Three lessons about cities and refugees, according to experts

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Last week, as world leaders gathered in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, scores of Rohingya Muslims took flight from Myanmar, seeking safety from ethnic violence. About half of all Syrians remain displaced by the conflict there, more than five million of them abroad.

Against this backdrop, Brookings convened a conversation on the role of local leaders in addressing the needs of refugees, as well as host communities. The session featured Former Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Alex Aleinikoff; Deputy Mayor Lefteris Papagiannakis of Athens; Vice Mayor Ann-Margarethe Livh of Stockholm; Lord Mayor Marvin Rees of Bristol; and State Secretary Wolfgang Schmidt of Hamburg.
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From the discussion, a number of themes emerged.
First, when it comes to addressing the needs of displaced people and the communities that host them, local authorities are critical actors. That’s because so many of the engines of integration — housing, school, skills training, and social services — are designed, delivered, and financed at the local level
Many of the engines of integration — housing, school, skills training, and social services — are designed, delivered, and financed at the local level.

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Today only about 30% of the world’s refugees reside in camps. The rest seek safety in rural settlements, and crucially, in cities – where many live a marginal existence. Second, cities are not just governments; they are networks of public and private sector leaders and institutions that include philanthropies, universities, and businesses. “There’s a power network there,” Rees observed. That network – its energy and dynamism – can be leveraged to design and implement constructive interventions.
Third, cities are fast learners. When one city innovates, others begin to adapt and tailor solutions that work to suit their own contexts. Rees continued: “the quick to learn, nimble, governance of cities… is a place that we can go to find new kinds of ideas to respond …

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