The Athens Network Exchange
Cities and the Global Migration Crisis
Cities are uniquely positioned to learn from one another, and to adapt and replicate good ideas. We developed this document to amplify the lessons of a three-day Network Exchange organized by 100 Resilient Cities and hosted by the Municipality of Athens in September 2016. We hope these stories of leadership and successful practice will catalyze concrete action in cities that could not participate; we also hope the global market and key institutional players engage further as new resilience tools, policies, and funding mechanisms are developed.
In September 2016, the Municipality of Athens convened Chief Resilience Officers (CROs) from Amman, Athens, Los Angeles, Medellin, Paris, Montreal, Ramallah, and Thessaloniki in Athens, Greece, for a three-day Network Exchange to connect with global experts and share effective city-level practices and tools to address the common challenges of migrant integration in urban settings. Each CRO was accompanied by the city official leading migrant policy at the municipal level.
Our goal was to build on the work our cities have done, not recreate it. We discussed and learned from existing best practices, while filling in gaps with the help of additional resources, such as 100RC Platform Partners — the International Rescue Committee, MasterCard, and Esri — and subject-matter experts, including representatives of the International Organization for Migration, Welcoming America, the Brookings Institution, Mercy Corps, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The 100 Resilient Cities Network Exchange Program
Cities around the world face similar challenges but solutions don’t always scale, often forcing them to recreate work that has already been done elsewhere. The 100RC Network Exchange Program is meant to address this problem, offering CROs and their resilience teams the opportunity to share knowledge, tap into the global expertise of their peers, and connect with technical partners. CROs can then take this new knowledge, go home, and take action with it. Through the Network Exchange, cities also find opportunities to undertake joint projects in areas of mutual interest and benefit. 100RC works to share that knowledge publicly so that cities both within and outside of the 100RC Network can learn from the best thinking in resilience.
Our Resilience Living Laboratory
The living laboratory of Athens provided a powerful venue for resilience learning and collaboration. Athens currently hosts nearly 15,000 refugees and asylum seekers who rely on its services, and the informal support of the Athenian community — in a city where residents themselves struggle with a 27% national unemployment rate, which leaps to 65% among youth. As many cities find themselves severely financially constrained, Athens presents a poignant illustration of the need to prioritize solutions that address multiple challenges at once. The city also offers a compelling case for building flexible systems that can effectively respond to these types of changing conditions.
Over the last year, Athens has unexpectedly transformed from a place of transit — almost a million people came through the city in 2015 — to a de facto destination. It is difficult to predict whether Athens will remain a destination in the future, which primarily hinges on how the EU-Turkey agreement, as well as the relocation agreement between EU member states, will affect migration flows. While Athens, like many other cities, cannot accurately predict the exact nature of its future challenges, we can be certain that it must learn to adapt and face them effectively. Learning to plan for an uncertain future is critical.
The 100RC Network Exchange: Global Participation
At the Athens Network Exchange: Cities and the Global Migration Crisis we provided a forum for several cities with migrant and refugee populations to learn from one another about the practical work of settlement and integration, and the key role of migrant population policy in urban planning. To ensure the lessons from the Exchange could be applied to a wide range of contexts, we invited cities of varying sizes, geographies, and experiences.
Of the 50,000 immigrants coming to Québec each year, over 76% settle in Montreal, helping address challenges which include an aging population and a shortage of skilled workers. As a destination, Montreal presents opportunity but also challenges of culture and language.
Los Angeles, USA
37.8% of the population of the City of Los Angeles is foreign born. With 54% of Angelinos speaking a language other than English at home, the LA Resilience Team has identified linguistic isolation as a stress affecting the city’s ability to both bounce back quickly during crises and thrive in good times.
Medellin, a city of 2.2 million people, is home to 585,000 of the 8.1 million registered victims of Colombia’s long conflict. 72% of those are displaced persons from rural areas.
Since 2015, 50 to 60 migrants have arrived in Paris daily. This past autumn, the city opened its first official refugee camp to accommodate several hundred homeless asylum seekers.
In 2015, nearly 900,000 people arrived in Europe by crossing the Aegean Sea. The closure of routes into the European Union in March 2016 stranded over 61,000 people in Greece, transforming Athens — still reeling from a severe economic crisis — from a “transit city” into an “arrival city.”
The West Bank is home to nearly 775,000 registered refugees, three quarters of whom have settled in surrounding cities, towns, and villages. The rest still live in crowded camps which present great economic, social, psychological, health, and environmental challenges.
Of the 655,365 refugees registered in Jordan, nearly 181,000 are located in Amman. This influx of people, equivalent to about 10% of the country’s population, has put a strain on the city’s infrastructure and services, including education, water, transportation, and waste management.
Since 2015, Thessaloniki has served as a major transit point for migrants travelling to central Europe. Following the closure of routes into the European Union in 2016, Thessaloniki has seen a dramatic increase in the number of migrants remaining in the city, and started to shift its focus to social and economic integration.
What We Did
During the Athens Network Exchange, we shared resettlement and integration challenges our cities currently face, and innovative best practices they can adapt or from which they can learn. We investigated interdependencies between existing shocks, stresses, and assets in our cities. We visited sites and local organizations to understand how Athens is developing its response to the global refugee crisis and moving toward a more holistic, long-term integration strategy.
Day 1: Challenges
Athens’ city leadership opened the Exchange by providing context setting for the situation in Greece. Participating CROs conveyed global perspectives on the challenge. A panel featuring representatives of the migrant community and local organizations kicked off a series of site visits highlighting Athens’ interventions in Victoria Square and the Relocation Scheme Program.
Day 2: Solutions
We spent the day working in multidisciplinary groups around the themes of infrastructure, social cohesion, and economic development, to arrive at best practices and new solutions for managing urban migration while building resilience. The ideas developed through this process directly inspired the actions recommended in this document.
Day 3: What’s Next
We convened with our city teams to distill key insights and define next steps. We produced a selection of promising practices to share with mayors and the broader network, and decided to establish an ongoing Learning Community focused on cities and migration to move our collective work forward.
An Example of the Resilience Dividend in Action
Developing housing for refugees in underutilized spaces can catalyze other projects and benefits: it can address inadequate or unaffordable housing for the homeless, the elderly, and other vulnerable groups, mitigate climate change effects and improve energy security through retrofits, and beautify and revitalize abandoned neighborhoods. In this way, addressing one immediate problem can solve several at once.
→ Creates built-in capacity for future housing emergencies
→ Provides affordable housing to different vulnerable groups
→ Reduces emissions and improves energy efficiency
→ Revitalizes abandoned neighborhoods