Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and Benedetto Zacchiroli, President of the European Coalition of Cities against Racism (ECCAR), launched an initiative on “Welcoming Cities for Refugees: Promoting Inclusion and Protecting Rights” with a roundtable at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 9 May 2016.

UNESCO, the Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation and ECCAR work hand in hand to bring a shift of focus about, moving away from the negative perceptions of refugees and migrants to the assets and advantages generated by human mobility. This relates inter alia to demographic trends in many European countries and their need to receive an additional working force to support development and growth.

For Marianna V. Vardinoyannis “responding to the ongoing refugee and migration crises is first and foremost a matter of human dignity”. For her Foundation this partnership is an extension of the “We Care” programme which provides, in cooperation with Greek municipalities, basic medical care, vaccines and psychological support to children of refugees.

The current situation of refugees in Europe “…touches the core foundation of our humanity, our capacity to express empathy, to show solidarity”, said Irina Bokova in her opening statement.

Research carried out by Patrick Taran, President of the Global Migration Policy Associates, within the framework of this partnership, further underlines that the current situation of refugees in Europe is a crisis of perception and values. Data provided by ECCAR member cities (Graz, Malmö, Uppsala, Erlangen, Karlsruhe, Metz, Rotterdam, Barcelona, Ghent, Bologna, Esch-sur-Alzette) and other findings prove this point.

The roundtable addressed the role of culture in promoting inclusion and changing negative stereotypes about refugees. A prerequisite for such a shift is to recognize the diversity of cultural identities but also their fluid and evolving nature. Public spaces like museums, libraries and exhibition premises are ideal settings to stimulate cultural exchange and foster convergences between newcomers and inhabitants of a receiving community. Interaction among people may cause friction but can also trigger understanding and rapprochement. Media has clearly a critical role to play in this respect. The language used by media should contribute to inclusion and the eradication of stereotypes, and bring to the fore the human side of the predicaments of migrants and refugees.

Panellists of the roundtable were Susanne Asche, head of Cultural Affairs Department, City of Karlsruhe (Germany), Parvati Nair, director of UNU Institute on Globalization, Culture and Mobility, and Ralf Gruenert, UNHCR representative in France.

In concluding the event, Benedetto Zacchiroli insisted on the role of cities to help those who flee war “…to continue dreaming, to build their dreams inside a community… “” while Marianna Vardinoyannis made an appeal: “We have to respond without closed borders. We have to open our minds and our hearts”.

Experts and city representatives will gather in Athens (Greece), in November 2016, to develop policy and action recommendations and contribute to the elaboration of guidance instruments for municipal authorities and city level actors.

Keynote text


Launch Conference


May 9, 2016

By Patrick Taran, President, GMPA

The “refugee crisis,” interchangeably called the “migrant crisis,” has been relentless fodder for news media, political debate and public attention in Europe over the last year. But the “crisis” is much more one of perception –and of values—than of reality. Refugee arrivals and migration are permanent features of the European story, and the stories of European cities. Cities have long been “ground zero” for arriving refugees and migrants.

In 2015, Europe countries faced a dramatic increase in the number of refugees arriving in irregular situations, over one million persons. European countries[1] registered 1,392,610 applications for asylum –some arrived in regular situations—more than double the 626,000 asylum applications registered in 2014.

However, let’s put these figures in perspective! Annual immigration arrivals to EU member countries have been consistently above 3 million over the last decade; 3.4 million in 2013[2], the last year for which data is available. Overall, more than half now originate from outside the EU; a large proportion are immigrants from other EU states. While net immigration is less –about one million a year (accounting for emigration departures)—the reality is that migration has been a substantial, long and constant feature of Europe. Today, perhaps more than ever, Europe needs migrants for economic, skills, labour and demographic reasons.

The reality is that 10 to 20% of work forces of Western Europe are “issue de l’immigration” as the French put it. The figures for cities of Europe are perhaps more dramatic. Take quintessentially Austrian Vienna, where 49 and a half percent of the population is foreign born, or has at least one foreign born parent. The figure is fully 50% for Rotterdam. The dozen cities large and small replying to our survey noted 15 to 40% –or more– foreign origin populations.


