Urban Refugees

Authored by: MaryBeth Morand

The Routledge Companion to Humanitarian Action

Print publication date:  March  2015
Online publication date:  March  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415844420
eBook ISBN: 9780203753422
Adobe ISBN: 9781135013936

10.4324/9780203753422.ch34

 

Abstract

In the past two decades, the world has witnessed the demographic mega-trend of urbanization. People all over the world are moving from rural areas into cities to access jobs, business systems, housing, services and social opportunities in a centralized place. Refugees are amongst them and their decision to take exile in cities as opposed to camps, as was the previous pattern, has required humanitarian agencies to reassess how to provide assistance and protection. Meeting refugee needs in cities is dramatically different from providing the camp-based activities of registering residents, providing basic necessities and health, sanitation and education facilities along with trying to keep the camp safe. Refugee communities can be spread in pockets throughout densely populated cities and it is often the case that refugees are trying to escape the attention of the local authorities. Often, refugee households move frequently from one place to another as they try to get established in the new city. Thus, providing protection and services to urban refugees is often an attempt to serve a transient, transitioning population who may be unwilling to be identified unless there is a clear advantage for them and promises of confidentiality. This chapter will explore the rationale for a more pro-active engagement with community groups along with the need to foster partnerships with a new range of actors, as well as a call for an unprecedented reliance on communications technologies in working with urban refugees.

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Urban Refugees

Introduction

In the past two decades, the world has witnessed the demographic mega-trend of urbanization. People all over the world are moving from rural areas into cities to access jobs, business systems, housing, services and social opportunities in a centralized place. Refugees are amongst them and their decision to take exile in cities as opposed to camps, as was the previous pattern, has required humanitarian agencies to reassess how to provide assistance and protection. Meeting refugee needs in cities is dramatically different from providing the camp-based activities of registering residents, providing basic necessities and health, sanitation and education facilities along with trying to keep the camp safe. Refugee communities can be spread in pockets throughout densely populated cities and it is often the case that refugees are trying to escape the attention of the local authorities. Often, refugee households move frequently from one place to another as they try to get established in the new city. Thus, providing protection and services to urban refugees is often an attempt to serve a transient, transitioning population who may be unwilling to be identified unless there is a clear advantage for them and promises of confidentiality. This chapter will explore the rationale for a more pro-active engagement with community groups along with the need to foster partnerships with a new range of actors, as well as a call for an unprecedented reliance on communications technologies in working with urban refugees.

The phenomenon of exile in the city

Urbanization

Over 3 billion people, just over half the world’s population, live in urban areas. Of this population, 1.5 billion live in ‘slums’ or ‘informal settlements’ which can be defined as unregulated, crowded and under-serviced settlements on marginal lands (Zetter and Deikun 2010: 5). These numbers are expected to grow, especially in developing nations. By 2050, it is estimated that 6.3 billion, 67 per cent of the world population, will live in urban areas (UN Economic and Social Affairs 2012: 3) This is a dramatic jump from the 40 per cent of people in developing countries who lived in urban areas in 2000. Virtually all of the expected urban growth will take place in less developed regions, particularly those in Asia and Africa. Since more than 80 per cent of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers live in the developing world, overall urbanization patterns are noteworthy. Urban refugees are a subset of a larger migration pattern of people moving to cities.

Urban refugees – today’s realities

Refugee movements are an amplification of global urbanization patterns. Let us look at the historic ratios of people living in rural areas to those living in cities to understand the trends of urbanization and refugee-specific urbanization. In 1975 the rural to urban population (in billions) was 2.5:1.5 (37.5 per cent urban). By 2007 the global rural to urban population shifted to an even 3.3:3.3 (50 per cent urban). By 2030 the rural to urban population is predicted to be 3.3:5 billion people (60 per cent urban). Again, it is forecast that it will be the ratios in Asia and Africa that will be the most dramatically affected. The progress of rural to urban migration over the past decades is of particular note because it has been useful in predicting the trajectory of forcibly displaced people (references to displaced people include refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people (IDPs) and returning refugees) seeking asylum in urban areas as opposed to camps, since people from rural areas typically move to other rural areas and cities, but people from cities rarely move to rural areas.

