In December 2023, mayors from across the world participated in the 2023 UN Global Refugee Forum (GRF) in Geneva, Switzerland.
Joining national governments, refugee leaders, and the private sector, mayors assessed their progress towards the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and delivered new local pledges to action, including new humanitarian aid and reception support, refugee jobs and livelihood programs, and inclusive climate action in refugee hosting areas. In the face of historic displacement levels, mayors showed their political commitment to refugees and called for meaningful partnerships and investments to support city-led refugee inclusion.
Here is a summary of advancements from the week, including key moments for mayors, other relevant commitments from national governments and partners, and media coverage.
City Leadership at the GRF
- Refugee inclusion was a top priority for the 15+ mayors gathered at the GRF. Across the GRF’s programming, mayors elevated city-led solutions for refugees and called for increased support from national governments, multilateral organizations, and the private sector. This participation marked an historical advancement for local governments, who were largely excluded at the first GRF in 2019.
- Speaking on behalf of all mayors at the GRF plenary, Mayor Marvin Rees of Bristol, UK, announced more than 100 city pledges and $80 million in financial commitments for cities collected through the Call to Local Action for Migrants and Refugees, saying: “From Amman’s creation of a climate academy for children, to San Antonio’s humanitarian support, to Kampala’s employment hub, these actions will make a real difference to the lives of refugees.” (Watch remarks at 10:30 mark).
- The MMC joined in solidarity by pledging to bring the Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees (GCF) to $50 million — starting with $25 million by 2025. MMC Executive Director Vittoria Zanuso said: “Only through direct funding of city-led projects can we meet the scale of need for urban migrants and refugees to thrive.”
- The MMC co-hosted a high-level meeting on cities and urban policy with UNHCR, IOM, and UCLG featuring Mayor Yousef Al Shawarbeh of Amman, Jordan; Mayor Marvin Rees of Bristol, UK; Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio, US; Mayor Edwards López of Carmen de la Legua, Peru; Mayor Sanya Wilson of Koboko, Uganda; Mayor Filippo Mannino of Lampedusa, Italy; Mayor Hildebrand Niyomwungeri of Nyamagabe, Rwanda; and Mayor Corine Mauch of Zürich, Switzerland, among others.
- Speaking of the support received through the GCF, Mayor Yousef Al Shawarbeh of Amman, Jordan, said: “Amman is rehabilitating a public park to support Syrian, Palestinian, and Jordanian children. Investing in city solutions leads to national successes. We are proving this in Jordan. Let’s now prove it across the world.”
- Representing Cities Alliance, Mayor Sanya Wilson of Koboko, Uganda, said: “Secondary cities hosting large populations of refugees need accurate data to attract direct funding. This will help cities integrate urban refugees and build their capacity to fulfill their role in meeting and contributing to global agendas.”
- Highlighting connections with the sustainable development agenda, Mayor Filippo Mannino of Lampedusa, Italy, said: “We will make sure to mainstream human mobility towards the Summit of the Future. On top of it, through the recently created Advisory Group of the United Nations Secretary- General on Local and Regional Governments.”
- The MMC Executive Director Vittoria Zanuso joined UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and IOM Director General Amy Pope in a GRF high-level meeting to discuss key complementarities between the Global Compacts, highlighting that: “Mayors aren’t just talking about complementarity, they’re showing how it’s done: 60 percent of city pledges are ‘mirror’ pledges that serve both migrants and refugees.”
- The MMC, the City of Zürich, and the City of Geneva, with the participation of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, hosted a High-Level Reception to celebrate the achievements of mayors in elevating cities’ collective voice on refugee policy.
- At the reception, co-host Mayor Corine Mauch of Zürich, Switzerland, said: “Tonight’s reception is an occasion to celebrate the achievements of the MMC after five years of its inception. Since then, the MMC has matured into an influential advocacy organization that succeeds in shaping the global policy discourse on forced displacement.”
- Mayor Marvin Rees of Bristol and Mayor Erias Lukwago of Kampala met with IOM’s Chief of Staff Mohammed Abdiker to discuss strengthening the IOM-MMC partnership and IOM’s direct work with cities, building an evidence based data for local policy making, and improving ethical recruitment of migrant workers.
- At the meeting, Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago of Kampala, Uganda, said: “Cities provide an opportunity to change the narrative on migration, but they need to be included in a systemic, sustainable manner.”