In 2013, 71% of non-EU nationals in EU Member States were engaged in economic activities.[3] The rate of labor market participation was higher for non-citizens than citizens in the Mediterranean and Eastern European Member States as well as Luxembourg. That is contrary to contemporary European mythology.

Migration is maintaining the viability of European construction, health care, hotel, restaurant and tourism, agriculture and other sectors. It meets growing demand for skills and promotes entrepreneurship. Remittances, skills transfers, investments, and trade are enhancing development across Europe and other countries. Migration is key to viability, indeed the very survival of Europe’s developed economies.

But we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Within 15 years, the majority of the world’s countries and populations will be in serious work force decline. Many already are.[4] Fertility rates in some 122 of 224 recognized countries and political territories are at or well below zero population growth; this includes all of Europe.[5] Germany will lose 5 million members of its work force in the next fifteen years. Italy’s work force will decline by some 3 million by 2030. The Russian Federation has lost 10 million since 2000. A study shows that Switzerland will need 400,000 additional workers by 2030. Most dramatic is the anticipated decline of China’s workforce by some 100 million people in the next 30 years.

Over coming years, these countries face increasing departures from the work force uncompensated by decreasing numbers of youth entrants. This means increasingly ‘globalized’ demand – and competition for the most crucial economic resource of all: trained skills at all levels. No country today can form or train workers with the entire range and number of evolving professional, technical and vocational skills needed to perform the ever more complex work performed on its territory. This drives a constantly increasing, international mobility of talent, competencies and labour at all skill levels.


The global skills crisis is critical and global. A forecasting study by the McKenzie Global Institute estimated that the global shortage of high skilled and trained technical skills may reach 85 million by 2020.[6] 38 to 40 million skilled workers with tertiary education will be lacking, especially in developed countries and notably across Europe. Another 45 million will be missing with technical, vocational and scientific skills needed by employers –this within five years. Already employers around the world complain that they cannot fill one in three jobs on offer with the needed level of skills.


Supply side pressures

Pressures for labour displacement and emigration from countries North and South remain intense; in some situations they have significantly intensified in the last five years. The war and conflict driven exodus of millions from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen have overshadowed the bigger, long term mobility trends, particularly because of the more than a million persons in refugee circumstances arriving in Europe over the last year.


However, a main factor in countries across Africa and Asia remains the absence of jobs and decent work in countries with growing youth populations. Job creation remains flat while youthful populations are increasing. Meanwhile, financial crises and austerity measures have devastated national economies as well as social protection systems even in Europe, and have resulted in youth unemployment rates of 50% in several countries. New waves of emigration, especially of young skilled workers, have departed from Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain – a significant number to cities elsewhere in Europe.

Additional Challenges for Cities

Yes, the large increase in refugee arrivals in a number of European countries resulted in significant additional challenges for all levels of government. But the challenges of refugee displacement and migration also present opportunities for the future of dynamic and vibrant cities. As «Cities of Migration» puts it, “The twin forces of urbanisation and global migration have created a rich field of action and experimentation in cities around the world on integration strategies for migrants. The success of many of these cities is to a large extent tied to their success in actualising the hopes and dreams of the thousands of migrants… When they succeed, the result can be a strong economy and a vibrant ‘cosmopolis’, when they fail, the result can be poverty, segregation and social tension.”[7]

Cities in Europe and elsewhere have critical responsibilities to address the multiple challenges generated by arriving refugees and migrants. The challenges of meeting human rights and public services obligations falls most heavily on local government, which must assure adequate shelter, food, health care, education, water, sanitation, public safety, transportation and other facilities for all residents, as well as provide skills assessment and employment services to assist refugees and other migrants in becoming self-supporting.

All branches, departments and services of city government –indeed of regional and national government—are involved in providing these services. However, local governments highlight that they generally receive little or no support to meet these consequences of national policies and international events.