At the beginning of this century, 30 per cent of the world’s refugees were in Africa and 41 per cent were in Asia (mostly Pakistan and Afghanistan). By and large, they moved from rural areas into camps that were also situated in rural or remote areas. In other words, more than 70 per cent of displaced people in the year 2000 were people who moved from one rural location to the next. However, many of these people moved from the camps into cities, as was the case of many Afghanis in Pakistan. And, some camps grew to the point of becoming cities themselves, e.g. Dadaab camp in Kenya and Za’atri camp in Jordan. All of this has contributed to the urbanization of refugees. The statement that over 70 per cent of the world’s forcibly displaced people are in cities can be considered a valid estimate per UNHCR’s Global Trends 2013 (UNHCR 2013a).

At the end of 2013, there were 10,478,950 refugees, plus nearly one million asylum seekers, and an estimated 28.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), including recently displaced people in the Central African Republic, Mali and the Syrian Arab Republic. The majority of these refugees, asylum seekers and IDPs are not in camps but instead in neighbouring or capital cities where there is a high likelihood that they will remain for more than a decade. In many instances, they are people who came from cities in their native countries and are taking refuge in the nearest city in a bordering country. From Syria alone, almost two and a half million refugees have taken refuge in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, and for the most part this has been in urban areas. Repatriation is also mirroring urbanization patterns. In other parts of the world where refugees are repatriating to their home country, these returnees are heading to cities, not the rural areas that they may have originated from.

Yet the choice to take refuge in the city is not without risks. Refugees in cities are often confronted with a range of protection risks, including: the threat of arrest and detention, refoulement, harassment, exploitation, discrimination, vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), HIV-AIDS, human smuggling and trafficking. These risks are often faced without any legal safety net for refugees. Recently the scales have tipped and now most of the world’s refugees are in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Asia (this includes Iran and Pakistan who host large Afghan populations) instead of Africa. Very few countries in MENA and Asia are signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, whereas many of the countries in Africa and the Americas and Europe are signatories (see Table 34.1).

Table 34.1   UNHCR mid-year statistical review for 2013 (10,478,950 refugees globally)

Africa

2,939,689

Americas

515,371

Asia

3,273,685

Europe

1,615,622

MENA

2,134,583

Prior research also informs us that there is a correlation between being a signatory and having progressive legislation for refugees (Morand et al. 2012: 5), just as on the flipside, non-signatory countries often do not have any domestic refugee legislation and/or they have a body of law that regards refugees as illegal migrants (see Table 34.2). It is also noteworthy that the nonsignatory countries, who by and large do not have domestic legislation, do not provide refugees with any documentation. Thus, not only are the majority of refugees in urban areas unable to rely on the rule of law to protect them from potential spurious charges and human rights abuses, they do not have acceptable documentation to apply for a job, rent an apartment, open a bank account, get a driver’s license or enrol in vocational training programs or school.

One might think these risks are well worth it in face of the opportunities available. After all, refugees are moving to cities with large and diverse economies and for the most part the refugee population represents only a fraction of 1 per cent of the total urban population (see Table 34.3). However, refugees are not guaranteed access to jobs and income in these big economies. Despite the disparity between the size of the economy and their relatively small proportion of the population, refugees are often seen as competitors for employment and often times mixed up by the general public with economic migrants (the current exception to the rule being Lebanon and South Sudan where refugees comprise almost 25 per cent of the overall population). Refugees are often forced by poverty to live in overcrowded accommodation in risky areas where they face difficulties in accessing basic health, education and protection services. From the perspective of municipal and national host country authorities, incoming refugees and asylum seekers further stress already inadequate urban infrastructure and services. Even countries that are signatories to the 1951 Convention often have ‘reservations’ that do not allow refugees the right to work.

