In a year which will forever be defined by the Covid-19 pandemic, the new Mixed Migration Review 2020 (MMR) includes ample focus on the relation between cities, migration and Covid-19. When it comes to migration, the pandemic has had three new consequences, different from previous pandemics: first, a concentration in migrant districts of cities in the global north; second, modern history’s largest urban to rural return migration across the world – more out of fear of the economic effects of lockdowns than the virus itself; and third, a desperate situation for migrant workers in cities all over the world, who are particularly vulnerable to lock-downs and economic closures and often unable to access needed health services.
“The Covid-19 crisis is far from over. At the onset of the pandemic, not many could predict how exactly it would impact refugees and migrants around the world. In some places, the pandemic has been a driver of migration, leading to increased movements. In other places, movement restrictions to contain the virus brought mixed migration to a standstill, with millions of people stranded all over the world”, says Bram Frouws, head of the Mixed Migration Centre in Geneva.
Primary global data and “urban voices”
The experiences of refugees and migrants in cities are at the heart of the MMR, based on thousands of interviews conducted through MMC’s 4Mi global data collection programme. Refugees and migrants explain why they stop in cities, which cities are the most dangerous ones, which major risks they are exposed to and how they were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to the data, the report also includes the individual, human stories of refugees and migrants in cities as diverse as Bamako, Bogota, Kuala Lumpur, Nairobi, Tehran, Tunis and Turin.
“The majority of the world’s refugees and displaced live in cities. Cities can provide great opportunities for refugees and migrants, but also expose them to risks. The important stories in this report, from refugees and migrants interviewed in various cities, speak to these very diverse experiences of people in cities, and all the twists and turns they experience during their journeys”, says Charlotte Slente, Secretary General of the Danish Refugee Council.
Cities are the urban frontlines of displacement and mobility, whether people on the move pass through them in transit or settle in them for the longer term, as many refugees and migrants do. While migration policies - increasingly characterised by ideologically driven and securitized approaches - are discussed and designed at national levels, the reality of mixed migration is explicitly local and urban.
“International migration is predominantly an urban affair. Cities are the first responders for people on the move, whether in transit or settling more permanently. We see many cities around the world that, whether for ethical or pragmatic reasons, or both, adopt more welcoming and progressive approaches to migration and integration issues. There is a lot we can learn from how cities increasingly cooperate on migration policies and responses across borders, so they should be given a greater voice in migration and refugee policies at national and global levels”, Bram Frouws adds.
A perfect storm? Migration, cities and climate change
The report also discusses climate change, migration and cities, noting that two-thirds of the world’s megacities are in regions vulnerable to the impact of climate change, many of them with sizable populations of refugees and migrants.
“Our essay on climate change is a clear call for action. It is a bitter irony that many of those who feel the impacts of climate change and other environmental factors first migrate to cities within their countries, yet those same cities are also increasingly exposed to climate threats”, says Bram Frouws.
Normalisation of the extreme
The MMR 2020 provides a sobering overview of what MMC has come to label as ‘normalisation of the extreme’: policies, actions and attitudes to mixed migration that were considered unacceptable some years ago but are becoming increasingly normalised and mainstreamed.
“Even though we have also witnessed many positive developments in the past year – especially in response to Covid-19 – such as status regularization, releases from immigration detention, and ensuring access to healthcare for all, the ‘normalisation of the extreme’ list is unfortunately even longer than last year. Covid has been used as a cover to justify some of these actions. This remains very concerning”, says Bram Frouws.
The link between Covid-19 and the ‘normalization of the extreme’ can have dire consequences for some of the most marginalized persons in the world.
“When the Covid-19 pandemic was at its peak earlier this year, 168 countries globally had fully or partially closed their borders. 90 of these countries made no exception for people seeking asylum. Refugees, displaced persons and migrants are among those facing the most dire consequences of the pandemic’s secondary effects – especially when it comes to economy and rising conflict levels. Even though some of these restrictions are understandable from a health perspective, Covid-19 must not be used to deny people their fundamental right to seek asylum,” says Charlotte Slente.
“We hope, by documenting such practices and by offering reliable data and nuanced and rational analysis throughout the MMR, to create awareness and contribute to changing the narrative surrounding migration. We seek to improve responses to and policies on mixed migration, ensuring these are based on principles, values and humanityinstead of irrational and ad hoc political panic”, Bram Frouws adds.
This third publication of the annual Mixed Migration Review by the Mixed Migration Centre focuses on urban migration as the overarching theme. It offers updates on global mixed migration trends and policy events. The report also includes a series of interviews with migration experts, policy makers and academics. The MMR is based on a wide range of research as well as exclusive access to 4Mi data from over 10,000 interviews with refugees and migrants. The report also includes a series of urban voices – in-depth interviews with refugees and migrants in selected cities – and urban spotlights, mini-studies from cities all over the world to exemplify particular aspects of urban migration. By offering a platform for debate and different voices in this report, the MMC aims to contribute to a more rational and less politicised analysis of mixed migration. The MMC is a leading source for independent and high-quality data, research, analysis and expertise on mixed migration. The MMC aims to increase understanding of mixed migration, to positively impact global and regional migration policies, to inform evidence-based protection responses for people on the move and to stimulate forward thinking in public and policy debates on mixed migration. The MMC’s overarching focus is on human rights and protection for all people on the move. MMC is part of the Danish Refugee Council, but acts as an independent source of data, research, analysis and policy development.