The challenges for local government are exacerbated by prejudices and rising xenophobic reactions against refugees and migrants. Discrimination and often violent hostility are encouraged by populist discourse and fear mongering on the part of some political figures and parties, along with negative representation of refugees and migration in news media. As Eurocities put it, many cities are affected by two related trends:[8]

1. austerity policies and budget cuts at local and/or national level, leading to scarcer resources to fund social policies, including integration policies, and

2. an anti-migrant backlash in the context of the global economic crisis, which some political parties have put at the core of their agenda.


Opportunities for strengthening cities may be difficult to realize in situations characterised as crises. Wider perspective, support and shared experience are crucial. The European Coalition of Cities against Racism (ECCAR) 2015 General Conference in Karlsruhe, city members expressed unwavering commitment to tackling the situation with an “anti-racist welcoming culture”.[9]


The Initiative

To assist, offer guidance and facilitate exchange of approaches and experience, the UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova launched this morning the UNESCO-ECCAR initiative “Welcoming Cities for Refugees in Europe.” The initiative intends to:

  • Achieve shared understanding of roles and approaches of cities in facilitating the reception and eventual integration of refugees and other migrants as well as upholding social cohesion;
  • Map legal, policy and practical approaches to the involvement of cities with refugees and migrants;
  • Identify relevant city governance responsibilities, tasks, and concerned institutions;
  • Scope available/potentially available resources to empower and support municipal authorities;
  • Compile relevant «good practice» examples; and
  • Articulate recommendations on actions and approaches to achieve effective, holistic city governance regarding refugee and migrant reception, integration and social cohesion.


The starting point was a substantial survey of cities participating in ECCAR. So far 12 cities in ten countries have responded with data regarding refugee and migrant presence; city policy and practice; specific services provided for refugees and migrants; and identification of challenges and good practices.


Responses have been received from Barcelona, Bologna, Erlangen (Germany), Eshe-sur-Alzette (Luxembourg), Ghent (Belgium), Graz, Karlsruhe, Malmö, Metz (France), Rotterdam, and Uppsala plus a relevant report from Lisbon. Responding cities ranged in size from 22,000 to 1.6 million. Most reported foreign born populations of 16% to 40% of their totals, while Eshe-sur-Alzette noted over 55% and Rotterdam indicated 50% foreign-born or with one or both parents foreign-born.


Housing and urban habitat planning were highlighted as a major challenge by most. One report mentions that often migrants live in overcrowded housing in the peripheries “which greatly affects their capacity to integrate into society and realize themselves as full citizens.”[10]


A major related issue is that while localities have to meet needs of significant numbers of recent arrivals, there is little or no financial support from regional and national government.


Most cities have established a specialized service or department for city policy and action on refugee and migrant arrivals and integration.


Nearly all cities reported specific actions in areas of health, housing, schooling, and employment/job-seeking. Some also are addressing nutrition and several also noted specific attention to leisure activity.


All reporting cities highlighted new initiatives to meet challenges of recent refugee arrivals:

  • Barcelona launched its “Refuge City” plan last September to gear up for receiving and assisting refugees, providing necessary services and guaranteeing their rights, with the goal of equipping Barcelona with its own permanent, comprehensive reception model.
  • In Ghent, the mayor instigated meetings with adjacent local authorities to avoid misunderstandings between administrations. The city recruited new staff for community and welfare coordination, for sensitization and communication, and for housing coordination focusing on asylum seekers.
  • Graz set up a task force group with members from different city departments; it organized housing infrastructure with the regional government; it invited citizens living around refugee accommodations to information events; it expanding German lessons and took special measures for unaccompanied minors.
  • The city of Karlsruhe established a special fund to support voluntary initiatives and the mayor held two big community information meetings for citizens.
  • Malmö stepped up its emergency planning in autumn 2015 when a large number of unaccompanied children arrived, to solve urgent challenges including housing.
  • Rotterdam established a special Program ‘Basis op Orde’ and subsidised refugee care.
  • The Uppsala Executive Board adopted an overall strategic plan covering five areas: coordinating activities and resources; housing/accommodation; schooling and information; reception and employment; and leisure activities and social inclusion. The city started the “Family Friend” initiative encouraging inhabitants to make personal contributions to facilitate social inclusion and integration of the newly arrived.


