The role of cities is increasingly being seen as a solution to managing the benefits and challenges of migration.
Bristol as a city with 16 per cent of its population born outside the UK and with over 91 languages spoken on its streets, is in a position to contribute to this global conversation.
As part of Refugee Week, an event entitled ‘One City, Many Stories’ took place on June 19 at City Hall.
Over 200 migrant and refugee communities came together for a panel discussion and Q and A organised by the UN International Organisation for Migration, to share their stories.
The main themes of the discussions were around inclusion and integration, and there were opening speeches from Dipti Pardeshi, the Chief of Mission of the IOM, who has an international role and Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, both having parents that were migrants themselves.
It was acknowledged that the current political climate has divided opinion on migration, and that some difficult conversations were needed.
Dipti said: “Migration has become a more sensitive subject recently of course, and we are seeing a toxic narrative being purveyed, but we need to stick to facts. They are being lost.
“There is far more migration from north to south than from south to north.
“Infact of the global population there are 3.4 per cent international migrants.”
This figure has doubled since 2000 though and where in some spaces global migration is seen as a positive with all the economic benefits it brings, there is a competing narrative to this.
One alarming figure, in a study carried out by The Challenge, found that 44 per cent of British people report that none of the contacts they spend time with socially are from a different ethnic background.
The director of Bristol Refugee Festival Jules Olsen emphasized the importance of this, she said: “Creating a variety of spaces for incoming and host communities coming together is a key part of our festival.
“We do need to talk and listen, and the more we understand each other the stronger the cohesion.”
Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said: “Inclusion is not something that happens quickly or easily, it requires constant dialogue and collaboration between communities and organisations across the city, so the more events we do better.”
The panel itself was made up of a combination of migrants, and people from the ‘host community.
It included community activist Amirah Cole, who has worked on various organisations seeking to raise awareness of the needs of African Heritage communities; Sara Sharfaldeen a journalist from Sudan, who moved to the UK as a refugee in 2015; and Mark Pepper a lifelong resident of Lawrence Weston who is heavily involved with community integration activities.
All panelists shared their own journeys, struggles and experiences, and the reaction to migration in the areas in which they live.
It was unanimous, that while there’s been challenges in the past and continues to be in some areas of the city, all had seen progression in how Bristol receives its migrants.
Bristol hosted the Global Parliament of Mayors earlier on in the year, and there are increasing global conversations taking place where legislative power can be untangled and devolved from nations.
For Dipti policy is important, but so are grassroots movements. She feels the theme of finding commonality and listening to the concerns of all, is the key for real change.
Dipti said: “We need to create more spaces to talk together, that’s key. Where there is education on both sides.
“Migrants need to know how to navigate their new homes, and all the cultural challenges that come. And host communities need to realise that they can help that transition, and in turn understand about new cultures as they arrive.”
“How newcomers – migrants, refugees or anyone – perceive a new community can influence their willingness to participate in society once they arrive. So it’s crucial, “ she added.
The Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees remains hopeful of the role that Bristol can play, he said: “As the first European elected Mayor of African descent, I am proud to lead a city like Bristol that strives to be inclusive and welcoming for all its residents, and we will continue to be so.”