The high influx of refugees in the Eastern Mediterranean region continues to pose challenges to host local governments, as according to UNHCR the vast majority of Syrian refugees live in urban areas, with around only 8 per cent accommodated in refugee camps. Most of the refugees have limited financial resources and live in overcrowded and basics lodgings, leaving host municipalities with additional strains, often exceeding local governments’ traditional responsibilities in delivering services. The sudden growth in population numbers poses a threat to the social cohesion of affected communities and increases pressure on services and job opportunities, risking further tension between refugees and local population. The challenges municipalities face requires not only significant additional resources, but also innovative solutions and thinking, and proactive responses.
Solutions do exist on the ground, and there are numerous success stories and forward-thinking solutions operating within and across countries. The problem is that municipal staff and elected representatives often lack knowledge of other towns’ experiences and successful examples. Aware of this issue, local government representatives are willing to find innovative ways to respond to the crisis, starting by taking advantage of the knowledge bank of accumulated experience and knowledge they together form.
Following the exchanges from the Peer to Peer learning workshop “Mediterranean Municipalities at the Forefront of the Refugee Crisis” which took place in Amman May 30-June 1st 2016, and identified the main challenges and priorities for host local governments from Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Based on municipalities’ expression of interest, CMI set up a Host Municipalities Learning Network (HMLN) on September 5, 2016.
In 2019, the HMLN includes over 120 local governments, Syrian organizations and local association from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Turkey who regularly exchange through an online collaborative platform, face-to-face and virtual training activities. Central government representatives and development partners also take part in it. As of 2018, it started to include Eastern African countries and Afghanistan in the learning exchanges supported by the South-South Facility.
The HMLN adopts a participatory peer-learning approach and engages its members through annual network meetings, technical webinars with experts, technical field trips, trainings, and collections of best practices. Jointly, municipal representatives make progress on their knowledge of local economic development in forced displacement contexts. Around these activities, a yearly survey identifies members’ main knowledge gaps and needs, and a benchmarking survey assesses the network’s progress and impact.
The HMLN is designed to offer a privileged space for municipalities hosting refugees to exchange and learn from each other’s experiences to ensure the common welfare of host communities and refugees. It is moderated by the Center for Mediterranean Integration, as part of the Mediterranean Refugees and Host Communities Program and creates a dedicated space for regional exchange and dialogue.
To build the capacities of Eastern Mediterranean host local governments with evidence-based knowledge and to share innovative solutions to improve their response capacity in public service delivery, Local Economic Development (LED) and private sector mobilization for refugees and the most vulnerable.
HMLN members are engaged through a series of face-to-face and virtual activities focused on their priority themes, validated each year during an Annual Event. In 2016 the exchanges focused on priority service delivery. Since 2017 the HMLN is working on LED and private sector mobilization, while social cohesion and refugee inclusion are overarching themes.
CMI implemented the following activities to facilitate the HMLN:
Opportunities for field visits to share best practices are explored with partners, and the main outcomes of each workshop is circulated through the CMI website and the online C4D platform.