City leaders from Detroit, Edmonton, and London discuss how their cities have been welcoming to refugees at the CityLab 2016 summit in Miami. C2 Photography

It’s not the refugees, it’s how they’re received, city leaders say.

MIAMI—Throughout history, refugees have been regarded with suspicion, and today is no different. In just the past couple of years, migration around the world has surged. Syrians have fled their conflict-ridden nation. Central American parents have sent their kids across the U.S.-Mexico border. On the receiving side, in Europe and North America especially, the cries of protest have been loud. Citing security concerns, countries around the world have been building walls.

City-level officials tend to see refugees differently, however. At The Atlantic’s CityLab 2016 summit Monday, a trio of local officials discussed why their cities are trying to be more welcoming of refugees, not less. “Our cities are better for it,” said Don Iveson, mayor of Edmonton. “[Refugee resettlement] adds to our identity and our economy.”

The panel, which also included officials from Detroit and London, was in consensus that making room for newcomers was both a moral and an economic imperative for cities. Of course, the process comes with challenges. Refugees need housing, jobs, and other services. They also need to integrate: to understand and engage with their new environments, and ultimately, contribute to them. At the same time, telling newcomers they need to give up their cultural or religious values would be a mistake. Such messages have the potential to alienate entire communities, essentially creating breeding grounds for antisocial activity, including terrorism.

“If you're telling them that that they don't fit in, that their values ... are not compatible with London—with a modern Western city—that's the real danger,” said Leah Kreitzman, the mayoral director for external and international affairs in London.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Environment

    Britain's Next Megaproject: A Coast-to-Coast Forest

    The plan is for 50 million new trees to repopulate one of the least wooded parts of the country—and offer a natural escape from several cities in the north.

  2. A small accessory dwelling unit—known as an ADU—is attached to an older single-family home in a Portland, Oregon, neighborhood.
    Design

    The Granny Flats Are Coming

    A new book argues that the U.S. is about to see more accessory dwelling units and guides homeowners on how to design and build them.

  3. U.S. Embassy in London
    Design

    America's Passive-Aggressive New Embassy Arrives in London

    Why can’t we let bunkers be bunkers?

  4. Design

    These Sneakers Are Your Free Transit Pass

    A new BVG-Adidas collaboration means unlimited travel along Berlin’s public transit network for the rest of 2018. That is if you can find a pair.

  5. Transportation

    To Measure the 'Uber Effect,' Cities Get Creative

    Ride-hailing companies are cagey on all-important trip data. So researchers are finding clever workarounds.