Pandemic Response Press Release

Mayors from Around the World Call on Global Leaders to Include Migrants & Refugees in Pandemic Response


Media Contact:
Sunshine Sachs

10 Local Leaders Launch Global Solidarity Campaign to Advocate for Inclusion of Migrants and Refugees in National and Multilateral COVID-19 Response and Recovery Efforts

NEW YORK, July 23, 2020 – Today, the Mayors Migration Council (MMC), a mayor-led coalition influencing international migration policy to ensure that global responses reflect and address realities on the ground, announced a joint commitment to accelerate implementation of local policy that directly addresses the COVID-19 recovery needs of refugee and migrant communities in their cities. The MMC is calling on national and international policymakers to stand with mayors to: 

  • Ensure safe, equitable access to services regardless of migration status, including healthcare and economic relief. 
  • Empower migrants and refugees to be part of the solution to COVID-19, including through the regularization of immigrant essential workers. 
  • Combat misinformation, racism, and xenophobia to strengthen community solidarity in all COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.

The MMC released a video today to accompany their Call to Action that details the critical importance of inclusive COVID response efforts as part of a successful global recovery.

Members of the MMC Leadership Board, comprised of the mayors of Amman, Bristol, Freetown, Kampala, Los Angeles, Milan, Montréal, São Paolo, and Zürich, and the former mayor of Athens, met virtually on July 16 for its second annual convening.

Hosted by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Leadership Board discussed common challenges mayors face in dealing with COVID-19, presented practical solutions to make sure no one is left behind in pandemic relief response, and identified opportunities to build more resilient, equitable, and sustainable cities for all throughout the COVID-19 recovery process.

The mayors shared the progress their cities are making to implement policies that include migrant and refugee communities as part of global goals set prior to the pandemic. These commitments include  the 2018 Global Compact for Migration, Global Compact on Refugees, and Marrakech Mayors Declaration, where they pledged to guarantee city residents’ equal access to services regardless of migration or legal status.

“Migrants and refugees around the world have been on the frontline of the global health crisis — risking their lives to care for patients, deliver food, and do the essential jobs needed to save lives,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “Building more equitable and inclusive cities will create a fairer, more just world, and the Mayors Migration Council is a critical partner in our work to ensure cities are places where everybody belongs.”

Cities are at the forefront of addressing the economic, health, and social impact of COVID-19.  In response to national relief plans that have excluded migrants (both domestic and international) and refugees, mayors have stepped up to ensure recovery efforts protect and empower all city residents. Migrants and refugees often face the compounding issues of informal employment, overcrowded households, limited access to public services or information in their language, stigmatization, and a lack of financial means to manage extended “shelter-in-place” orders.

Since the outset of the pandemic in March 2020, the MMC has elevated the voices of mayors in international conversations on COVID-19 response.  The organization has worked to equip city leaders and the international community more broadly with practical tools and resources to combat the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring no one is left behind because of their migrant or refugee status.

“From a position at the periphery just a few years ago, mayors are now widely recognized for delivering practical solutions, driving progress, and asserting political will where others have stepped back,” said Ms. Vittoria Zanuso, Executive Director of the Mayors Migration Council. “Since our launch in December 2018, we at the MMC have helped mayors get more involved in international policymaking, more comfortable in navigating the international halls of power, and more ambitious when voicing their views on migration policy at the global level.”

This year the Leadership Board was joined in conversation by the MMC’s institutional funders Ambassador Patrick Gaspard, President of the Open Society Foundations; Ambassador Christian Frutiger, Assistant Director General, Head of Global Cooperation for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation; and Ms. Ottilie Bälz, Senior Vice President, International Understanding and Cooperation at the Robert Bosch Stiftung. Special guests included Mr. António Vitorino, Director General of the International Organization for Migration and Tim Dixon, Co-founder of More in Common.

“There is an urgent need to give a voice to local authorities in the international multilateral system, as the success of multilateralism in the migration area is played out at the local level,” said Mr. António Vitorino, Director General of the International Organization for Migration. “From our side, the IOM will continue to make the case for having local authorities, especially in cities, fully involved in the development of joint projects with UN agencies.”

“Mayors and cities on the front lines of the crisis are coming up with innovative solutions and sharing knowledge. We are proud to partner with cities to ensure that all of us – refugees and migrants included – have safe, equitable access to relief during these unprecedented times,” said Ambassador Patrick Gaspard, President of the Open Society Foundations. “The Mayors Migration Council has a key role in supporting these efforts and elevating the voices and actions of mayors around the world.”

“Local governments and cities are frontline leaders for inclusive and sustainable development. In order for them to play their vital role in the political system, it is crucial to facilitate their access to financial resources,” said Ambassador Christian Frutiger, Assistant Director General, Head of Global Cooperation for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. “The current economic and fiscal crisis is an opportunity to boost new modalities and innovative financing schemes.”