To sum up, today’s refugees are by and large moving from cities in their own countries to cities in the country of exile. The quality of their existence in exile is hampered by a fragile legal status and the resultant insufficient documentation which influences their ability to access livelihoods and vital social services. Issues such as food security, extortionate rents and loans, forced evictions and other forms of tenant abuse, trafficking, exploitive labour practices, the wide-scale use of children in the labour force and the corresponding education deficit, and the fear of xenophobic or sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) are all prominent in recent research on urban refugees. To really protect refugees in cities from these harmful practices, humanitarian organizations need to be visibly present and build strong coalitions to advocate on behalf of refugees, helping host communities understand that refugees endure a deeper vulnerability than the indigenous poor, in addition to providing material support.

Table 34.2   The Implementation of UNHCR’s Policy on Refugee Protection and Solutions in Urban Areas; Global Survey (2012a). Overview of convention status, status of domestic legislation, government engagement in registration and documentation

Country

Convention signatory?

Status of national refugee-specific legislation

Who registers refugees?

Who undertakes RSD?

Government provides documentation?

South Africa

Y

New & restrictive

Government

Government

Y

CAR

Y

Ok

Government & UNHCR

Government

Y

Uganda

Y

Yes

Government & UNHCR

Government

Y

Zambia

Reservations

Yes, unsatisfactory

Government & UNHCR

Government

Y

Cameroon

Y

Legislation 2005, full application pending decree

UNHCR

UNHCR

Y

Kenya

Y

Draft & MoU

Government & UNHCR

UNHCR

Y

Sudan

Reservations

Asylum Act 1974, unsatisfactory

No registration in Khartoum

Government & UNHCR

N

Ethiopia

Reservations

Yes, reinforces provisions and reservations

Government & UNHCR

Government & UNHCR

Y

Mexico

Reservations

New, good

Government & UNHCR

Government

Y

Costa Rica

Y

New, good

Government & UNHCR

Government

Y

Ecuador

Y

Strong, but recently more restrictive (resigned from Cartagena)

Government

Government & UNHCR

Y

Indonesia

N

No domestic legislation but engaged in the Bali Process

UNHCR

UNHCR

N

India

N

None

UNHCR

UNHCR

N

Malaysia

N

None, refugees treated as undocumented migrants

UNHCR

UNHCR

N

Thailand

N

None, refugees treated as illegal foreigners

UNHCR

UNHCR

N

Iran (Islamic Republic of)

Y

No specific refugee legislation, refugee protection addressed under other legislation

Government & UNHCR

Government & UNHCR

N

Macedonia

Y

Needs to be strengthened

Government & UNHCR

Government

Y

Turkey

Reservations

Being developed

Government & UNHCR

Government & UNHCR

Y

Ukraine

Y

Needs to be strengthened

Government & UNHCR

Government & UNHCR

Y

Lebanon

N

None

UNHCR

Government

N

Jordan

N

MoU

UNHCR

UNHCR

N

Syrian Arab Republic

N

None

UNHCR

UNHCR

N

Egypt

Reservations

Refugees treated as other foreigners & presidential authority

UNHCR

UNHCR

N

Yemen

Y

None

UNHCR

UNHCR

Y

Table 34.3   The Implementation of UNHCR’s Policy on Refugee Protection and Solutions in Urban Areas; Global Survey 2012a: Size of economy and refugees’ right to work

Country

GDP in current USD

Estimated number of urban refugees & asylum seekers

Comments on Right to Work

India

1,847,981,853,637

88,567

No legal right to work and not a signatory to instruments

Mexico

1,155,316,052,667

1,567

New legislation (2011) guarantees right to employment

Indonesia

846,832,283,153

1,800

No legal right to work and not a signatory to instruments

Turkey

773,091,360,339

22,000

No legal restrictions stop foreigners from accessing work permits, but the process of obtaining a work permit is slow and there are fees. Only one case in 30,000 is reported to have received the permit

