Integration is a People Process

April 22nd, 2016

Jill Helke, Director, International Partnerships at the International Organization for Migration, addressed the 3rd International Cities of Migration Conference in Toronto on the theme, “Migrants and Cities – New Partnerships to Manage Mobility.” Drawing on the IOM’s long experience in managing human mobility, Helke reflected on the new ‘urban’ development paradigm, sharing lessons from cities as disparate as Mogadishu, Palermo and Athens, and New York, Gaziantep and Quito.

Jill Helke: “Migrants and Cities : New Partnerships to Manage Mobility” – Toronto, March 2, 2016

Helke believes local action on immigrant integration and refugee settlement can inspire a shift in policy and practice at the national level, making a compelling case for “whole-of-government” approaches: “National policies that align with the needs and capacities of local authorities can provide the systemic conditions for effective policy implementation.”

Helke includes some key observations on the links between cities and migration [summary]:

  • Cities as dynamic points of contact. One in 5 migrants world-wide lives in the world’s largest cities, and global mobility is creating new cities of migration every day. Whether for work, safety, education or family, cities are where migrants first come into contact with their new host country. Cities are also where migrants most often settle if or when they return to their countries of origin, bringing with new ideas, skills and tastes.
  • Local authorities as leaders on migration policy and planning. Migration towards cities will continue over the coming decades – including significant population flows triggered by conflicts, disasters, climate change and other shock. Municipal authorities are ideally situated to strengthen their capacities and establish mechanisms to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from urban crises. Let’s study and strengthen area-based responses to crises.
  • Migrants as bridge builders in urban planning and development – at home and abroad. Evidence-based approaches, comprehensive urban planning and sound integration policies can result in a “triple win” scenario, simultaneously offering benefits for the migrant, the country of destination and the country of origin.
  • Local leaders as changemakers. The immense potential and contributions of migrants — and the proven benefits — can balance and ultimately drown out negative perceptions about immigration. While overall discourse on migration tends to be set at the top, local leadership and community actors often play the largest role in promoting positive perceptions toward migration and migrants.
  • The private sector has an important role to play. Whether as donors, experts in ethical recruitment and labour supply chain management, or as employers, businesses see value in recruiting skilled migrants and enhancing employee motivation, building new and extending current markets, and ensuring current and future brand loyalty.


Jill Helke: Concluding remarks:

“Integration is not an intellectual process, nor is it some abstract concept that can be reduced to fulfilment of administrative requirements, however important these may be. Integration is a people process – it is felt, breathed and lived in an immediate and personal way, both from the point of view of the migrant and that of the local community. Workplaces, shopping centres, schools, places of worship, community centres and local government offices are the social crucibles where, under the best circumstances, the “alchemy of integration” occurs. Unfortunately, it is also true that under the worst of circumstances, integration can fail, and when it does, the costs are borne on all sides – communities of origin, destination and migrants.

It is therefore important that local governments develop social inclusion policies aimed at providing better living conditions for migrants, thereby promoting more cohesive societies. Migration needs to be included in local development plans. IOM’s latest World Migration Report provides the evidence base for well-managed migration, and the recent Conference on Migrants and Cities clarified the scope and applications of these recommendations. Together, these offer the evidence base and relevant recommendations to comprehensively address ongoing concerns and raise awareness of migration in the contexts of urban planning and development.

This is a starting point for well-governed migration. But what is most important is that migrants should and must be part of the urbanization project; their views and voices should be heard. We must continually ask how best to enable migrants to unleash their potential, how to engage their resources, skills and ideas, to build and revitalize cities. Leadership is key – and not just words, but evident conviction and commitment that infect others with enthusiasm, positive perceptions and engagement, and that spur them to actions.

Congratulations to Canada and to Toronto for having such leaders.”

Video: Watch the full keynote.

Read the transcript [PDF].

More on COM2016 programme and speakers.

Source: 3rd International Cities of Migration Conference, Toronto, March 2, 2016: “Diversity Drives Prosperity.” Presented by the Global Diversity Exchange at Ryerson University, COM2016 convened local government and community leaders, practitioners, experts, activists and policy-makers for a one-day forum and in-depth analysis of the issues and opportunities created by today’s global flows of migration.

COM2016 was a preconference of the 18th National Metropolis, Toronto, March 3-5, 2016, co-hosted by the Association for Canadian Studies.



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