What’s at Stake?

World attention is currently focused on the dramatic situation of millions of persons driven from their countries or displaced internally by devastating warfare in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Libya –fuelled by arms and military interventions from European countries and elsewhere. Yet, as important as they are, refugees and asylum seekers today are a relatively small proportion of international migration, about 25 million of the global ‘migrant’ population of 244 million.


What may be more important is that migration is sustaining the world of work in the Twenty-First Century. Over 90 percent of all migration –including refugee movements—is bound up in employment and economic activity outcomes. To show what I mean, ILO calculated that 150 million of the 232 million people – including refugees – living outside their countries of birth or origin in 2013 were economically active.[11] That represents nearly all adults of working age.

Migration today is central to the viability of labour markets worldwide. Foreign-born workers comprise 10-15% of labour forces in Western European countries, 30% in Switzerland.[12] Proportions are far higher in many European cities, where migration is rejuvenating the workforces. For example, around 50% of the populations of Rotterdam and Vienna are foreign born or have at least one foreign-born parent. 20% of the German work force is foreign origin. In 2013, 71.4% of non-EU nationals in EU Member States were engaged in economic activities.[13] Furthermore, the rate of labor market participation was actually higher for non-citizens than citizens in the Mediterranean and Eastern European Member States as well as Luxembourg. Contrary to common myths, these rates show a high level of economic participation of migrants in European countries.

Migration is maintaining the viability of European agriculture, construction, health care, hotel, restaurant and tourism and other sectors. It meets growing demand for skills, and promotes entrepreneurship. Migrant remittances, skills transfers, investments, and trade are enhancing development in both European and other countries. The viability, indeed the very survival of Europe’s developed economies depends on migration.

Key challenges for city governance

The experience of cities across Europe and elsewhere highlights overarching challenges for city governance:


1. The bottom line need for protection

I referred earlier to the so-called refugee crisis being in reality a crisis of values…of expressed European values. Coming from long experience–and personal family history—with refugees, I cannot help but wonder what values are represented in setting up a NATO blockade against desperate displaced people, asking UN authorization to sink boats, and sending refugees back from beaches to the front lines, when they’ve fled a country where every city looks like Dresden in 1944.


The starting premise for this discussion, this process is that every person, every citizen, every refugee, every migrant is first and foremost as a human being. Every one of us is entitled to and indeed needs full protection of human rights, dignity and welfare.

Most of us live in cities. Most refugees arrive sooner or later to cities. Ensuring public health for the entire community, schooling for every child, requires everyone “in town” to be recognized and entitled to basic services.

Whatever national policy may be and whatever populist rhetoric may say, exclusion of anyone in the city from healthcare, schooling, housing is a recipe for disaster.


2. Public Services for all

A fundamental challenge for local government administration is to address the real needs for services, support and integration of newcomer populations. People new to a city or a country need information and orientation. No-one learns instantly a new language so newcomers need information in other languages. That puts language and civics instruction high on the list.


Everyone needs the basic services that city governments organize: schooling, healthcare, access to housing, transportation to work, police protection, social protection, maternity support, etc.

Most go to work –or want to go to work—as soon as they can. This includes children once they reach adulthood and refugees when they obtain work authorization. They need assistance in recognition of credentials and qualifications, skills retraining or adaptation, and job matching support.


3. Change, Diversity and Destabilization

Migration changes the ethnic, racial, cultural, linguistic and religious composition of societies and communities worldwide. But change and diversity don’t often ‘come naturally,’ all the more so when established populations find public services disappearing, jobs becoming less stable, affordable housing more scarce, cost of living rising, and so on. Without assertive public information and education, it is easy for disaffected locals to believe political harangues and news coverage suggesting connections between foreigners and unemployment, crime, scarce housing, deteriorating health care, inflation, traffic congestion, etc.


