo, Brazil, and Durban, South Africa. In addition, Cities of Light provides an overview of how cities are helping the displaced to help themselves.
- collect and share good practices by cities, municipalities & local authorities which respond to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, while committing to a holistic response that ensures that all residents have access to the information, healthcare, direct services and financial support they need regardless of the language they speak or their migration status.
- set-up coalitions to promote tolerance and respect for people forced to flee. UNHCR launched a campaign in 2018 and continues to invite cities and local authorities all over the world who are working to promote inclusion, support refugees and bring communities together to sign a solidarity statement. Many cities have already signed it to demonstrate their solidarity with refugees and commitment to find solutions, as well as to create spaces where everyone can live together in safety and contribute to and participate in their local community.
- Urban refugees, UNHCR website
- IDPs in towns and cities – working with the realities of internal displacement in an urban world, Submission to the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement by IIED, JIPS and UN-Habitat, May 2020.
- 2018 High Commissioner’s Protection Dialogue – Protection and solutions in urban settings: engaging with cities.
- Ms. Claire Lamont, Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator, UNHCR focal point for city engagement ( email@example.com)