Washington — Cities say they will gain new recognition for their role in planning for and responding to influxes of migrants when countries adopt a major migration agreement next week.
Talks lasting a year and a half are set to conclude when national governments endorse the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration at a two-day conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, starting Monday.
The non-binding agreement aims to make migration safe and orderly amid issues of national sovereignty and international cooperation, U.N. officials said.
The move follows the migration crisis in Europe in 2015, which saw the biggest influx of refugees and migrants since World War Two, officials said, straining resources and triggering nationalist tensions.
Mayors worldwide have prioritized the talks out of concern that they are required to respond to migrants' daily needs regardless of national policy, according to a May 2018 submission from local authorities.
"We finally see that our efforts to underline and enhance cities' role in international negotiations are bearing fruit," Athens Mayor Georgios Kaminis told the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of a gathering of mayors in Marrakesh on Saturday.
The deal will be the first global accord on migration, coming as migrant numbers rose to nearly 260 million last year - an increase of 49 percent from 2000, according to the United Nations. In many countries, more than 90 percent of immigrants live in cities, according to a 2016 McKinsey report.
Yet the agreement has proved controversial, with the United States and Hungary pulling out of negotiations early on, and other countries now refusing to sign.
Nonetheless, the process saw a key evolution for the role of cities, observers say.
When the negotiations began, the focus was on why cities needed to inform migration policy, said Colleen Thouez, director of the Welcoming and Integrated Societies Division at the Open Society Foundations.
"What's changed is now we're talking about how they're going to be involved," she said.
On Saturday in Marrakesh, eight mayors including Kaminis are launching the Mayors Migration Council, aimed at helping cities navigate international talks. The council is supported in part by the Open Society Foundations. For cities, the compact's biggest breakthrough is noting that public services should not discriminate based on whether someone has migrated legally or illegally, said Thouez.
Several countries had been pushing in the opposite direction, she said, and "it took cities to say that proposals that would see undocumented kids not go to school ... or people with a communicable disease [not be dealt with] is not going to work. It's less safe."
- Reporting By Carey L. Biron; Editing by Jason Fields