Cities and Municipalities' inclusive responses in the face of COVID-19

How cities and mayors are fighting the pandemic while protecting persons of concern in line with the core principles of the Global Compact on Refugees.

Cities and Municipalities' inclusive responses in the face of COVID-19

How cities and mayors are fighting the pandemic while protecting persons of concern in line with the core principles of the Global Compact on Refugees.
30 July 2020
Iraqi refugee helps at a drive-thru coronavirus testing centre

Iraqui refugee, Lubab Al-Quarashi, is a supervisor at a drive-thru coronavirus testing centre in Bergenfield, New Jersey. Lubab recently received her temporary license to practice, after executive orders were passed in New Jersey (and other states including New York and Colorado) that eased licensure restrictions and allowed internationally trained doctors to aid in the pandemic response.

In the wake of Covid-19 the Mayors Migration Council (MMC) has responded in real time to create a Live Action City Tracker & Resource Hub that provides city leaders and the international community with practical tools, policy examples and resources to ensure that refugees, migrants and other vulnerable populations are included in Covid-19 responses. Launched in March 2020, the hub shows how mayors and cities, who are on the frontlines of facing and responding to the impact of the pandemic, are committing to a holistic response that ensures that all residents have access to the information, healthcare, direct services and financial support they need regardless of the language they speak or their migration status.

Most recently, the MMC launched a Global Mayors Solidarity Campaign elevating local leadership around the world to ensure an inclusive COVID-19 response and recovery effort, and calling on national and international decision-makers to: 

  • Ensure safe, equitable access to services, including healthcare and economic relief, regardless of migration status.
  • Empower migrants and refugees to be part of the response to COVID-19, including through the regularization of immigrant essential workers.
  • Combat misinformation, racism, and xenophobia to strengthen community solidarity in all COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.





One of the pillars of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) is a multi-stakeholder and partnership approach to refugee situations. While this global pandemic has had far-reaching consequences for many aspects of our lives, it has also inspired an upsurge of solidarity and cooperation among a wide range of actors. Around the world, many cities and mayors have put in place unique measures to protect all residents, receiving communities, and displaced and stateless people alike. The following illustrates three key ways that responses, targeted specifically to migrant and refugee communities in the context of the pandemic, are translating elements of the GCR into action at local levels.

1. Mobilizing communities for a better response and health-related support

The Covid-19 crisis reaffirmed the utmost importance of the inclusion of refugees and displaced persons in national health systems.

“No one is safe, until everyone is safe” - António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations


The Global Compact on Refugees calls for support for the quality and capacity of local health systems to serve refugees and host communities. Refugees are often misperceived as being a burden rather than a strength. The current pandemic shows how refugees’ knowledge and skills can contribute to the common good. Mayors and cities are now implementing policy changes that facilitate the recognition of qualifications gained elsewhere and fast-track the local integration of refugees so that they can join in the local response.  Refugees and migrants are stepping up in cities around the world, offering their services and expertise and helping alleviate the pressure on local healthcare systems.

For example, the province of Buenos Aires in Argentina is authorizing migrants from Venezuela with unvalidated professional medical degrees to work in Argentinian health care systems. This practice is expected to be expanded to other areas of Argentina following a national decree. 

France has also allowed qualified refugees who have obtained a diploma abroad and had been practicing as a doctor, dentist or pharmacists, to contribute to the public health response to Covid-19. The Council of Europe and UNHCR has strongly encouraged States to benefit from the skills and knowledge refugee health professionals can bring to support national health systems.

Ensuring sustainable and equitable access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) devices and healthcare can be a significant challenge for refugees.

In Mogadishu, Somalia, portable hand-washing stations, made locally by Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) students have been set up in public places and camps for internally displaced people across the city.

São Paulo, Brazil,  installed 100 sinks in impoverished communities and vulnerable occupations without adequate urban infrastructure.  In total, the action benefited more than 400,000 families, including migrants and refugees.  The sinks were donated by Florescer Brasil, a socially responsible company that works to promote universal access to water and sanitation for communities across Brazil.

San Diego Democratic City Leaders have urged immigrants and refugees to seek medical attention if needed. All residents in San Diego, as in many other cities around the globe, irrespective of status, will also have access to food, unemployment insurance and paid family leave, amongst many other things.

“No one should be afraid of going to the doctor and seeking medical care if they need it" - Nathan Fletcher, San Diego County Supervisor  


2. Securing food, housing, and financial support

In these times, persons of concern can be among the most vulnerable, but in cities, some relief has been brought through food, housing and financial support, increasing protection capacity and enhancing refugees’ self-reliance.

