This article first appeared on UNHCR’s website. MMC engages in content partnerships with several organizations, and cross-posting does not indicate an endorsement or agreement.
Despite their distance and the differences in demographics, Zurich and Tyre have something special in common. Since 2017, host and refugee communities have been enjoying improved mobility thanks to city-to-city (C2C) cooperation supported by UN-Habitat.
Lebanon, host to nearly 2 million Syrian and Palestine refugees, is faced with high unemployment, pressure on infrastructure, and environmental challenges. Refugees and Lebanese alike face rising fuel prices, shortages, and heavy traffic, making daily errands such as grocery shopping and commuting difficult and costly. To address this challenge, thanks to the support of Zurich, the Municipality of Tyre officially launched a bike rental initiative in April 2021.
Open to everyone, host, refugee, and migrant communities can access bicycles, providing a viable, environmentally friendly transportation mode. At two stations, users show their identification and pay a deposit. A second phase of the project envisages the development of a centralized parking space (Park and Ride) with a bus shuttle system servicing specific routes and schedules to reduce traffic congestion in Tyre.
While the method of delivering services differs across cities, depending on municipal and legal statutes as well as access to resources such as financing, staffing, housing, and the role and vibrancy of respective civil societies, there is no question that cities are at the forefront of decision-making most likely to affect refugees and asylum-seekers. The initiative in Tyre is an example of a municipality taking practical action to address a common issue affecting both long-term residents and newcomers.
The city-to-city partnership between Zurich and Tyre started four years ago. “In March 2017, a team from Zurich visited Lebanon and decided to work with Tyre. The city was very well suited due to the high number of refugees and some existing structures,” recounts Lady Habchy, Head of Urban Development and Governance Unit at UN-Habitat in Lebanon.
The collaboration demonstrates many of the principles at the heart of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR). Zurich’s involvement is not limited to financial and technical support for the bicycle rental programme, and the impact is wider reaching. Among its objectives are to enhance local planning, good governance, and technical and administrative capacities. “This cooperation is important for our city. It helps us cope with challenges arising from the Syrian refugee crisis, through the exchange of experiences and best practices for mobility and social cohesion between host and refugee communities, as well through strengthening the technical capacities at the city level,” says Sara Hobballah, Municipal Coordinator in Tyre.
With the help of UN-Habitat and partners, needs related to pressure on city infrastructure were quickly identified. Increasing inexpensive mobility options was identified as a critical area that needed to be addressed. In practical terms, cooperation is straightforward. Together we are strengthening existing structures for the use of everyone who lives in Tyre, which is in line with the principle of burden and responsibility sharing in the GCR. “We sought with the City of Tyre direct cooperation, and we have a long-term focus. We are supporting city experts, provided by UN-Habitat, to build up capacities within the city,” explains Christina Wandeler, Head of External Relations for the City of Zurich. She adds that the current cooperation with Tyre has a maximum duration of 15 years with the objective of creating “sustainable solutions that can stay” when the partnership is completed.
The city-to-city partnership is only one element of Zurich’s support for refugees and internally displaced people of the City of Zurich. Mayor Corine Mauch is currently a member of the leadership board of the Mayors Migration Council (MMC). The MMC is headed by ten mayors from all regions of the world, and helps cities shape national and international policies on migration and displacement.