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This past May, the Mayors Migration Council, the people of São Paulo, and the international community lost Bruno Covas, a fearless champion of human rights and a leader who set a global standard of serving all city residents with dignity and respect regardless of where they come from or why.
Bruno Covas was elected as São Paulo’s youngest mayor in the city’s history in 2018. Soon after, he co-founded the Mayors Migration Council together with nine other visionary city leaders, quickly establishing himself as a critical member of our Leadership Board. He was re-elected as mayor in 2020 and carried out numerous inclusive policies like adapting or expanding services to migrant and displaced communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.
As leader of one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities in the world, home to more than 360,000 migrants of 198 nationalities, Mayor Covas championed policies and programs that had and will have long lasting impact on these communities.
“Immigrants’ political participation is fundamental to building a truly universal citizenship,” said Mayor Covas in his landmark Municipal Plan of Public Policies for Refugees and Migrants. A testament to his deep commitment to work with all Paulistanos, the plan was developed in close collaboration with the Municipal Council of Immigrants and Refugees and created to ensure that migrant residents have an opportunity to participate in the formulation, implementation, and monitoring of this and other city’s policies.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Covas Administration worked tirelessly to ensure expansion and equal access to life-saving services regardless of migration status. This included the Programa Cidade Solidária (City Solidarity Program) to promote volunteerism and donations in support of families in situations of extreme vulnerability, including migrants. In just three months, the program delivered more than 973,000 basic food baskets, 455,000 hygiene and cleaning kits, and more than $90,000 in cash donations, ensuring nondiscriminatory access to this type of assistance.
At the height of the crisis, the Mayor also implemented the Projeto Ligue os Pontos (Connect the Dots Project) to connect farmers producing food—50 percent of whom experienced a drop in sales due to Covid-19 —with chefs, and ultimately with vulnerable families facing food insecurity. Implemented with financial support and partnership from the International Labor Organization and Bloomberg Philanthropies, among others, the Project identified and trained historically excluded groups, including marginalized women, transgender people, and refugees and migrants to participate in food preparation and distribution across the city.
The Global Mayors Solidarity Campaign launched by Mayor Covas and fellow MMC Leadership Board mayors in 2020 set out to address the unmet resource needs of cities as they support migrants, refugees, and IDPs in the face of Covid-19. The campaign led to the creation of the Global Cities Fund, which is implemented in collaboration with the UN Migration Agency (IOM), United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
São Paulo was one of the first cities to pledge to implement both the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Migration, an action that showed the international diplomatic community that it was essential to advance both Compacts in unison rather than addressing migrants and refugees as fundamentally separate populations requiring entirely different structures, as the international system continues to do. The Mayor’s approval of the city’s first ever Municipal Plan of Public Policies for Refugees and Migrants in 2020 activated this pledge, committing São Paulo to take 80 actions from 2021-2024 to ensure all migrants access to social rights and public services and promote social cohesion.
We encourage those who wish to honor Mayor Covas to join us in supporting São Paulo and particularly its Center for Immigrants’ Reference and Assistance, which provides a range of health and social services to the city’s immigrant community and whose activities Mayor Covas was deeply passionate about and closely involved. After all, as Mayor Covas so often said, “it’s not about talk, it’s about action.”
Tributes from MMC Leadership Board Mayors:
Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles: “Mayor Covas’ career encapsulated what it means to be a public servant: integrity, kindness, and service above self,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “While I grieve with his loved ones and the people of São Paulo, I will always remain inspired by his leadership and his commitment to creating a more welcome world for migrants and refugees.”