South Africa

408,236,752,338

277,267

Refugees have limited access to business permits

Thailand

345,649,290,736

2,203

No legal right to work and not a signatory to instruments

Malaysia

278,671,114,816

92,854

No legal right to work and not a signatory to instruments

Egypt

229,530,568,259

109,359

Refugees are treated as other foreigners and are required to obtain work permit which is very difficult to obtain

Ukraine

165,245,009,991

6,800

Refugees have the right to work. Depending on the status of their claims, asylum seekers may have the right to work

Ecuador

67,002,768,302

61,000

Work permits granted to refugees, but not asylum seekers

Sudan

55,097,394,769

24,899

No legal right to work

Lebanon

42,185,230,768

10,726

No access to formal work, Women unable to access work permits

Costa Rica

41,006,959,585

20,057

Work permits granted to refugees, but not asylum seekers

Yemen

33,757,503,322

85,904

Limited access to employment; costly fees for work permits. Small business owners required to have a Yemeni partner

Kenya

33,620,684,015

46,607

Refugees Act provides for right to work, but it is not applied in practice

Ethiopia

31,708,848,032

2,822

No legal right to work

Jordan

28,840,197,018

455,984

Some possibility for Iraqis to regularize their stay and apply for work permits in professions that are open to non-Jordanians. Syrians have access to the labour market and can apply for work permits. No right to work for asylum seekers

Cameroon

25,464,850,390

213

Restrictions on refugees' right to work

Uganda

16,809,623,488

37,820

Yes

Macedonia

10,165,373,218

2,673

Refugees have the right to work and asylum seekers have the right to work in the reception centre

Central African Republic

2,165,868,600

5,792

Yes

Syrian Arab Republic

n/a

757,000

No legal right to work

Iran (Islamic Republic of)

n/a

854,715

No legal right to work

Urban humanitarians: A new breed needed

Step 1: A different posture – The move from reception in camps to outreach in the cities

As has been said, working in urban areas will require organizations to conceptualize and implement service provision differently. Instituting these changes will require humanitarian personnel at every level to change their mind-sets and expectations about providing protection and ‘delivering aid’. Current concepts of protection have evolved away from responses to human rights violations with international and state actors as the main actors. Considerations and programming for protection at this elevated level detracts from the entrenched and frequent protection problems that happen at the community level. More to the point, lodging protection at this level ignores the capacities and solutions that exist within communities who are usually more sensitive and better equipped to protect their most vulnerable members than states or international actors would be able to. In order to empower local communities to promote protection responses, humanitarians will need to devote time to learning about each refugee community and how it is situated within the host city.

Since urban refugees are scattered throughout cities and can be wary of being noticed and counted by any institution, refugee assistance organizations need to change how they work and even how they think about working with refugees. Urban approaches will need to be markedly different from camp-based ways. When providing assistance in camps or concentrated settlements, refugees could be described as a ‘captive audience’, easy to reach in the distribution of relief and shelter supplies and the control of water and sanitation facilities, along with the provision of education and health care services. Geographic proximity and population density in camps or settlements makes it easy to provide goods and services.

Housing, one of the most critical issues for urban refugees, is not as contentious in camps and settlements. Usually both space for a shelter and housing materials are distributed free of charge in a camp. Land tenure issues do not arise since the land for camps and settlements is negotiated between UNHCR and the highest levels of the host government. With no or limited housing costs in camps, refugees have a reduced need for cash and humanitarian agencies often provide livelihood solutions by employing camp or settlement dwellers in sanitation and agriculture schemes, or as teachers, clinic staff or community outreach workers. Schools, clinics, aid distribution points and registration centres are clearly marked, accessible and well known.

Relief agencies and even individual humanitarian workers are highly visible and easily identified through their logos on their clothing and cars. In camps, humanitarians could be complacent about outreach, because the camp dwellers would and could identify and access them to make their needs known. Humanitarians function as hosts in their ‘camp management’ responsibilities, yet in cities they have no such role. In cities, humanitarian organizations will need to be perpetually mapping, assessing and networking within civil society, since refugee communities often move throughout the city to find ever-cheaper accommodation. Humanitarians will need to find agile ways to track and assess these demographic movements in order to help refugee communities build new bridges and service networks. This will be especially true in cities where the host government has well-enforced restrictions on refugees or there is a prevalence of xenophobic violence and refugees seek to stay undercover.