On the occasion of the Leadership Board meeting, the Robert Bosch Stiftung announced an institutional commitment of €1million to the Mayors Migration Council and joined the Government of Switzerland and the Open Society Foundations as MMC institutional supporters. 

“In a time of rising global insecurities and inequalities, mayors can, through smart leadership, develop effective and inclusive solutions for migrant issues,” said Ottilie Bälz, Senior Vice President, International Understanding and Cooperation at the Robert Bosch Stiftung. “We are delighted to support the Mayors Migration Council as a new institutional funder. We hope our support will help showcase city leadership on the ground and strengthen international city diplomacy around migration.”

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About the Mayors Migration Council

The Mayors Migration Council (MMC) is a mayor-led 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. It works to ensure that global responses to migrant and refugee issues both reflect and address realities on the ground for the benefit of newcomers and the communities that receive them. The MMC’s priorities and strategy are guided by its Leadership Board of 10 city leaders who come from diverse geographies and migration contexts.

  • Yousef Shawarbeh, Mayor of Amman, Jordan
  • Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, United Kingdom
  • Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone
  • Erias Lukwago, Lord Mayor of Kampala, Uganda
  • Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, United States
  • Giuseppe Sala, Mayor of Milan, Italy
  • Valérie Plante, Mayor of Montréal, Canada
  • Bruno Covas, Mayor of São Paulo, Brazil
  • Corine Mauch, Mayor of Zürich, Switzerland
  • Georgios Kaminis, Special Envoy to the MMC and C40 Cities, and former Mayor of Athens, Greece

MMC Leadership Board Members: 

Mr. Yousef Shawarbeh, Mayor of Amman: “Amman, named a City of Light by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has been and will continue to be an inclusive city providing its services to all its residents regardless of their citizenship status.”

Mr. Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol: “The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures we’ve had to take to manage it have tested the systems we depend on for our way of life. In the face of this unprecedented challenge we have the unique opportunity to see the resilience inherent in ourselves and our neighbors. We have found that our communities have the ability to rally and support each other to survive. Our community has the responsibility and a mandate to build back better, redesigning our city’s systems so they can withstand future crises.”

Ms. Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown: “Countries can find a balance, fighting COVID-19 and also preventing the hunger, impoverishment, and instability that could result from hasty, one-size-fits-all implementation of public health and social measures. But to do so, leaders must make decisions based on data and in partnership with communities.”

Mr. Erias Lukwago, Lord Mayor of Kampala: “In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, I worked to empower the Local Council and its oversight of food and relief item distribution to ensure vulnerable members of the community received the recovery resources they needed. I wanted to be personally responsive to the residents in our great city, which is why I took the initiative to deliver essential supplies myself to those who are in greatest need, including street children, refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. We will recover from this pandemic and come back stronger by helping each other through this unprecedented crisis.”

Mr. Giuseppe Sala, Mayor of Milan: “The COVID-19 outbreak brought about several challenges: not only was it an unknown and fast-spreading disease; it also hit the most vulnerable citizens the hardest. To avoid further exacerbating existing inequalities—and creating new ones—the City of Milan adopted a two-fold approach. We adapted our facilities and operating models to ensure that primary services are guaranteed for everyone, and in particular those who are socially excluded. In addition, we proactively created complementary services to tackle additional community needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic. The best example of this method was the COVID-19 monitoring in shelters for homeless people and unaccompanied migrant children, where, in addition to organizing ordinary basic services, we deployed specialized health and logistic teams to train and support social workers in the application of sanitary rules and to monitor the health conditions of staff and guests. This approach reflects the essence of Milan’s spirit, which is also one of the founding principles of my vision for the future of our city: growth and solidarity.”

Ms. Valérie Plante, Mayor of Montréal: “We can be proud of the measures we as cities and mayors were able to deploy to urgently address the economic, health, and social impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic. We have proven the value of our actions for migrants and refugees and the positive impact they can have on regional and national crisis responses. I am determined to take bold steps to ensure that no one is left behind in our recovery efforts and to significantly reduce inequalities that were exacerbated by the crisis. The status quo is not an option for Montreal.”

Mr. Bruno Covas, Mayor of São Paulo: “Our priority is to save lives. In São Paulo, we are confronting COVID-19 seriously and transparently. Our main tools are science, accurate information, and social responsibility. Several strategic actions have allowed us to gradually reopen the city, but that does not mean that the pandemic is over. We will continue to monitor the numbers and sanitary measures so that the health of the population is preserved and no São Paulo resident is left behind.”