In keeping with the Global Compact on Refugees, States and cities have worked to address challenges relating to accommodation, water, sanitation and hygiene, infrastructure, food assistance, and environmental challenges in or near refugee hosting areas during the pandemic.

In the Global Compact on Refugees, States have agreed to address challenges relating to accommodation, water, sanitation and hygiene, infrastructure and environmental challenges in or near refugee hosting areas.

Bristol, UK, took more than 300 homeless people into emergency accommodation following a national government call to provide emergency housing. Within this group were several migrants and asylum seekers with a “No Recourse to Public Funds” status, which prevents them from accessing mainstream state support. Bristol therefore set up a “One City Task Force” made up of representatives from Local Government, civil society, and others to identify the necessary support and longer-term pathways for everyone in emergency accommodation, including migrants and those seeking asylum.

In Sao Paulo, the city established a Connect the Dots Project (Projeto Ligue os Pontos, in Portuguese) to bridge the gap between farmers, cooks, and families in need of food. This project identified rural farmers in São Paulo struggling to sell their produce, connected them with refugee and migrant kitchen workers to produce meals, and then distributed those meals to families in need across São Paulo. To produce the meals, the programme targets and trains historically excluded groups, including people who are transgender, marginalized women, and refugees and migrants.

In Kerala, India, Community Kitchens were opened. This ensures food is distributed to all those in need during the lockdown and provides one-month free ration of essentials for every family. More details on what the Kerala State Government is doing during the pandemic can be found here.

Cities and mayors are taking encouraging steps to include asylum seekers, refugees, and persons of concern in their communities and some have eased or removed restrictions on non-residents. This not only promotes inclusion and  local integration, but also fosters good relations amongst communities and peaceful coexistence.

The New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, USA, announced a partnership with Open Society Foundations to establish an emergency relief program (New York City Covid-19 Immigrant Emergency Relief program) to ensure that all New Yorkers, regardless of status, are included in the city’s response and receive the support they need. This direct, one-time emergency relief payment will be made through a community network that will also provide other forms of assistance, including cash assistance, unemployment support, and emergency food delivery programs.

3. Efficient, targeted and multilingual information sharing

In this pandemic, sharing accurate information rapidly is key.  Many cities and mayors have developed guides and websites available in multiple languages. These not only cover how to protect oneself during the pandemic, but also highlight available resources to help refugees and other people who are displaced or stateless. Local actors such as cities and mayors are often first responders and, as described in the Global Compact on Refugees (para 37), participate fully in the burden and responsibility sharing approach.

In Los Angeles, USA, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs issued a collection of resources in multiple languages for migrants and refugees living in LA, including information about COVID-19, public charge (a “test” used by national immigration officials to decide whether a noncitizen will likely rely on the government for support), food, health, education, workers’ rights, consumer rights, immigrant rights, housing, business, and more.

In Nuremberg (Germany), a mobile guide, Integreat” is being used to share COVID-19 related information in seven languages (German, English, French, Arabic, Farsi, Russian and Amharic) with refugees and migrants. It is being used by over 60 municipalities in Germany, with the information being tailored to specific local needs. This guide was, and is, also used as an integration tool, sharing detailed information about education, shelter, everyday life, and culture.


Screenshot from the Integreat website


These examples highlight the role cities, municipalities, and local authorities can play in shaping refugee-inclusive policies and translating the spirit of the Compact into concrete action. COVID-19 has accelerated steps to include migrants and refugees in city-led initiatives around the world. In times of crisis, it is vital for urban leaders to ensure no one is left behind.

This article was written in partnership with the Mayors Migration Council.


Share a good practice

In the Global Compact on Refugees, networks of cities and municipalities hosting refugees are called on to share good practices and innovative approaches. On this platform, you can share your experience, knowledge, and learning. This allows for a growing community to learn from one another, be inspired, and find practical solution to common challenges.


Contact information for the Mayors Migration Council


What is the MMC?
The Mayors Migration Council (MMC) is an initiative created to give a voice to cities on the international scene. Mayor-led, this initiative aims to empower and enables cities with access, capacity, knowledge, and connections to engage in migration diplomacy and policymaking at a national, regional, and international level. The MMC helps ensure that the global response to migrant and refugee issues reflects and addresses the realities on the ground.
During the first Global Refugee Forum in December 2019, States, local authorities, and other stakeholders came together to share good practices and make pledges and contributions towards reaching the objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees. The cities of Bristol, UK; Milan, Italy; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Strasbourg, France  made pledges to implement through GCR and Global Compact for Migration through the Call of Local Action on Migration, developed by the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) Mayors Mechanism an effort co-steered  by the MMC, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG),  and International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Find out more about the pledges made at the GRF on the dashboard.