Research calls on governments to enhance migrant access to urban infrastructures

Heidi Pullig

Dr. Jonathan Rock Rokem, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Kent, and colleagues from KTH Royal Institute of Technology, University College London, Coventry University, and Freie Universität, in collaboration with public authorities and local municipalities in Berlin, London and Stockholm have released the MAPURBAN project recommendations – in a report which highlights tensions between the local and national government policies on migration and urban planning across the three cities.

By comparing major themes of interest, such as the use and accessibility of public transport and public spaces, for migrant arrival and settlement, the report adds new insights and holds important lessons about the need to foster better coordination and cooperation of migration policies and provision infrastructures across different political institutional scales. Tailored for policy makers and practitioners working in the field of migration and urban planning, the report showcases a process of mutual learning – within and beyond the three selected urban contexts.

Dr Rock Rokem said: ‘Cities have always attracted people from elsewhere – they are in fact the product of migration – and without migrants, cities would not exist. Many cities have established more progressive policies regarding immigrants, however, some cities within the EU and nation states often continue to create hostile environments for migrants and refugees – leading to a shift in urban policies addressing migration.

‘The cities within MAPURBAN report were selected for their different and rich histories of migration with diverse integration policies. It distinguishes between differences in newcomers’ access to public urban resources. Taken together, we argue that the existence of and accessibility to arrival infrastructures can have a strong impact on newly arriving people’s participation in society and in expanding their ‘right to the city’.

‘The findings also foster an understanding of the unequal life conditions of different groups, allowing for strategies and policies for increased co-responsibility between municipalities, existing communities, and migrant groups in areas with new and old ‘layers of diversity’.’

The MAPURBAN project illuminates the current provisions made for migrants with housing, education & language, mobility & social interaction, and health care, across the three locations, and makes recommendations for each individual city, as well as combined recommendations for all three urban contexts and further afield.

Across the three cities, the report highlights issues such as accommodation challenges, which pose difficulties for newly arriving people where there is a limited housing market. While all three cities handle this differently, it highlights that public officials must consider urban planning policies that provide long-term accommodation for refugees moving away from temporary shelters and hotels, to decentralised housing solutions with equal living standards.

It also recommends the provision of official language courses for migrants upon arrival with a certificate at the end to help tackle barriers in place for newly arriving refugees to learn the native language. In London specifically, Dr Rock Rokem and his team advocate for an increase in legal education to help refugees to overcome language barriers, and in turn, provide better opportunities for future employment.

Dr Rock Rokem added: ‘At the time of writing the report, the UK government released policies regarding immigration enforcement. These policies create additional challenges, leaving vulnerable people without access to essential services. The policies will risk undermining its intended aim of preventing irregular migration.

‘The MUPURBAN report provides new knowledge to inform government strategies towards urban migration. It is our aim that the learnings from this research are adopted by policy makers to help to re-frame immigrant integration as a multi-scalar (national, urban and local) process that contributes to sustainable urban development.’

The full report ‘Migrant Access to Public Urban Infrastructures’ is available here.

The MAPURBAN project was funded in the UK by the JPI Urban Europe Urban Migration call and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).