The reality is that immigration tends to expand employment and create jobs, lower crime rates, revitalize decaying neighbourhoods and expand national production and growth. A huge challenge is how to sustain social cohesion in hostile environments.


Manifestations of anti-foreigner sentiments, incidents of violence and publicly-voiced accusations that refugees and migrants steal jobs and increase crime pose visible challenges to social cohesion and the protection of all, and require deliberate government discourse and action to prevent.


4. Discrimination, Equality, Integration

Discrimination –unjustified differential treatment– prevents equal opportunity, provokes conflict within the population and undermines social cohesion. Discrimination reinforces attitudes that constrain certain identifiable groups to marginalized roles and poor conditions. The results of consistent denial of employment opportunities, relegation to ghettos, lack of education or training opportunities, absence of police protection, and multiple discrimination in community life are exclusion and ultimately, breakdown of social cohesion.


Discrimination has a double impact on refugee and migrant women. Gender segregated labour markets contribute to discriminatory employment in countries of destination, resulting in high levels of abuse and exploitation of women refugees and migrants. Anti-discrimination and equality of treatment measures are prerequisite foundations for integration policy. Respect for the diversity of cultures, opinions and religious beliefs provides the setting that ensures the dignity of each person and the recognition of their abilities, two key aspects of well-being and hence of social cohesion.


The European Commission established a useful and appropriate definition of integration relevant everywhere:

[I]ntegration should be understood as a two-way process based on mutual rights and corresponding obligations of legally resident third country nationals [foreigners] and the host society which provides for full participation of the immigrant. This implies on the one hand that it is the responsibility of the host society to ensure that the formal rights of immigrants are in place in such a way that the individual has the possibility of participating in economic, social, cultural and civil life and on the other, that immigrants respect the fundamental norms and values of the host society and participate actively in the integration process, without having to relinquish their own identity (EU, 2003).


The future of migration has arrived in Europe’s cities. It brings urgent, complex challenges for all administrations. These challenges and opportunities can be met effectively and justly. Doing so requires proper knowledge, application of the rule of law, engaging the best principles of public administration, and implementing effective practices. To support that happening is what this initiative we launch today is all about.

* * *

Patrick Taran,

President, Global Migration Policy Associates

[email protected]

[1] Countries of the European Union + Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

[2] “During 2013, there were an estimated 1.7 million immigrants to the EU-28 from non-member countries. In addition, 1.7 million people previously residing in one EU Member State migrated to another Member State.” See:

[4] For a corporate view on the phenomena, see Ernst & Young online report: “Six global trends shaping the business world: Demographic shifts transform the global workforce”

[5] This and following figures drawn from the on-line CIA World Factbook, Country Comparison: Total Fertility Rate(s) at Note: 2.1 to 2.2 children per woman is considered the ‘replacement rate’ of zero population growth, below which population will decline.

[6] McKenzie Global Institute: 2012. The World at Work: Jobs, Pay and Skills for 3.5 Billion People. See Download summary and full text from that page.

[7] Cities of Migration.

[8] Eurocities. Cities and Migrants II: implementing the EUROCITIES Integrating Cities Charter. 2nd Report December 2015

[9] ECCAR’s general conference in Karlsruhe 2015 “Welcoming Cities”. Final Declaration, available at:

[10] Teressa Juswiak, Elaine McGregor, Melissa Siegel. Migrant and Refugee Integration in Global Cities: The Role of Cities and Businesses. The Hague Process on Refugees and Migration (THP), 2014.

[11] ILO, Global estimates on migrant workers: results and methodology. International Labour Office. Geneva, 2015

[12] Relevant figures for most EU countries and “immigration countries” mentioned are found in the OECD International Migration Outlook: SOPEMI 2011 Statistical Annex

[13] Eurostat, “Migrant Integration Statistics – Employment,” data from May 2014, available at