Urban refugees

Today most refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) live in urban settings, not in camps, due in part to the numerous advantages cities offer, including economic opportunities and freedom of movement. This phenomenon of urban displacement is not new, but has received little attention over the years. Assisting and advocating for refugees and IDPs scattered in urban areas is incredibly challenging for organizations that are often ill-equipped to assist populations in urban environments. Recently, this phenomenon has gained more visibility, particularly since the onset of the Syrian refugee crisis. The question now is to understand how better to support and assist the growing number of urban refugees and IDPs. Self-help groups and community-based organizations have proven that they can play a critical role in the protection of their own communities. Supporting their work and their initiatives, as well as increasing collaboration between humanitarian and development organizations, could be part of the solution.

This conversation is published in partnership with UrbanRefugees.org.

Click on the pictures to see each panelist's perspective below.

Erin Mooney Archie Law Simone Haysom Dale Buscher Louise Olliff Loren B. Landau, PhD Jeff Crisp


Erin Mooney

Erin Mooney — Senior Protection Adviser, UN ProCap

As with refugees — who are outside of their country seeking asylum from persecution — most "internally displaced persons" (IDPs) — who also have been forced to flee but remain inside their own country — are living outside of camps [1]. Many millions are in urban settings.

Cities are not only a destination for displaced people. Urban warfare and violence can be drivers of displacement, compelling civilians to flee within or even from cities. Conflict in Bangui, Central African Republic, criminal violence in Mexico, and the conflict in Syria provide current examples. Also, siege warfare — a violation of international law — typically targets urban areas, e.g. Sarajevo (1992-1995), and currently in Syria.

Urban settings present specific challenges for protecting and assisting IDPs. Unlike in a camp, urban IDPs can be difficult even to locate. Typically, they are dispersed across many different locations, including individual apartments, collective centres and informal settlements. Providing services therefore is more logistically complex. IDPs for their part may not be able to reach humanitarian actors due to distance, transport costs, checkpoints or insecurity.

IDPs in urban areas live amidst a wider community. Sometimes, IDPs even prefer, for their own safety, the anonymity urban areas allow. Often, they blend into the urban poor. Moreover, a large influx of IDPs will strain existing infrastructure (e.g. schools, health facilities, water and sanitation services) and likely increase competition for jobs. Unless well managed, this can lead to tensions with the local community, which can put IDPs at heightened risk.

Specific strategies, including community-based approaches, which ensure attention to IDPs' specific protection and assistance needs all the while addressing these within in a broader context, are essential.

[1] Currently, there are 15.4 million refugees and 33.3 million IDPs displaced by conflict and violence; the number of IDPs is many millions more once including displacement due to disasters and due to development projects.

Erin Mooney is a field practitioner, policy adviser and researcher on human rights, humanitarian issues and forced migration, specializing since 1992 in the protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and other persons at risk in their own country. She has worked in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East as well as in Geneva, New York and Washington, DC. From 1995-2006, she worked with the UN Secretary-General’s Representative on IDPs, from 2001 as Senior Adviser, and from 2001-2006, served as Deputy Director of the Brookings Institution Project on Internal Displacement. Additionally, she was worked for other UN agencies and offices (UNHCR, OHCHR, OCHA, DPA, DPKO, UNDP, SRSG Children in Armed Conflict) as well as other humanitarian and development organizations (including USAID, IOM), various NGOs, and in academia. She is the author of over 70 scholarly publications on issues of forced migration and humanitarian affairs, plus numerous UN reports, international and national policies and strategies, UN operational guidance, and tools for legislators and policy-makers. Currently, since 2005, she is a Senior Protection Adviser to UN ProCap (Protection Capacity).



Sonia Ben Ali's picture

First of all I would like to thank all panelists for joining this online discussion on possible solutions to the plight of urban refugees and IDPs.

I would like to kick start this conversation by asking two questions:

1. How would it be possible to better support the work of community-based organizations (CBOs) in programs? It is now generally admitted that CBOs can play a key role in protection, but what are the ways forward? Is there any example of good practice in relation to that?

2. As urban displaced and urban poor face a lot of common challenges, there is a need to enhance the collaboration between refugee protection organizations and development actors. What are the key elements still missing to achieve this collaboration? Is there some good practice that could be shared in relation to that?

I would like also to encourage everyone to share thoughts and participate to this conversation, so that we can move together the debate forward.

Shaima Abulhajj's picture

I wrote actually a research on the Urban refugees in Libya, my second country. I found out that more than 30,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Italy by sea this year alone, according to the United Nations – mainly from Libya.

In their home countries, which are mainly Eritrea, Somalia and increasingly, Syria, the answer is conflict, repression and persecution.

