Cities are no panacea – But they must be part of the solution

by Aisling, UR’s Lead Researcher

The unremitting refugee crisis has been persistent in the headlines for several years now and the UNHCR confirms the reason: the world is facing the worst refugee crisis since World War II, with 65.3 million people forcibly displaced. Given the lack of a political solutions in Syria, and ongoing violence in countries such as BurundiCentral African RepublicSouth Sudan and Yemen to name a few, the continued increase  of those seeking refugee status looks unlikely to change in the near future.

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One of 1083: Urban Refugees in Bobo-Dioulasso (Burkina Faso)

By Nora Bardelli, DPhil Candidate and Barrow Foundation Scholar at the Refugee Studies Centre,  Department of International Development, University of Oxford, dated 27 May 2016

I arrive at the burgundy gate, and I can already hear her before letting myself in. Bettie laughs, a lot. Even when she talks sadness, she smiles. She is 25 years old and full of energy, has a son in kindergarten, a big family, and recently started her own small business selling shoes, jewellery, clothes, and scarfs. It’s going well; she is proud of it. She can now save some money and spend a little as she wishes in addition to accounting for necessities. This was not a given for her last couple of years. To complement her work ethic, she was also lucky to meet the right people and find good opportunities that enabled her to start her business. She is lucky to have a good ‘support network’ from friends and neighbours.

Continue reading “One of 1083: Urban Refugees in Bobo-Dioulasso (Burkina Faso)” »

“Good camps, bad camps. What’s wrong with the ‘Jungle’?

By Hanno Brankamp, Doctoral student at the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, dated 21 March 2016

The ‘Jungle’ has come to symbolise the negative mirror image of a refugee camp, its ‘Other’ in which power and civilisation are twisted and virtually turned upside down.

It was an undignified sight. On March 1 this year, hundreds of French police officers in riot gear and private contractors in orange vests streamed into the irregular refugee settlement outside Calais, also known as the “Jungle”, to demolish large numbers of makeshift housing structures and evict hundreds of inhabitants.

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All Roads Lead to Dar es Salaam

By Aisling O’Loghlen, Ph.D. Researcher in Urban Studies, date 21 Feb. 2016

For many years Tanzania has acted as a generous host to thousands of refugees from across East and Central Africa, the expansion and reduction of refugee camps in the West of the country adapting to the instances of conflict in the region.  Now, with people escaping the recent conflict brought about by the controversial third term of President Nkurunziza in Burundi, the refugee population in Tanzania is swelling once again and the country must ask itself how it will cope with this latest influx. Continue reading “All Roads Lead to Dar es Salaam” »

Free Yet Unaffordable: The Figures Behind Low Refugee Enrolment in Kampala

By David Boze, Researcher with Xavier Project, dated 11.12.2015

 In spite of the Ugandan government’s attempts to make affordable public education available to all refugees, approximately 10,000 refugee children between the ages of 6 and 13 in Kampala are not enrolled in formal primary education. A brief overview of Uganda’s policies regarding refugees and education would suggest enrolment to be far higher. Under the 2006 Refugee Act, refugees and asylum seekers have access to public and private education institutions across Uganda. Universal Primary Education and Universal Secondary Education were implemented in 1997 and 2006 respectively to lower tuition costs to make education accessible to all. Continue reading “Free Yet Unaffordable: The Figures Behind Low Refugee Enrolment in Kampala” »

Refugee Freedom of movement restricted in Zambia

By Sophie Chiasson, published initially on the Rights in Exile on 01.11.2015

Although Zambia has a long tradition of hosting refugees and has been recognised as a generous and hospitable host, current legislation and policies impede the rights of refugees to freedom of movement, which, as IRRI has previously argued, is a “critically important refugee right.” A policy of refugee encampment, which isolates refugees in camps and settlements, hinders integration with local communities and impedes long-term solutions to displacement problems.

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Zaatari: a Camp and not a City

By Jeff Crisp, published initially on the blog of Refugees International

Just over three years ago, the Zaatari refugee camp was established to accommodate the growing number of Syrian refugees who were fleeing to the neighbouring country of Jordan. Located around 70 kilometres from the capital city of Amman and 30 kilometres from the Syrian border, Zaatari occupies a space of some seven square kilometres and currently houses around 80,000 refugees.
Since its inception, Zaatari has attracted an enormous amount of attention from the world’s media, diplomats, and celebrities. Angelina Jolie, John Kerry, Malala, and Prince Charles have all visited the camp. Dozens of articles have been written about it, while the camp features in around 5,000 video clips posted on YouTube.

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Interview with Jeff Crisp

Budapest, 11.09.2015

Jeff Crisp served as Head of the Policy Development and Evaluation Service at the headquarters of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Geneva. He is now Honorary Advisor at Refugees International and Research Associate at the Refugee Studies Centre of Oxford. His most recent publications have focused on the issues of refugee protection and solutions in urban areas.

