Bristol’s City Gathering: unlocking the potential of Bristol and other cities

This article first appeared on the The Bristol Mayor website. MMC engages in content partnerships with several organizations, and cross-posting does not indicate an endorsement or agreement.

Last week I was invited to be the keynote Mayoral speaker at the 2023 Global Refugee Forum. I was there as Mayor of Bristol and thanks to the Mayors Migration Council (MMC), where I am a Board Member.

The Global Refugee Forum is a process of the United Nations, which was set up after the Second World War for national governments to develop joint agreements or policies on key global issues. It is important to get national governments working together, but it is increasingly apparent that national governments cannot afford to work without cities. 

Most migrants leave cities, travel through cities, and settle in cities. Perhaps surprisingly, most refugees – 70% – don’t live in refugee camps, they live in cities. This is one of the reasons that we co-founded the MMC, and make the case that that international agreements on the global refugee crisis cannot be undertaken, let alone delivered, without the input of city leaders.

For that reason, in 2018, mayors asked to be involved the first Global Refugee Forum (GRF) but access was limited and mayors were represented only through city networks. This week, at the second GRF, mayors were directly involved. I was honoured to announce the 100+ city-led pledges made by Mayors at the UN, committing our cities to programmes that welcome refugees and support them and their receiving communities.

The world can celebrate the progress made on refugee protection and solutions since the adoption of the landmark UN Global Compact on Refugees in 2018. The mayors in attendance from Kampala, Zurich, Amman, San Antonio, Lampedusa, and more offered many positive examples.

But, sadly, we now find ourselves in a situation where populist political actors are undermining the opportunities we have to build a just system in which the talents and skills of refugees can be truly utilised in refugees’ host cities, if not their own. Meanwhile the number of displaced people continues to rise. Today, more than one in every 73 people on Earth has been forcibly displaced: a historic high of 114 million people. In just the past 12 months, UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, declared a record 46 emergencies across 32 countries.

Bristol has a strong story to tell on refugees and migrants. During the GRF, the Home Office specifically thanked the city for our response to recent refugee crises. As a proud City of Sanctuary, we work to help resettle vulnerable refugees from around the world. We have supported 461 refugees from the Middle East and North Africa since 2016, 441 Afghan refugees since 2021, and 806 Ukrainian refugees since 2022. City Partners, specialist health agencies, and the refugee voluntary sector support the Home Office, who accommodate just under 1,200 asylum seekers in Bristol.

And, as a city that welcomes migrants and refugees, it’s vital to understand more about the people arriving in Bristol and what support they need the most. After all, a young man looking for work needs different support to a mother with small young children. There is much incredible work happing in Bristol.

  • The Haven is a great example of tailored provision, with healthcare like TB screening and childhood vaccinations for refugees who may have not had access to these in the past. 
  • Ashley Community Housing provides housing and employment support to refugees and migrants.
  • One of Bristol’s new International Ambassadors, Muna Abdi, came to the UK as a young refugee. She now runs Primeway Care, with 120 employees providing key care provision to citizens all across the city, and chairs the Bristol Somali Forum. 

However, provisions like these require investment. Refugee inclusion is woefully underfunded. Among members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 72% of countries’ funding for refugees is solely humanitarian, ignoring the longer-term inclusion and development needs of refugees and host communities. That means missing out on all the talent and opportunity that these individuals bring with them. In Bristol, and only around 1% of all funds pledged to refugees went directly to city authorities, the level of government closest to the front line.

While at the Global Refugee Forum, I also visited the World Economic Forum (WEF) headquarters and discussed Bristol’s economic strengths and key industries; met the Chief of Staff of the International Organisation on Migration (IOM) to talk about refugee support on employment opportunities; and connected with representatives from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, the Home Office, the UK office of UNHCR, and the Scottish and Welsh governments.

I was thanked for Bristol’s international leadership and participation in these kind of global forums, and for directly proving that cities offer solutions to their country’s challenges. We do this by offering positive opportunities for their home communities and new citizens who arrive. 

I look forward to seeing how cities feed into the Global Refugee Forum in 2027, for the world to continue to #ListenToCities.


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