Step 2: Accepting a new, diminished role

However, despite their best efforts, humanitarians will never play the role of the host as they continue to do in camps. Local authorities are the obvious hosts in urban areas, and local authorities can have various profiles depending on the particular city. In the best case, local authorities can be well-organized, service-oriented municipal officials. At the other end of the spectrum, they can be gangs or other informal power structures that run a metropolitan area. Sometimes, the local police precinct is the authority that prevails. In any case, the local authority is neither an international nor a local humanitarian agency.

The structure of the host country government and the size of its economy can also impact the role and influence of humanitarian organizations. It is the local authorities who set the rules for housing, security, businesses, access to education and health care amongst others. Depending on how decentralized the government is, the local authorities can have absolute power in these functions. If the size of the city’s economy is large, humanitarian assistance programs can be negligible in comparison with the municipal and federal budget.

Moreover, the accepted good practice when working with urban refugees is to mainstream them into existing programs and institutions, e.g. food or rent subsidies, local schools and clinics, job training institutes. So, not only do humanitarians approach the delivery of assistance with reduced influence and relative resources, theoretically their role should be more of advocacy and referral than the direct provision of aid. Ideally, humanitarian organizations should also insert themselves in urban development debates not only on urban planning issues but also in all fora concerning socio-economic rights and poverty alleviation in the city. In these debates, humanitarian agencies would be guests not hosts and this would again be a radical change of role. In camp settings, humanitarian agencies are the ones who convene meetings to discuss social and economic issues in the camp, e.g. reducing food rations, providing financial incentives for refugee teachers, if they open these matters for public discussion at all. In cities, refugee focused humanitarian agencies will need to invest in coalition building with indigenous social services agencies, the faith-based community, and other factions dedicated to alleviating poverty, in order to have any voice at all.

Step 3: Mind-set management

It is not only who humanitarians work with and how they approach partnerships in cities that is a complete change from providing protection and camps, but working in the city also requires a radically different mind-set toward outreach. It has been well documented that refugees are not able to reach the offices of humanitarian agencies because of the time it takes and the expense involved. Case studies are available in UNHCR evaluations of urban refugee programs in Nairobi (Campbell et al. 2011), Kuala Lumpur (Crisp et al. 2012) and Lebanon (UNHCR 2013b). Upon reaching those offices there are often long waits and requests for follow-on appointments. Thus, humanitarian workers have to be pro-active and reach out to refugees dispersed throughout sprawling cities and often dwelling in slum areas. In order for humanitarians to navigate these cities they need to engage with municipal government and local networks and find the best ways to make themselves known and accessible. At the neighbourhood level, this can be done by working with city councillors, faith groups, social worker or health worker networks, local police forces, trade union representatives, shopkeeper associations, etc.

In any case, these neighbourhood-level partners represent a completely different interlocutor than the ministerial-level counterparts that humanitarian workers are used to negotiating with. The conversations will be completely different too. Instead of negotiating international law, land use for refugee camps or safe passage for convoys of relief items, humanitarians will be negotiating the issuance of nationally recognized documents that allow refugees to access local labour markets, clinics and schools and legal systems without prejudice. City-based humanitarians will need to know how to engage in local politics to make this happen. Municipal politics are an entirely different game than international affairs. It is possible that humanitarian agencies will need to hire different people for this job – fewer international legal experts and more community organizers, urban planners and engineers, and social workers who are not afraid to spend their days in slums and high crime areas.