Promoting self reliance in Nairobi

Discover those 3 great videos by the Jesuit Refugee Service Nairobi promoting the integration and self-reliance for refugees in Nairobi. The content illustrates the significant difference refugees can make in developing their host communities in urban areas when given a chance:

Kenya: journey to self-reliance:

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Turning the Screw on Nairobi’s Refugees

By Mark Yarnell, Senior Advocate from Refugees International

Driving east of downtown Nairobi, the paved road gives way to packed dirt. Our driver navigates the deep potholes, piles of garbage, and stagnant puddles. My RI colleague, Alice Thomas, and I are entering Eastleigh, otherwise known as “little Mogadishu” due to the high concentration of Somali refugees who live here. Many have been here since the early 1990s when war broke out in Somalia. Over the past two decades, they have been joined by thousands more who have fled continued conflict, persecution, and recurrent drought.

Tens of thousands of refugees from Somalia and elsewhere live in urban centers throughout Kenya, where they are able to provide for themselves, send their children to local schools, and access health facilities. Over the years, Nairobi’s Eastleigh developed into one of the most dynamic parts of Nairobi’s economy, with shoppers going there from all over the city to take advantage of the competitive prices and range of goods available there. It is a far cry from life in the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp in arid northeastern Kenya, where over 350,000 Somalis live in tents provided by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and remain dependent on monthly food rations.

However these days, the streets of Eastleigh are unusually quiet. In March, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Interior ordered, on the grounds of ‘emerging security challenges in our urban centers,’ all refugees to report to the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. This coincided with the launch of a security operation known as Operation Usalama Watch (also officially known as “Operation Sanitization of Eastleigh”), designed to flush out members of Al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based terrorist group that has claimed credit for attacks in Kenya. The underlying (or maybe overlying!) message from the government: refugees equal terrorists.

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How can citizenship help us address refugee crises in Africa’s Great Lakes Region?

By Lucy Hovil, Senior Researcher, International Refugee Rights Initiative and Zachary Lomo, St August International University, College of Law and Business, Uganda.

With the exception of Tanzania, all the countries in Africa’s Great Lakes region have generated refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in large numbers over the past decades. And despite huge efforts to resolve conflict and displacement, by any standard the number of refugees and IDPs remains painfully high.

This opinion piece argues that the framework of citizenship can contribute positively to a better understanding of, and better policy responses to, forced displacement in this region.[1] In making its argument, it draws on nine case studies carried out in the Great Lakes by the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) over six years, as well as a paper that draws together some of the implications for policy makers. Citizenship in this context is understood as access to a bundle of legal rights enjoyed by nationals of a given State; and more broadly as recognition of the right and status of a person to belong in a given political community with all the attendant obligations and other rights.

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“You’re just not that vulnerable enough” – the situation of urban displacement in Libya

By Melissa Phillips, Senior Programme Officer, and Susanna Zanfrini, Protection Project Manager, Danish Refugee Council.

Working with asylum seekers and refugees in almost any location in the world involves juggling vulnerability with service availability, battling bureaucracy and bearing witness to remarkable people. Few situations we’ve worked in are as challenging as that of Libya. On the surface it is similar to many other countries in the region that have not signed the Refugee Convention, have no domestic asylum (or migration) legislation and offer no national refugee status determination (RSD) process. The national government is in transition and has no formal MoU with UNHCR.

Beyond these ‘ordinary’ challenges, Libya has a very ambivalent relationship with the asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in its territory who by some estimates number more than a million. They are both needed and undesired. Their role and number is misunderstood and the unique situation of each group is indistinguishable from the other in a discourse that focuses entirely on ‘migrants’. This discourse is perpetuated outside the country by the international media, donors and European governments who, with very few exceptions, misrepresent the complex mixed migration context in Libya as a simplistic scenario of ‘everyone’ wanting to come to Europe.

Continue reading ““You’re just not that vulnerable enough” – the situation of urban displacement in Libya” »

New approaches to urban refugee livelihoods

By Dale Buscher, Senior Programme Director, Women’s Refugee Commission

As the growth in urban refugee numbers far out-strips a parallel growth in humanitarian financial assistance and as the average length of displacement is now 17 years, feeding and providing direct services to these populations is no longer a viable option. Their ability to provide for themselves not only enhances their protection by reducing, for example their need to trade sex for food, but, allows urban refugees to address their own needs without substantive further assistance from the humanitarian community.

Not only could economic opportunities restore some of the refugees’ dignity, allowing them to make decisions about their expenditures and choices, promoting these opportunities would also allow humanitarian assistance to be used more effectively and sustainably—supporting local economic development or improving government health and education facilities rather than utilizing donor dollars to support food aid and refugee subsistence allowance.

