With the majority of refugees now in urban areas, mayors and municipal authorities have been recognized as increasingly important policy actors in the global refugee regime. This trend is acknowledged in the policy literature. However, there has been little systematic academic research exploring the conditions under which mayors make a difference to refugee-policy outcomes. Theoretically, we outline a heuristic framework aimed at disaggregating key variables, including the independent influence of mayors, in shaping municipal-level outcomes. Empirically, the article assesses the role of municipal authorities and mayors in the two most numerically significant host countries for Syrian refugees: Turkey and Lebanon. It comparatively examines variation across six metropolitan municipalities, three from each country: Izmir, Adana and Gaziantep (Turkey), and Qalamoun, Anjar and Zahle (Lebanon). We show that mayors matter because they may mediate the implementation of national policies and because they sometimes adopt supplementary refugee policies and practices at the municipal level, which may be more or less proactive or more or less restrictive than central-government policy.