Ms. Corine Mauch, Mayor of Zürich: “The crisis has sharpened our perception of the social hardship facing so many of our residents in the City of Zürich. Our administration has taken the lead to quickly and pragmatically offer relief to those who were particularly affected, including the homeless, people without residence status, the self-employed, and micro-entrepreneurs who have been particularly hard hit economically. In recent weeks, Zürich has impressively demonstrated the solidarity of our city. Communal, national and international responses to the pandemic need to include all members of society.”

Mr. Georgios Kaminis, Special Envoy to the MMC and C40 Cities and former Mayor of Athens: “The challenge ahead of us is enormous. In a crisis like this, humanity has to find the intellectual capacity and resilience to tackle both the climate crisis and also regulate, in a humane way, the needs of people around the world to migrate in search of a better future. We believe our cities, whatever their differences, are the catalysts for this type of change. Mayors are ready to continue pressing for a global agenda that ensures the inclusion of migrants and refugees as part of the COVID-19 response and recovery effort. I am excited to stand with my fellow cities in this critical work!”




During the first few days of the City of Amman’s lockdown, the Greater Amman Municipality used municipal vehicles to distribute a daily water and bread supply to vulnerable households, many of which have refugee residents. The municipality also provided sanitation services for all neighborhoods, including areas with refugee camps in Amman.


Launched in 2015 under the leadership of former Mayor Kaminis, the Athens Coordination Centre for Migrants and Refugees is both a physical and digital hub for the fruitful exchange of good practices and know-how between local and international NGOs, international organizations, and municipal bodies on issues ranging from temporary accommodation to the integration of newcomers. In response to the COVID crisis, the Centre has developed a mapping tool of services available to vulnerable populations (including migrants and refugees) during the pandemic.


In response to the COVID crisis, the City of Bristol took more than 300 homeless people into emergency accommodation. Within this group were several migrants with “No Recourse to Public Funds” status, which prevents them from accessing mainstream state support. Bristol therefore set up a “One City Task Force” made up of representatives from Local Government, civil society, and others to identify the necessary support and longer-term pathways for everyone in emergency accommodation, including migrants and those seeking asylum.


The City of Freetown is partnering with the European Union in the “EU Stands with Sierra Leone” initiative, in fighting COVID-19. This program will target support particularly for the 350,000 people who live in informal settlements in Freetown, many of whom are vulnerable rural migrants living in overcrowded housing.  Increasing the provision of water through the installation of rainwater harvesting systems, food donations to those quarantine, a community care center for mild and asymptomatic patients who can’t self-isolate in crowded settlements are some of the interventions that have supported those residents.


Following a decision by the central government to centralize all aid delivery and not allow municipalities to participate, Lord Mayor Lukwago began personally distributing food himself, especially to residents in the city of Kampala who cannot afford a meal, many of whom are migrants and refugees. Lord Mayor donated 1,000kg of maize flour and 600kg of rice to Kibuli Mosque and plans to distribute more foodstuff to other religions.

Los Angeles

In response to the COVID crisis, the City of Los Angeles established a new, innovative direct cash assistance program — the Angeleno Card — for residents who fall below the poverty line and do not qualify for other federal aid that excludes undocumented immigrants and informal sector workers. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office, and the nonprofit the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, raised $20M from the private sector, philanthropies, and individuals to distribute directly to residents.

The City ensures that testing is available to all residents, regardless of symptoms, insurance or immigration status. Additionally, seeing that many lower-income communities (including immigrants) were not able to access drive-through testing sites run by the city, the city established walk-up sites with locations in underserved communities.


In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the City of Milan collected donations of personal computers and tablets to ensure that unaccompanied migrant children maintained equal access to education and Italian language classes.  Additionally, the city developed an online platform with classes and educational materials for migrant and refugee adults, including professional training and up to date information on the pandemic. 


The City of Montreal has advocated for the government of Quebec and Canada to regularize the immigration status of health workers who have contributed to the COVID-19 urgent response.

In response to the COVID crisis, the City converted public transport buses into mobile clinics to increase the number of screenings for COVID-19 in neighborhoods home to a large number of refugees and asylum seekers that are far from access to healthcare.

São Paulo

Throughout the pandemic, the City of São Paulo has kept its elected Municipal Council of Immigrants and Refugees meeting virtually to ensure the City’s pandemic relief is responsive to the needs of migrant communities.  


The City of Zürich organized several multilingual services to support migrants and refugees during the COVID crisis. This includes a centralized, multilingual, and accessible internet platform run by the city to ensure immigrant and refugee communities in Zürich have access to information about the pandemic including access to support, city contacts, and general information in their own language. Additionally, since the beginning of the pandemic the city organized telephone hotlines, WhatsApp channels, and published flyers in multiple languages for refugees with information on various issues related to the pandemic (i.e.. how to correctly use a mask, new official measures, etc).

The City of Zürich provided the necessary financial resources to ensure emergency financial aid and access to necessary medical care for migrants without legal status who live in Zürich.



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