Mayor Giuseppe Sala of Milan: “Mayor Covas and I had the opportunity to meet in person at the first meeting of the Leadership Board of the Mayors’ Migration Council, in New York in July 2019. Milan and Sao Paulo are sister cities since the 1960s, they are similar in terms of the economic and social role they play nationally and internationally. We spoke precisely of that, of the possibility and responsibility to be innovators in our respective countries. We felt immediately connected, through what we had in common in terms of culture, history, passion for the future of our cities. There is a lot the two cities do together, enjoying a very special link. Since 2018 Sao Paulo and Milan had worked hand in hand to ensure that inputs by cities were embedded in the process towards the Global Compact on Migration and the one on Refugees, Sao Paulo being a leader city on the latter in particular. It was just natural for us to recognize that both our cities had been – and continued to be – built by migrants and that they had become crossroads for refugees, especially in recent years. Two cities so far apart geographically and yet linked by another common characteristic. We spoke of our desire for our cities to continue to grow and at the same time being welcoming and inclusive. A huge challenge, historically and politically. We had a good exchange on this and I remember the pleasure to discuss at length with a like-minded fellow mayor. We also crossed path through C40 and knew there was a lot in common to us and to our cities in terms of willingness to create a more sustainable and just future for our citizens. Throughout the years and the joint work we did at the bilateral and multilateral level I continued to appreciate Mayor Covas, his energy, ideas and his role in his city as well as his whole country. His passing is a great loss for the community of mayors throughout the world.”
Mayor Valerie Plante of Montréal: “Mayor Covas was a man of heart—a mayor who knew how to ensure the participation of all his residents in municipal life. He will be missed, and he will continue to inspire us.”
Georgios Kaminis, Special Envoy to the Mayors Migration Council: “Throughout the pandemic, Mayor Covas demonstrated the critical role that city governments play—and the impact they can have—in inclusive response and recovery, especially when international resources are channeled to cities.
Mayor Erias Lukwago of Kampala: “Mayor Bruno Covas has been an instrumental voice in pursuing the Global Agenda of realizing inclusive cities. I am happy to have shared the same platform with him as a founding Board member of the Mayors Migration Council where we spearhead the global initiative to empower and enable cities with access, capacity, knowledge, and connections to engage in migration diplomacy and policymaking at the international, national, and regional level. I shared several platforms from New York with him, but I can attest that without him, the Mayors Migration Council will never be the same again!
“Throughout our personal engagements, I recognized his invaluable leadership efforts particularly in promoting migrants and refugees in Sao Paulo and world over. He has been instrumental in upholding the open policy for refugees in his City. The mind boggling question now is how to carry on his legacy especially through our signature Project, the Global Cities Fund among other laudable initiatives.
“I know that Sao Paulo, in particular, and the nation at large have lost a seasoned leader of formidable caliber and character. May the people of Sao Paulo find strength in the achievements of His Worship Bruno Covas and the courage to carry on his legacy as we celebrate his life. Mayor Bruno will be remembered as a man of sterling character, outstanding discipline and humility. We indeed lost him at such a time when he was most desirable!”
Mayor Corinne Mauch of Zürich: “Thank you Bruno Covas for your tireless work for a more inclusive and solidary world, where people can exercise their rights regardless of their status. Thank you for all you have given – we will carry on your legacy.”
Mayor Yousef Alshawarbeh of Amman: “On behalf of the citizens of Amman and Amman Municipal Committee, I convey our deepest sympathies and share the grief of all MMC members and city of São Paulo in mourning the loss of distinguished ‘Cities’ champion’. It would be difficult to measure the impact Mayor Covas had on the many leaders and those that he touched personally and professionally with a finesse that stirred passions and more importantly, action to creating a sustainable and inclusive future for São Paulo. He has been able to build a legacy that will last for generations after him, HE will always be remembered and cherished by all.”
Mayor Marvin Rees of Bristol: “I admire Mayor Bruno Covas’s leadership, especially in taking a leading role promoting the inclusion of refugees and immigrants in São Paulo and globally. I share a similar vision and ideals. In seeking to uphold Mayor Covas’s legacy I will continue to work with other Mayors Migration Council Leadership Board members, partners, refugee, and migrant communities in Sao Paulo and around the World to create welcoming and safe places for all, including refugees. In Bristol I continue to witness the enormous contribution of refugees to the vibrant City life. You are sorely missed, Mayor Covas, but we will try to honor your legacy in our cities and beyond.”