Your Excellency Mr. Kamil Iskhakov, Plenipotentiary Representative of the President of Russia to the Far-East Federal District and President of the United Cities and Local Governments, Euro-Asian Section.
Your Excellency Prime Minister of the Republic of Tatarstan, Mr. Rustam Minnikhanov,
Your Excellency Chairman of the State Council of Tatarstan, Mr. Farid Mukhametshin
Your Worship, Mayor of Kazan, Mr. Ilsur Metshin,
Your Highness, Princess Zahra Aga Khan,
Councillor Laudadio of Naples
The Acting United Nations Resident Coordinator, Ms. Siestske Steneker
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a privilege and a pleasure to be here in Kazan celebrating the World Habitat Day.
Since 1985, UN-HABITAT and partners have been commemorating this important day to reflect collectively about the challenges of achieving sustainable human settlements in a world that is becoming increasingly urbanized. Today, we have even more reasons to do so, if we consider that –for the first time in history–, more than half of humanity now live in cities and towns.
This historic milestone motivated us to choose the theme Cities, magnets of hope as the focus of World Habitat Day this year.
Moving from rural to urban areas, and from small and medium-size towns to big cities has been a growing trend, particularly in the last two centuries. People try to move to the city for many reasons. Some are attracted to its bright lights, others to search for opportunities and a few for the possibilities to invest their economic surplus. More and more people seek refuge from conflicts and crises in cities. In all these cases cities are .. magnets of hope.
This is why, for example, increasing numbers of people risk all, and use their life savings to pay criminal syndicates to help them get to the bright lights of Europe. Or, in the case of poorer Latin American countries, to the United States. People smuggling from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, Eastern Europe and Russia is very big business.
International migration, just like urbanisation, cannot be stopped in any sustainable or humane manner. It has to be managed. This is because as long as there are nations and cities, there will be migrants. Experience shows that proactive immigration policies can prevent negative impacts and maximize the benefits at the international, national and local levels.
At the United Nations, it is our view that migration has historically improved the well-being of individuals and humanity as a whole. Just think how many great cities around the world were founded by migrants. Or today, how many are driven by the energy and initiative of new-comers.
Immigrants are able to contribute not only to their new countries, as they have always done, but can more easily help their native countries as well. The vast flows of remittances — running in billions contribute significantly to the development of those countries. Successful migrants become benefactors of their new homes and their countries of origin. They help transfer technology and knowledge, creating new opportunities in countries where a generation earlier many felt it was better to leave.
On the negative side, cities are also home to broken dreams. A significant number of migrants, particularly in developing countries, end up living in informal settlements and slums without basic services. In richer countries, it is also common for them to settle in neighbourhoods with sub-standard facilities. Still the cities are … magnets of hope.
The cultural, social and religious traditions of migrants often differ from those of their hosts. This makes their integration in the host society a difficult process. Yet, cities remain, magnets of hope.
If not managed properly, migration can lead to xenophobia and social unrest.
This brings me to the crux 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 always 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 migrants face on arrival in a new city. The formal housing markets tend to be out of bounds to them. And so inner city slums or “ethnic” ghettoes start to proliferate.
Recent events 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 these rights can be rendered most meaningfully through the right to adequate housing and basic services. Translating these rights into reality requires an explicit chapter on 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 exploitative labour practices 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.
And thirdly, inclusiveness and representation. It is well recognised that the presence of international migrants also 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. Local authorities need policies that raise urban productivity and foster economic growth; but they also need policies that manage diversity and promote integration.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The fact that World Habitat Day takes place in Kazan is not an accident. This city is a very vibrant and dynamic place at the cross routes of many cultures. The city has grown over ten times in the previous century, and now, with over one million citizens, it has become one of the leading urban centers in Russia, attracting people from neighbouring and distant places.
Kazan is not only located at the confluence of two rivers: the Volga and the Kazanka. It is positioned at the convergence of three different times: a splendid past, of more than one thousand years; an unbeaten present, impressive for all its accomplishments; and a very promising future of sustainable development.
In fact, last year, UN-HABITAT awarded the city of Kazan with the Habitat Scroll of Honor for its Slum Elimination Programme. The programme has provided new housing and infrastructure for its citizens including its poorest residents and revitalized the centre of the city.
And it is only seven months ago, that UN-HABITAT was here in Kazan to discuss the creation of an urban observatory. I am delighted to see that this initiative is progressing well. The observatory of Kazan is important to provide the city with information for better understanding of urban conditions and trends. This information will contribute to improved decision making in all areas of the city’s development.
Many cities are like ships on the high sea sailing without adequate navigational tools, having poor chances of reaching their desired destination. Without the knowledge of their bearing and current position, these cities either go round in circles, or find themselves in an unintended destination.
Consistent monitoring mechanisms, clear and meaningful indicators for sustainable development and good communication strategies are the navigation tools in the sea of development.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This year’s observance of World Habitat Day in Kazan provides a great opportunity to strengthen our relationship with local authorities of the region. It is also a good occasion to strengthen our partnership with the Russian Federation. I am very pleased to inform you that UN-HABITAT has signed, this year, a new agreement of cooperation with the Russian Government that enables us to better assist cities to achieve sustainable development.
In this context, UN-HABITAT and the Government of Russia is planning the establishment a UN-HABITAT Office in Moscow. The office will work closely with cities in Russia and neighboring countries to share best practices, exchange experience and join hands to tackle the challenges of providing adequate housing and infrastructure, particularly for poor and vulnerable citizens.
I look forward to many more years of fruitful collaboration in our joint quest to make less fortunate cities around the world as inclusive, diverse and beautiful as the City of Kazan.
Spassiba Kazan- City of hope.