But Libya has also long been a base for guest workers from all over Africa who were attracted by its booming oil economy to find decent work.

For years they were welcomed by Muammar Gaddafi, but now, many of those same migrants are scrambling to flee Libya’s instability and deadly discrimination. After revolution, in particular, the lid was lifted on a fervent undercurrent of racism which has resulted in the detention, torture and murder of thousands of black Libyans and sub-Saharan street – no shelter – immigrants since 2011.

Keeya-Lee Ayre's picture

I would like to draw attention to a quote from Simone Haysom's publication 'Sanctuary in the city? Urban displacement and vulnerability – Final Report', “Urban displacement raises two contradictory challenges: given its scale, it is impossible to ignore, but given its complexity, it is extremely difficult to address.”(Overseas Development Institute, June 2013, p.5)

Given that these two statements are indelibly correct - that urban displacement is on a magnitude that forces its recognition and that valuable solutions are so very challenging to formulate, where can we start?

Incorporating Sonia's questions into my own, I would like to ask if the panelists believe that better engaging with CBOs is the best way to enhance participatory development strategies and if so, what are some ideas you each have around how can this best be done? What kinds of policy or program initiatives might be able to empower urban displaced persons to better coordinate their own development efforts, or are these kinds of "top down" policy or program approaches inherently flawed?

Louise Olliff's picture

Good questions, Keeya-Lee.

I'm sure a range of policy and program initiatives need to be pursued, including some that may be considered 'top down'. A fundamental challenge, I believe, is how to increase the resource-base of smaller CBOs and at the same time ensure that these smaller organisations are included in higher-level coordination or decision-making so that they can make informed decisions about priorities for their work.

From my experience, a lot of CBOs are highly-effective at identifying needs and appropriate responses to meet local needs, but experience major limitations in terms of resources they can access or mobilise to implement projects and their capacity to influence broader structures. In terms of living in urban areas with other vulnerable communities, they can be more attuned to the dynamics and tensions of local context and how to include or position interventions appropriately. If partnerships can be facilitated in a way that genuinely recognises there are different organisation types (including considering what is meant by 'representativeness' and 'neutrality') and models for solving problems, there may be more opportunities created for the empowerment of urban displaced populations.

Keeya-Lee Ayre's picture

Thank you for your response Louise. I would like to put the following questions to both you and our other panellists.

What do you think might be the best way to include CBOs in decision-making processes? As representativeness (and even the definition of this term, as you have indicated) is problematic, how can it be decided which CBOs are included in and to what extent? What could this look like on a practical level?

Do you have any suggestions of how resources can best be delivered to CBOs? Do you know any examples of this working well? In the thread below I've responded to Stephen Windsor's comment with some concerns about grant monitoring, in your experience have you ever seen this implemented effectively?

Louise Olliff's picture

In terms of access to decision-making, the Refugee Council of Australia has supported refugee community members in Australia to directly participate in international dialogue (for example, providing funding through the John Gibson Refugee Community Leadership Grant for a refugee community member to attend the UNHCR-NGO consultations in Geneva) where they can speak directly to those working at higher policy and operational levels. Applications are sought for these opportunities and representatives are selected based on their skills, experiences and (importantly) connections with communities, both in Australia and other countries of refuge. We have found that there are no shortages of well-suited applicants, but that a mentoring-style support may be required for selected participants to be able to understand and navigate the world of international advocacy so that they can use their knowledge to the greatest effect.

I'm not sure I am the best person to answer your second question. I do agree with Stephen's comments below, that meeting regularly and building relationships with people who form CBOs, as well as the communities they are 'representing', can help you get a feel for which CBOs have the best reach and potential impact.

Hi Keeya-Lee,

One area of direct support for urban refugees and the CBOs that support them is the diaspora communities that are now settled in other parts of the world. Given the enormous contribution made by diasporas through remittances (World Bank estimates $404 billion worldwide in 2013, far outstripping official development assistance), it is very likely that urban refugees are supplementing income through family remittance flows. Here in Australia we see many diaspora organisations implementing development programs in counties of origin (school, orphanages, health centres, maternal health etc) as well as peacebuiding and conflict-resolution work. Supporting these (generally underfunded) diaspora-led development projects can be a good way of getting services to some of the most vulnerable urban refugees through their people-to-people links that bypass the more formal top-down structures.


Dale Buscher's picture

Sonia asks two very challenging questions - neither of which has easy answers and both of which, while part of the solution in moving forward, are fraught with challenges.