Another factor in their ability to be effective in urban areas will be the capacity of humanitarian staff to know how to interface with municipal services and pre-existing networks. In accordance with UNHCR’s well received policy on Refugee Protection and Solutions in Urban Areas (Morand 2012) and prevailing best practice recommendations, humanitarian agencies are advised against creating parallel systems. In other words, agencies should not be building clinics and schools but should be making sure refugees are accepted in the local clinics and schools without negative stigma or punitive pricing. This is harder work than it sounds. In cities it can be a challenge to get parents to send their kids to schools and not to work to meet the financial needs of the household. Other challenges in getting refugees to school in urban areas are bullying, language difficulties, and resistance to assimilation and local integration because the family dreams of being resettled in a third country. The mentality and refugee service dynamics are altogether different in urban areas and the humanitarian workforce needs to appreciate and adapt to this.

Urban programming

Short-term responses

Humanitarian agencies have been forced to learn how to respond to mass-influxes into cities with the ongoing crisis in Syria and the preceding displacement from Iraq the decade before. New ways of working have been developed to assist both refugees and the host country governments. Registration and documentation procedures have been streamlined through the development of more efficient appointment systems, photo-identity technology, and huge reception centres that can address material needs, health care, psychosocial issues and legal advice all in one location. Information technologies have been exploited to enhance communications: interactive websites where refugees can access decisions on their individual cases by entering a pin-code; mobile phone systems to alert and advise thousands of refugees simultaneously; 24 hour hotlines managed through computer-run phone banks and the use of social media to send messages.

Perhaps the most important programming tool that has been developed to address the needs of urban refugees in the early days of a crisis is the electronic transmission of cash and vouchers to refugees through pre-loaded ATM cards or their mobile phones. These systems have replaced the onerous physical distribution of cash and materials such as blankets, soap, temporary shelter materials, etc. There are many advantages to cash and voucher programming: autonomy of recipients to choose what they need; immediacy of distribution; positive impacts on local vendors; no need for warehousing and distributing items, etc. However, the cash and voucher systems require a robust registration system to be in place that is capable of handling mass influxes. This tool also requires well considered monitoring and anti-fraud safeguards in places as well as a clear exit strategy. Cash and vouchers also incentivize registration, which can help humanitarian organizations track these often transient urban populations of concern through mobile phone and e-mail data. The registration data are critical to ongoing assessments and analyses for programming.

In addition to frequent assessments of urban refugees, humanitarian organizations also need to conduct rigorous and up-to-date context analyses of the urban areas where they reside. Host communities also need to receive financial support to expand the services they are sharing with refugees. In the massive displacement out of Syria, we have witnessed the phenomenon of the informal, uncontrolled, spontaneous hosting of refugees in the contiguous border cities for a limited time until it became too much of a burden for the host families and they saw how prolonged the displacement would be for their guests. Even though this was a short-lived response by host families, there are many good reasons for humanitarian organizations to support this practice: refugees are probably better protected if they are attached to a host family as opposed to living in a refugee ‘ghetto’; host families can provide guidance and coaching to ease integration including finding jobs; and, the tenure of assistance is more flexible than being reliant on international humanitarian agencies.

Turning to family and friends, or even friends of friends during displacement is the most natural and effective way to resource support. Recent research states that refugees and asylum seekers most often rely only on friends and compatriots to navigate the complexities of life in their new city. The best way to encourage this is to provide for the host community so they do not become overstretched. This practice has become widely supported. Recently, one host government has required international refugee aid programmes to provide at least 10 per cent of the programme’s budget to the local community.

While support to host communities makes good sense, it is also increases the importance of systematic and accurate assessments of the local context. Humanitarian agencies need to become adept in their use of socio-economic information and be able to comprehend and programme for the nuances and multiple layers of complex urban economies. This may mean using new tools and new relationships with technical sectors of governments such as urban planning bureaus, departments of health, education, labour and statistics, in addition to local academics. Relationships with these entities could yield more than useful data, if handled well, they can also influence how a city decides to accommodate refugees.

Long-term

Humanitarian organizations may find that a more sophisticated approach to assessments will serve as a good investment as the tenure of displacement becomes increasingly protracted. In many situations, the host country wishes for refugees to return home, and the refugees may also be wishing for the same or dreaming of resettlement to a third country. However, the reality is that many refugees will stay in the cities where they have found themselves. Thus, early investments in language training, viable livelihoods accompanied by access to banking and financial capital, school enrolment and independent housing will enhance economic integration and social assimilation. These investments will require humanitarian agencies to work with development agencies early on to advocate for inclusion of refugees in economic development and refugee education programmes. This can be more difficult than expected.