Erias Lukwago Mayor of Kampala, Vittoria Zanuso MMC, and Marvin Rees Mayor of Bristol
MMC Mayors with IOM’s Chief of Staff Mohammed Abdiker.
- MMC Leadership Board mayors met on the sidelines of the GRF to set their strategy for the years ahead and consult with refugee leaders. Key priorities discussed include changing narratives on migration and displacement, exploring the role of cities in labor mobility and other complementary pathways, and diversifying the MMC’s governance to include the voices of refugee and migrant leaders with lived experience.
- As a newly appointed member of the MMC Leadership Board, Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio, US, said: “I’m ready to take action on inclusive jobs and workforce development, city-led complementary pathways to address our broken asylum and immigration systems, and pushing back on the narrative that migration is a crisis just because our politics are in crisis.”
- For the first time, the Global Task Force of Local and Regional Governments held an LRG Day as an official part of the GRF. Speaking as President of UCLG, Mayor Uğur İbrahim Altay of Konya, Türkiye said: “We aim for a world where the protection and integration of refugees and migrants are not mere aspirations. LRG Day is a chance for local action to be mainstreamed within the global agendas.”
- At the GRF, the MMC released a second report on Localizing the Global Compacts in partnership with the Mayors Mechanism, UCLG, IOM, and UNHCR to showcase the political commitment and concrete actions local governments are taking to meet the needs of refugees and migrants in 2023 through the Call to Local Action for Migrants and Refugees.
- The MMC also released a new three year progress report on the Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees in advance of the GRF to highlight the impact of city-led solutions from the pipeline of 28 city grantees and set a vision for the future of the GCF.
Support for City Leadership
- The European Union pledged €34.7 million for programming on urban displacement, including a flagship program to support secondary cities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda.
- The Government of Switzerland joined the City of Zürich and other Swiss cities in a pledge to strengthen local-national cooperation on refugee policy. In her opening statement as 2023 GRF co-host, Christine Schraner Burgener, State Secretary for Migration, Switzerland, acknowledged this joint commitment and said: “Cities are at the forefront of refugee integration.”
- The Government of Brazil pledged to support a new National Network of Welcoming Cities to strengthen local-national coordination for migrant and refugee inclusion and enable grant funding to reach city-led inclusion programs in Brazil. At the LRG Day, Luana Medeiros, General Coordinator of Refugee Protection, Brazil, said: “The Brazilian government is invested in a new model for migration governance. We recognise the pivotal role of LRGs in how we receive migrants and refugees.”
- National governments agreed to resettle one million refugees by 2030 and establish a new Global Sponsorship Fund. The fund will pool resources globally, but will be implemented locally, including through partnerships with local authorities engaged in community sponsorship.
- Recognizing that climate change is increasingly compelling people to move within and across borders, the Government of Canada announced funding for IOM to support Mexico in collecting climate migration data to inform policy actions led by local and state governments.
- In his closing statement, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi highlighted the 100 pledges made by cities and said: “Cities are where most refugees live and where local authorities are not only including, but also working on service delivery. […] This GRF is perhaps the greatest example of ‘whole-of-society’ approach that I’ve seen in my forty years of humanitarian work.”
MMC in the Media
- MMC Leadership Board Mayor Marvin Rees of Bristol, UK, explains why he founded the MMC, achievements to date, and what more needs to be done to ensure that mayors have a voice at the global policy-making table (EuroNews).
- Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago of Kampala, Uganda, participates in the MMC Leadership Board meeting on the sidelines of the 2023 Global Refugee Forum and calls for city access to multilateral spaces (The Voice Uganda).
- USA for UNHCR’s Suzanne Ehlers reflects on the 2023 GRF and her meeting with MMC Leadership Board Mayor Ron Niernburg of San Antonio, US (Devex),
- Mayor Sanya Wilson of Koboko, Uganda, and Leadership Board Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio, US, explain the role of cities in expanding refugee inclusion (UNHCR).
- Robert Bosch Foundation’s Hannes Einsporn reflects on the 2023 Global Refugee Forum as an opportunity to lift the voices of underrepresented local stakeholders, including cities and refugee-led organizations (Robert Bosch Stiftung).
- Mayor Marvin Rees of Bristol, UK, looks back at the historic participation of cities in the 2023 Global Refugee Forum and calls on partners to listen to, partner with, and invest in cities (Bristol Mayor).
- In his closing statement at the 2023 GRF, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Flippo Grandi mentions the 100 pledges made by cities and how the GRF is an example of “a new multilateralism” (UNHCR).