Continue reading “New approaches to urban refugee livelihoods” »

A REJOINDER

By Guglielmo Verdirame and Jason Pobjoy

Michael Kagan’s recent post “Why Do We Still Have Refugee Camps?” provides a characteristically thoughtful overview of some of the challenges facing refugees in urban environments. Unsurprisingly we agree with the vast majority of Kagan’s arguments. In particular we agree that the 2009 Urban Policy is a welcome shift away from the refugee bias inherent in the incumbent 1997 Urban Policy. Contrary to what has been suggested, in our article “The End of Refugee Camps” we do not ask UNHCR to apologise for the legacy of the 1997 Urban Policy, although, like Kagan, we consider that it would have been more honest for the organization to acknowledge that the 1997 Urban Policy was wrong in principle, rather than just ill-suited to our times.

We also agree with Kagan that evaluating UNHCR practice in implementing its revised policy is difficult. In contrast to some of the other critiques cited in Kagan’s piece, we largely avoided these issues on the basis that we considered that, when we wrote the piece, such evaluation was premature; however, like Kagan, we emphasized the critical link between implementation and accountability.

Our issue with the 2009 Urban Policy is not its implementation (or, according to some, lack thereof), but rather aspects of the Policy itself. Although we consider that the Policy contains a number of positive features—indeed, the majority of our article is focused on outlining those features—it is clear that it also suffers from some critical flaws. Perhaps most significantly, in several respects the policy does not accord with international law.

Continue reading “A REJOINDER” »

Why Do We Still Have Refugee Camps?

By Michael Kagan

Four years ago next month, UNHCR issued its Policy on Refugee Protection and Solutions in Urban Areas, perhaps the UN’s most important 21st Century statement of protection strategy. Depending on who you listen to, we are either at the nascent stages of a new era of rights-based refugee assistance, or due for a skeptical realization that not much as changed.

On paper and in rhetoric, the 2009 urban policy represents a break from fundamental flaws of 20th Century refugee practice. A previous 1997 version of this policy was understood as condemning urban refugees as “irregular movers,” troublemakers who were making it more difficult for UNHCR and its partners. Camps were normal and good, and refugees should be discouraged from trying to leave them.

In UNHCR’s words, the new policy “marks the beginning of a new approach.” Refugees are now to be reconceived as people with autonomy. The focus is to be on their rights, their legal status, their ability to support themselves and to raise their families in dignity.

But as always, the situation on the ground is more complicated. Four years on, the world is still littered with refugee camps imposed on refugees whether they like it or not. In East Africa, on the Thai border with Burma, in dozens of other places refugees are directly or indirectly forced to live in remote camps.

Continue reading “Why Do We Still Have Refugee Camps?” »

UNHCR reviews its urban policy: an air of complacency?

By Tim Morris and Sonia Ben Ali

Four years after the launch of its new urban policy UNHCR has published an overview of progress on its implementation. The study was overseen by an Urban Refugee Steering Group created by UNHCR in 2012. It  draws on results of a questionnaire sent to 24 country offices working with urban refugees.

While the report is clearly a welcome addition to what remains a relatively limited literature – and elements of it are extremely frank about the magnitude of the tasks required to realize the bold aspirations of the urban policy – it has major shortcomings.

Limitations of self-reporting

Perhaps the greatest is that it is solely based in information from UNHCR. The report recognises that “the inherent biases of staff self-reporting on their work should be kept in mind”, yet does not explain what these are likely to be, nor explain why testimony from urban refugees and asylum seekers themselves, from the refugee self-help groups found in so many cities, from organisations advocating for them or from UNHCR’s own implementing partners were not included. It reports that all 24 offices use participatory assessments with refugees yet there are no details, nor explanation of the lack of refugee voice in the overview. Continue reading “UNHCR reviews its urban policy: an air of complacency?” »

Let’s move the debate forward

This is an independent forum for practitioners, policy makers, researchers and other interested in urban displacement matters to debate key issues, share information and disseminate new ideas.

The idea underpinning this Forum is to establish a long-lasting platform of discussion where consensual ideas will be challenged, misconceptions dislodged and the overall debate on urban displacement moved forward.

Very diverse topics will be discussed on this Forum, from the humanitarian response to current urban refugee crisis (in Syria, Kenya or elsewhere) to the relevance of new approaches to urban refugee and IDP livelihood strategies.

Contributors will write articles that will then be discussed by Forum users. If you are not a Contributor but wish to propose an article for the Forum, please submit it to debate[a]urban-refugees.org We commit to get back to you within one week. You can also leave comments and give your opinion on the topic of your choice.

We hope you will enjoy this debate forum!