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” »
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.
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.
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?” »
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.
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