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Opening statement by Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director UN-HABITAT - Naples, Italy, 2 October 2006
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Honourable Mr. Bobo Craxi, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy

Your Worship, Mrs. Rosa Iervolino Russo, the Mayor of Naples

Your Worship, Mr. Antonio Bassolino, the President of the Campagna Region

Your Worship, Mr. Ricardo Di Palma, President of the Region of Naples

Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to celebrate the global festivities of World Habitat Day this year from this beautiful city of Naples. Naples is a gateway to the Mediterranean, and renowned centre of history, culture, art – and urban and architectural splendour. The planning of settlements such as Pompei, just down the road from here, still guide and inspire us in our quest for liveable cities. So it is with a special word of appreciation to Your Worship, Ms. Iervolino Russo, the Mayor of Naples, for so generously offering to host this important annual event.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We celebrate World Habitat Day every year to reflect on the state of the world’s growing cities. It is a time to reflect on how we manage our cities in the new millennium as humanity now moves from being predominantly rural to overwhelmingly urban. Today, half of us live in cities, and we are witnessing the fastest urban growth ever experienced.

At the same time, never before have the absolute numbers of people on the move been as great as they are today. This movement of people is taking place at a time when cities are growing at unprecedented rates. And this is why, for this occasion, we have chosen the theme, Cities, magnets of hope.

For many reasons, everyone tries get to the city. Some are attracted to the bright lights of the city and better opportunities. Others seek refuge from conflict or crisis. In either case, we are talking about Cities as Magnets of hope.

International migration, just like urbanisation, cannot be stopped in any sustainable or humane manner. It has to be managed. One can argue that in a globalised world, where we have unrestricted movement of money, goods and information, restrictions on the movement of people remains a major contradiction. This having been said, experience shows that proactive immigration policies can prevent negative impacts and maximize the benefits at the international, national and local levels.

Migration has historically improved the well-being of individuals and humanity as a whole. Just think how many countries and cities around the world were founded by migrants. Or today, how many economies are driven by the energy and initiative of new-comers.  Let us not forget that what we call the “New World”, namely the Americas and Australasia, was populated by immigrants from Europe. This massive shift of people occurred at a time when Europe was experiencing rapid urbanisation and urban growth. It is this twin phenomenon of rural to urban migration and migration to the new world that shaped the demography and the economy of modern Europe and the New World.

This historical movement of people has many parallels with what is happening today. Indeed, much of the developing world is undergoing similar trends in rapid urbanisation and urban growth. Just like in Europe during the 18th century, many rural migrants are finding themselves in urban slums. And, just like Europe during the 18th century, many of those that find themselves in slums are seeking better opportunities abroad.

Immigrants contribute not only to their new countries but also to their home countries. Remittances from developing country migrants far exceed official development assistance, and well-established migrants play an important role in promoting trade and the transfer of technology, thus creating new opportunities in their countries of origin.

On the negative side, we have all witnessed recently the problems associated with integration of migrants in their host cities. We are all aware of broken promises and broken dreams. We all have met migrants with university degrees driving taxis or washing dishes. We are all aware of illegal workers living in abysmal conditions. We have all witnessed the social cost of discrimination and exclusion. And let us not forget the estimated 17 million people who are displaced by conflict and by disasters, many of whom end up living in slums, squatter settlements and refugee camps throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

This brings me to the core of my message today. In the global migration debate on protecting immigrant rights, or stemming the tide of migration, we must realise that the weakest link in the chain of any solution is at the local government level. In many instances, local authorities have very little say, if any, over national migration policies. Similarly, they are unable to control trans-national migration flows to their cities.

However, local governments have to deal with the consequences of migration. This impact is of primary concern to three major spheres of public policy.

The first sphere of concern is ensuring the protection of human rights for migrants. The most evident manifestation of this lies in the area of adequate housing and access to basic services. Indeed, Housing and basic services are probably the single most important problem that international migrants face on arrival in a new city. The formal housing market tends to be out of their reach. And so inner city slums or “ethnic” ghettoes start to emerge and proliferate.

Recent events in Europe serve as a stark reminder that such ghettoes can become hotbeds of social unrest and civil strife. As we seek ways and means of protecting the basic rights of immigrants, let us not forget that the most meaningful right is the right to adequate housing and basic services. Translating these rights into reality requires explicit socially inclusive housing and urban policies at the local level.
A second sphere of concern is the challenge of decent employment and working conditions.  Here again, local governments have a critical role to play in obviating the consequences of exploitation and human trafficking. Local-level decisions can help make informal activities part of a robust formal sector and provide more job and income opportunities, and protection. 

A third issue is the issue of inclusion and representation. The presence of international migrants makes cities more cosmopolitan, and therefore more attractive to the forces of globalisation. If cities are to be a polis, to borrow the Greek word for a place where different people come together, cities must be considered as front-line actors in tackling social exclusion. 

Combating social exclusion requires the participation of migrants’ representatives in municipal councils and local decision making. In developing countries, international migrants constitute a growing group of urban residents who are victims of exclusion. They are often denied access to housing and urban services and have no voice in decisions that affect their livelihoods.  

While UN-HABITAT seeks to help local authorities adopt more inclusive governance and management, there is an urgent need for a coordinated approach across all spheres of government to overcome inconsistencies in policies and practices.

Finally, we need to devote more attention to research on the urban dimension of international migration, to better understand what works, why, and in which circumstances. Such an evidence-based approach will enable all of us to develop the right policy options, to implement more effective strategies, and to learn from each other in our common quest to uphold human rights, contribute to peace and security, and to be able celebrate the true sense of our humanity  - our cultural diversity.    

Ladies and gentlemen,

The cultural diversity of Naples is such that we have a lot to learn from this city. But before I say anything further, I would like to use this occasion to say a special word of appreciation to Italy for being one of UN-HABITAT’s most important donors. Italy is helping fund new housing in Serbia war refugees and other vulnerable people. In January this year, we received 8.5 million dollars from the Italian Government for a social and housing integration programme in Serbia. These funds were the second such allocation from Italy to provide new homes for 3,000 refugees and vulnerable people. But I will not say more – for I am most grateful that my colleagues from our Belgrade office and the Mayor of the Serbian town of Nis are here in person to speak about this in detail at a special seminar. Italy has also funded important reconstruction work in Angola, Mozambique and Nairobi, Kenya through UN-HABITAT. In Nairobi Kenya, in collaboration with a local Parish, the Nairobi City Council a community of about 700 households  are being supported to improve their living conditions through ensuring access to secure tenure and basic services including livelihoods. Italian support to the upgrade of the Kahawa Soweto Slum is an effort to provide slum dwellers with land rights by means of communal ownership. I would also like to mention one more example of cooperation from Italy: Father Alessandro Zanotelli from the Comboniani community personally shared his life in Kenya with the poorer of the poor, providing hope to the hopeless.

Many of you in this distinguished audience will hear more about our cherished and special relationship with Italy at the World Habitat Day seminars. I look forward to many more years of fruitful collaboration with Italy in our joint quest to make less fortunate cities around the world as inclusive, diverse and vibrant as the City of Naples.

Thank you

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