The non-enrolment of refugee children in the host country’s educational system is of particular concern. Some refugee parents do not enrol their children in the host country’s school system because of language impediments, discrimination and bullying, insufficient funds for fees including books and uniforms, religious reasons or security concerns regarding their child’s travel back and forth from the school. Because of economic hardship, other parents choose to place their children in the workforce at a young age or enter them into marriage arrangements prematurely for financial gain. And, then there are others who are determined to be resettled to a third country and therefore do not want to habituate their children to the host country language and curriculum. For whatever reason parents decide not to enter their children in the national schools, it handicaps the economic prospects for these children and can entrench poverty in the next generation(s) of their exile. Since this negative cycle has repeated itself enough times in many places, it is incumbent upon humanitarian and development institutions to address this early on.

Likewise, legal restrictions on refugee employment are another proven factor in perpetuating poverty amongst urban refugees and these restrictions need to be negotiated in the face of the resistance of the host country to grant this right. In addition to the fact that refugees usually only account for a small percentage of the GDP, the other arguments for granting the right to work include the contribution of refugee skills to the economy, the potential enlargement of an (income) tax base and the decrease in aid dependency, the potential to discourage participating in criminal activities for financial gain, or negative coping strategies such as sex work and early marriages. If all their employment opportunities are in illegal, shadow economies, refugees have a greater chance of being arrested or, even worse, deported. Inability to work in the formal sector also means that they can lose important and long-studied skills such as medicine, teaching, engineering, etc. Creating conditions and access to recognized documents (preferably state issued) that allow refugees to participate in schools and jobs are the priorities for the long term. These investments will probably yield more social and economic returns in the short and long term.

Conclusion

Humanitarian agencies and individuals need to make the much-needed shift from refugee reception in the camps to refugee engagement in cities. Enabling refugees to access support and services and find work in the cities will be as fundamental in this new paradigm as food distribution was in the old camp paradigm. Finding work does depend on the ‘right documents’. Having the right documents will also enable refugees to access financial capital, which in recent studies has been perceived as a larger impediment to success than legal barriers. Accessing banking and financial instruments, and language skills – an often overlooked requirement for finding work, should become priorities for refugee programming in urban areas. Now that only a minority of refugees are going to camps, it behoves humanitarian agencies to continue to re-tool and re-examine their use of human and financial resources in order to provide this programming to refugees.

References

Campbell, E , Crisp, J and Kiragu, E 2011 Navigating Nairobi: A Review of the Implementation of UNHCR’s Urban Refugee Policy in Kenya’s Capital City. January. UNHCR: Geneva. Available online at: www.unhcr.org/4d5511209.pdf .
Crisp, J , Obi, N and Umlas, L 2012 But When Will Our Turn Come? A Review of the Implementation of UNHCR’s Urban Refugee Policy in Malaysia. Geneva: UNHCR.
Morand, M , Mahoney, K , Bellour, S and Rabkin, J 2012 The Implementation of UNHCR’s Policy on Refugee Protection and Solutions in Urban Areas. Geneva: UNHCR.
UN Economic & Social Affairs 2012 World Urbanization Prospects the 2011 Revision Highlights. New York: United Nations, p. 3. Available online at: www.slideshare.net/undesa/wup2011-highlights .
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 2013a Wars’ Human Cost: UNCHR Global Trends 2013. Available online at: www.unhcr.de/fileadmin/user_upload/dokumente/06_service/zahlen_und_statistik/Global_Trends_2013.pdf .
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 2013b Global Report 2013: Lebanon. Available online at: www.unhcr.org/539809f8b.html .
Zetter, R and Deikun, G 2010 ‘Meeting humanitarian challenges in urban areas’ Forced Migration Review 34: 5–7.
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