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We call on governments and donors to respond to the current refugee crisis by supporting urban programs in neighboring countries that offer alternatives to ongoing refugee encampment, restore dignity and provide benefit to refugees as well as the communities hosting them.
Sonia, Director Urban Refugees
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Considering that the international community’s response to refugee influxes is often the creation of “temporary camps”; and that in reality, these camps are maintained for years and are avoided by most refugees, as they do not offer any prospects other than stagnation, violence and despair;
Considering that more than 60 % of refugees now live in cities in order to try to rebuild their lives, but the lack of preparation, structures and support associated with their illegal status forces them to survive in dire conditions and makes them vulnerable to exploitation and smugglers who incentivize refugees to spend their last savings to continue their journey towards Europe or other parts of the world;
Considering that conflict and persecution in too many countries forces millions of families to flee from their homes, and it is unacceptable that populations willing to rebuild their lives have no choice other than living in miserable camps, which are maintained for years and where some refugees spend their whole lives; or perpetual flight from one country to another, which puts their own lives and those of their children at risk, because of a lack of support in surrounding cities;
Considering that this dramatic situation has been pointed out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which, in July 2014, released an ambitious and much welcomed policy of alternatives to camps, calling for the transformation of existing camps into sustainable settlements in host countries, transformation that has yet to begin;
The current refugee crisis in Europe highlights the weaknesses of the refugee protection system in developing countries
When a crisis emerges and leads to population displacement, as is the case in Syria, the international community or hosting government respond by creating and maintaining refugee camps in neighboring countries (such as Jordan or Turkey).
However, keeping hundreds of thousands of people in unstable camps is not a solution. According to UNHCR estimates, refugees spend an average of 17 years in exile. Far from being temporary, in reality camps remain for years, sometimes decades.
These camps are obviously not a long term response to people fleeing conflict and persecution
Imagine living in a tent with your family, your children, in difficult weather conditions (refugee camps are often positioned in the least habitable places) and being completely dependent, every day of your life, on humanitarian aid to eat and have access to healthcare and water.
You can easily understand the desperation of the refugees who are confined to these camps for years!
And don’t think that these camps offer security to refugees: rape, trafficking of all kinds, and even forced recruitment of child soldiers occurs, despite the presence of international NGOs on site.
Therefore, people in exile actively avoid the camps and most move to urban areas.
Compared to camps, cities seem to offer better prospects for people looking to rebuild their lives. The majority of the world's refugees now prefer to find refuge in urban areas, even if it often means living illegally, and without support of the host state.
Today, 60% of the world's refugees live in urban areas, primarily in developing countries. More than 80% of Syrian refugees live outside the camps.
This has created new challenges for NGOs who are accustomed to providing services to refugees in camps: How do we identify these people, since they are disbursed and may be undocumented and therefore keep a low profile in the cities? How do we support them there? How do we ensure that their presence does not create additional problems for the local population, who are already in difficult situations?
Yet the lack of support in cities leads to dramatic situations
In cities such as Amman or Ankara, refugees are left to fend for themselves. Entire families fall into begging. Children are exploited and forced to work. Women are forced into prostitution. In Jordan, 86% of Syrian urban refugees live below the national poverty line.
In these circumstances it is not surprising that some refugees continue on their exodus towards Europe, despite the risk and cost of such a journey, or even start going back to their home country where their life is at risk. If there's one thing we cannot doubt, it is that a mother would never take the risk of her children dying at sea if she was not forced by circumstances to attempt such a dangerous crossing.
It is urgent to promote alternatives to camps!
Your signature is essential in convincing the international community to change its management of refugee situations and crises.
As you know, we support and work with organizations from all around the world that improve the lives of refugees in urban settings through innovative programs. Thanks to this fieldwork, we know that there are alternatives to camps.
But to make out our request heard by States, in particular European States, we need to be carried by a gigantic wave of petitions signed by citizens from around the world!
This is why your signature is important! Your signature and the signatures of your friends, your colleagues and your contacts, to whom I ask you to relay this call-to-action, give our petition worldwide scale and will allow us to be heard by international decision-makers.
To prevent these human tragedies, it is imperative to focus the efforts towards the development of programs for urban refugees that offer an alternative to ongoing encampment.
In July 2014, the UNHCR proposed a set of alternatives to camps that followed this course, calling for a transformation of existing camps into sustainable settlements in host countries.
However, most camps around the world are maintained without exit strategies in place, despite the fact that international assistance tends to decrease over time, leaving entire populations in camps at risk of malnutrition or without access to basic health care.
Yet there are alternatives to camps! In countries like Lebanon, NGOs support refugees in cities while at the same time working on urban development, which benefits both the host community and refugees.
So we are mobilizing our organization and launching this petition to ask for what clearly makes the most sense: use international assistance to develop programs that offer durable alternatives to camps and that support refugees where the majority are - in cities!
These aid programs must enable host countries and their populations to benefit from the presence of refugees and not systematize the creation and maintenance of camps, which are temporary and expensive solutions that only delay the development and implementation of viable solutions
Because they can't live decently in the cities, many refugees take boats to Europe
of refugees now live in cities
Refugee camps are
According to UNHCR, the average length of displacement for refugees is
in advance for your help in our efforts to prevent the human tragedies that millions of refugees worldwide experience every day, and in offering people fleeing conflict and persecution sustainable and decent conditions to build a new life.
We request that the international assistance sent to neighboring countries hosting refugees is orientated towards the development of programs in urban areas that offer durable and dignifying alternatives to camps and can benefit both the local host population and refugees.
© CC K. Burns
© CC sa_ lm
© CC UNHCR/ACNUR Americas
It is urgent to support alternatives to refugee camps!
Petition to the international community
No to the ongoing encampment of refugees, yes to the improvement of their living conditions in urban areas !
Urban Refugees is a non-profit that seeks to improve the lives of refugees and displaced people living in cities of developing countries. If you would like to know more about our action, go to our website www.urban-refugees.org
© CC United Nation Photo / DFID
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