European Cities on the Front Line: New and Emerging Governance Models for Migrant Inclusion

Developed in partnership between the Migration Policy Institute Europe and the International Organization for Migration, a new report, European Cities on the Front Line: New and emerging governance models for migrant inclusion, explores how local and regional authorities and administrations across Europe have navigated providing migrants and refugees access to public services and have supporting their broader inclusion. It focuses on cities and smaller towns in Southern as well as Central and Eastern Europe that are facing particularly difficult situations, such as high levels of spontaneous arrivals, restrictive national policies, strained economies, limited integration experience, and a weak and/or thinly spread service infrastructure.

Across Europe, migration issues have dominated national and EU-level debates in recent years. But it is at the local level that migration-related challenges – from overcrowding in housing to pressures on public services – come to the fore. The rapid surge in mixed migration in 2015-2016 thrust many local authorities across Europe into emergency mode, forcing them to find ways to address the needs of vulnerable groups, including refugees with a range of physical and mental-health conditions and unaccompanied children. Often, localities faced these challenges amidst tight budgets, existing pressures on housing and labour markets, and intensified public scrutiny of and political polarization around migration and integration policies.

"Cities face the challenge of designing services capable of meeting the needs of diverse groups, including immigrants with varying legal statuses and associated access to public services, to reduce the risk that they fall through the gaps of support systems", said the report’s author, MPI Europe Policy Analyst Liam Patuzzi. "Yet, they must do so without fuelling accusations that newcomers are “jumping the queue” amid rising xenophobia and anxiety over competition for scarce resources."

Drawing from interviews with government officials, public service providers, migrant organisations, social enterprises and the private sector in communities in Austria, Greece, Italy, Malta, Poland, Romania and Spain, the report offers several recommendations to improve the governance of migrant and refugee integration, including:

  1. Make migrant inclusion a credible whole-of-community issue. Highlighting the cross-cutting relevance of immigrant integration allows localities to better coordinate support across policy areas—from housing and education to employment and health care.
  2. Promote inclusive partnerships with civil society. Strong collaboration between local authorities and non-governmental entities is a key factor for the success of local integration governance, especially where budgets are thin and city hall lacks expertise in migration-specific issues.
  3. Involve immigrants in local democratic processes in ways that are meaningful. Municipal migrant councils have become widespread across Europe, but they have sometimes been empty exercises. Giving migrant councils a budget and leeway to develop their own initiatives, as in Palermo and Gdansk, can increase motivation and visibility.

The report was commissioned as part of the ADMin4ALL – Supporting Social Inclusion of Vulnerable Migrants in Europe project, which aims to enhance the capacity of local governments to develop sustainable strategies and inclusive services for the successful social and economic integration of migrants, is a project administered by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and funded by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. For more on ADMin4ALL, visit their website.



Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all


Protecting migrant labour rights and promoting decent work. This would help migrant workers by addressing common challenges including those relating to working conditions, wages, social protection, occupational safety, access to health care, and migration status. By strengthening ethical recruitment practices and helping eliminate recruitment fees, this would also address human trafficking, debt bondage and forced labour.

Combatting forced labour, trafficking for forced labour, child labour, and all other types of labour exploitation. This can help work towards strengthening protection of exploited and trafficked individuals, prevention of trafficking and exploitation, prosecution and redress related to these crimes, promoting dialogue and cooperation on counter-trafficking, boosting human trafficking data collection and analysis, and more.

Reduce inequality within and among countries


Facilitating orderly, safe, and responsible migration and mobility, and encouraging the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies. This would help govern migration for the benefit of all. Target 10.7 acknowledges that effective migration governance is key for safer, more orderly and more regular migration. This includes promoting regular migration that respects the rights of all migrants, and leveraging the positive development impact of migration for migrants themselves as well as for all communities and countries.

Lowering remittance transaction costs. This would help strengthen the positive impacts of remittances, benefiting migrants, and their families and communities. Transfer costs can be high, burdening migrants, discouraging using formal channels for remittances, and hampering the development potential of remittances. Addressing this often involves increasing competition and transparency in the transfer market, helping migrants make informed decisions. 

Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable


Working towards making cities inclusive for migrants. Migrants are often especially vulnerable within cities. They may have low knowledge of local contexts, and/or multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, reducing their ability to access resources and opportunities such as housing, employment and basic services. Proactively including migrants across city-related targets, such as in affordable housing, would benefit migrants. Further, the SDGs promote a participatory and inclusive approach to city planning and management, and this should include migrant participation.

Including migrants in urban disaster risk reduction (DRR) and disaster risk management (DRM). Migrants are often more vulnerable to disasters in urban areas. For example, as informal settlements in peri-urban areas of less developed countries are often hazard-prone, migrants may be among the first and worst affected by hazards and consequently disasters, as well as less able to cope when these occur. The SDGs call to reduce deaths and mitigate negative impacts of disasters, and migrants should be proactively included in mechanisms around this.

Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels


Countering all types of exploitation and trafficking of children. This would help child migrants who are often in vulnerable situations and face challenges along routes and upon arrival in communities, including unaccompanied child migrants who can be especially at risk of exploitation or human trafficking.

Providing legal identity for all, including through birth registration. This would help counter statelessness, end patterns of irregularity among migrants, especially among their children, and allow migrants to apply for citizenship or residence permissions and respective rights to which they are entitled. This would also help foster migrants’ inclusion, and help counter human trafficking and organised crime.

Strengthening rule of law and improving access to justice. The SDGs call for stronger and more transparent institutions, inclusive and representative decision-making, and improved access to justice. This would help protect and promote all migrants’ rights, address migrant detention. This would also play a role in addressing the drivers of types of migration, by combatting discrimination, human rights abuses, gender inequalities and more.