The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) is an initiative of the UN Secretary General which aims to improve understanding and cooperative relations among nations and peoples across cultures and religions

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Cities must embrace cultural
and ethnic diversity to flourish

By Daniel Cervan

30 December 2010: We live in a period of transition from mono-ethnic cities to multi-ethnic cities and ultimately inter-ethnic cities. With the shared conviction that migrants integration is key for better intercultural relations, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the International Organization for Migration IOM have created together a program on Migration called IBIS - Integration: Building Inclusive Societies.

| IBIS | Multicultural cities | Case studies | The way forward |

IBIS puts a special focus on urban centers, regions and territories with significant cultural diversity, as strategic spaces in which people of different cultures can learn, exchange ideas, develop and learn to live together. Cities are at the front line of integration challenge. Active involvement of local governments in integration enables progress, innovation and development. The experience made by local governments and mayors in managing cultural diversity should feed in to effective policy making at national level.

Multicultural cities
Poorly integrated migrant communities may give way to feelings of resentment and may risk falling into extremism. But migrants can also be instrumental in improving cross-cultural relations. Cosmopolitan cities offer a unique opportunity to build experiences drawn from cooperation across cultural, religious and other socially constructed divides. These experiences can be mobilized as resources in dealing with intercultural relations at international levels (across countries and continents). Building inclusive and participative societies is crucial to prevent international conflict.For that reason the role of cities is essential to IBIS and to UNAOC’s mandate: to prevent conflicts between societies across cultures and to counter extremism.

Cities that have been able to promote social and structural integration are those which today celebrate their diverse cultural assets as part of their strengths and uniqueness in a globalizing world economy. (…) So unless local actors, unless the governance at local level is democratic, is open, is inclusive and is visionary in terms of finding the realities of our times, things will not work in the direction that we wish to see,” said Anna K Tibaijuka from UN Habitat during the Inter-Ethnic City Roundtable: Management and Policies for a Better Integration of Migrants, organized in 2009 by the UNAOC.

Case studies
The Inter-Ethnic City Roundtable illustrated how integration happens at the local level. That is the reason why IBIS showcases projects that help integrate migrants across the world, paying special attention to cities and majors. For instance, the city of Sao Paulo has, in partnership with immigrants and with the human rights committee, created the Immigrant Project which aims at reaching immigrants and helping them to adapt to their new homeland; or the state-city of Singapore that through its association conducts several projects including their annual flagship HarmonyWorks! Conference.

The 2010 conference aimed to heighten participants’ awareness of cross-cultural understanding-engagement and its implications on the local, regional and global community. In addition it provided the participants with multi-faceted views for the need to go beyond the comfort of one’s ethnic group and immersing in Singapore’s cultural and religious diversity. Singapore also promotes integration of youth with programs including the Multi-Racial Education Centre (MREC) that assists underachieving students from the lower-income families and strengthen bonds between children from different races; or the Explorations on Ethnicity program in which participants undergo a journey of self-discovery and exploration that open their minds to the nuances and challenges of living in multi-racial and multi-cultural Singapore.

The way forward
We are in a period of transition from mono-ethnic cities to multi-ethnic cities and ultimately inter-ethnic cities. We are living in an inexorably inter-connected and inter-dependent world, and therefore can no longer afford, if we ever could, exclusivity, isolationism, segregation and stereotypical treatment. The Alliance believes that cultural diversity enhances creativity in our communities. To promote it, it acts within a global network of partners, through political dialogue, support to national governments, and implementation of projects, not only on migration but also media, youth and education. All this effort, in the belief that cultural diversity can spark innovation, stimulate creativity and boost the economy. In order to achieve this goal, as the High Representative for the UNAOC, Jorge Sampaio, states: “We need policies and common action aimed at the successful integration of migrant populations. In this regard, municipal and local governments play a crucial role in promoting sustainable urban development based on cultural diversity, as a key factor to prevent conflicts and contribute to security and peace.”

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