Cities do not exist in a vacuum. While some of the challenges we face in Bristol are local issues within our control, many more are the products of wider national and international dysfunction. And so if we’re going to be serious about tackling them, we have to be prepared to get outside the city boundaries and engage with the wider world.
That’s what I’ve been doing this weekend at the first Leadership Board meeting of the Mayor’s Migration Council. The Mayor’s Migration Council is a new initiative to help cities become more influential at the international level on issues related to migration. The Leadership Board is made up of 12 Mayors from all over the world, who come together to help guide the work of the organisation. Sitting alongside my colleagues from Los Angeles, Sao Paolo, Kampala, Amman and elsewhere, it is striking how much we have in common. We are all aiming for the same thing – creating an inclusive city that values and unlocks the contribution of all of its residents. We are all facing many of the same practical challenges in making this vision a reality – affordable housing, access to education, issues with skills recognition and access to good quality work. And most of us are also facing the political challenge of a rising tide of nationalism and intolerance, with national-level demagogues trying to whip up fear of the other, with migrants and refugees bearing the brunt.
It has also been instructive to think through some of our different contexts, and how we can better work together to become more than the sum of our parts. For example, it can be easy to slip into a discussion which is all about being a ‘welcoming city’, with an assumption that our cities are migrant destinations, when for places like Freetown in Sierra Leone the challenge is about how to stop their young people from leaving. Some of our discussions this weekend have been about what it might look like for ‘sending cities’ to find common cause with ‘transit cities’ and ‘destination cities’ to advance our shared values and goals for migrants and host communities alike.
But the discussions have not just been about how cities can work with each other. We’ve also made good progress in planning for how cities can have a great impact on the international stage, particularly through the Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees. For these Compacts to come to life, city voices need to be at the table alongside national governments, bringing their expertise and providing a platform for a more effective use of resources than our current systems allow for. It’s particularly exciting to see these conversations advance beyond the progress we made at the Global Parliament of Mayors Summit in Bristol last October, which saw the first mass commitment by city leaders to enacting the Compacts at the local level.
We’ve also been thinking about how we can best work with our national governments and hold them to account for their responsibilities to migrants and refugees. In Bristol this means continued work on the Lift the Ban campaign to give asylum seekers the right to work, as well as continuing to call for a complete rethinking of the ‘Hostile Environment’ and the way it continues to drive so many innocent people into destitution and despair. Engaging at the international level gives us new avenues to pursue these issues and press for the UK to adopt a more humane and inclusive approach to immigration policy.
Initiatives like the Mayor’s Migration Council give me hope that we can make real progress on these and many more issues. By working alongside other cities from around the world, we can find new ways to increase our collective power on the world stage, and in doing so create tangible improvements for migrants, refugees and all of us here in Bristol.
*The Mayor of Bristol was invited to attend this event in New York by the Mayors Migration Council (MMC). All flights, accommodation and expenses have been covered by the MMC.