Refugee CBOs and self-help groups are often over-looked by UN agencies and international and national NGOs engaged in urban refugee response. Their capacities are seldom assessed or supported and their ideas for solutions, seldom solicited. They often provide invaluable first-line support to their communities but may lack the governance structures and financial systems necessary to receive direct donor support. Additionally, these organizations need to be vetted to ensure that they are representative of their communities and inclusive of women, youth, the elderly and refugees with disabilities. Viewing them as part of the solution with ideas, capacities, and potential, however, would allow us to include them in planning processes, and allow us to support and strengthen their governance and financial systems with the aim of bringing them in as partners and equals - who often know best the needs and capacities of their communities.

Engaging development actors in urban refugee assistance is the future and must become a vital part of enhancing protection, livelihoods and services for both urban refugees and the host communities and neighborhoods in which they live. The host community neighbors of urban refugees are often equally needy and impoverished. However, many development actors channel their resources directly to governments and government ministries - who seldom put refugees high of their list of priorities and for whom the improvement of slums and wider poverty eradication may also not be priorities. Further, those development actors serving the urban poor have seldom been asked to include urban refugees in their programs. Sometimes this just takes direct advocacy with them; sometimes it requires them to develop new models and approaches for including a more mobile, less stable population who may not have the necessary resources such as financial and social capital to participate. Micro-finance institutions, for example, hesitate to engage with refugee populations as they don't have either financial or social collateral. That said, there is a huge opportunity to build bridges and link services between humanitarian and development actors. BRAC, for example, is starting to serve urban refugee populations in some locations. Some urban refugees are now accessing vocational and skills training programs that target host community youth. And in at least couple cities, Cairo and Delhi, some urban refugees are gaining access to universities on the same basis as host country nationals. With concerted attention and effort, much more can be achieved by pushing these linkages forward.

Louise Olliff's picture

I agree with your comments, Dale. In terms of refugee CBOs, the lack of engagement with both development and humanitarian actors can be linked to the often limited capacity of these smaller organisations as well as questions about governance or representativeness. Yet countless CBOs continue to form, operate and help communities, both locally and transnationally. They are often invisible or not given legitimacy by larger actors. This is where the potential lies: in recognising what roles CBOs do play, what their strengths and challenges are, and how they can become more effective. There is much that could be done in this area.

It strikes me that the lack of engagement by NGOs with voluntary-run CBOs is often due to incompatibilities in the models and expectations that are used by professional development or humanitarian NGOs and how these are applied to very different types of organisations. For example, how accountability is measured and ensured (in the case of NGOs, through various reporting and transparency mechanisms; through CBOs, this may, for example, be more to do with social sanctions) and what representativeness means (in the case of NGOs, impartiality or neutrality; for CBOs, there is often obvious partiality, the question is: is this inherently a negative thing?).

Some ideas for moving forward:

1. Reconsidering and developing models for meaningful partnerships between CBOs and larger development or humanitarian actors (i.e. when there is an obvious power and resource discrepancy) - are there good practices that can be shared?

2. How and should resources be transferred directly to CBOs to decide how to use (rather than being filtered through intermediaries' priorities), and what could accountability for these resources reasonably look like?

It is as said before quite complex to give answers to the raised questions by Sonia and others. CBOs and other community-based structures and mechanisms are much influenced by political and social settings of the country where they operate. In many cases, these differences apply also to urban settings within the same country and to nature and composition of the refugee/IDP "community" they "represent" or serve. I find it difficult to talk about them in generalized manner. From my experience with Syrian refugees in Cairo, CBOs have not yet been developed in a healthy manner given the fact that the presence of Syrian refugee is still relatively new and the feelings of temporariness among the refugees make the formation of "representative" CBOs a challenge. Refugee CBOs are very connected to country's of origin politics and to the groupings/divisions of people towards certain political events. Some of the refugee CBOs are induced by International community or national/transnational networks in order to legitimize specific channels of support. Others are self-organized by refugee communities and these are mostly less visible as they operate on a small-scale and they develop their own informal networks of support that are mostly based on refugee and host communities' conviviality.

In a country undergoing political changes like Egypt, refugee CBOs are very uncertain as they need to adjust to political waves in order to legitimize their work. Therefore, and through my experience, i find it always worth exploring to try and work through/with existing host community's CBOs and local structures. In many cases these structure already serve and work for refugees in their localities. They are much more flexible towards national policies and frameworks than refugee ones. However, a close attention should be paid to their affiliations and to keeping their relationships neutral. In regards to development actors, such as NGOs, there could be already established relationships with them and issues of discrepancies (which are always faced) might be mitigated. Bridging therefore relationships between national host communities' CBOs and structures and the genuine refugees' ones could bring in a new model. I am still thinking of ways to avoid intermediaries which are rather difficult in many contexts but one could argue that building sound partnerships (between local host community-CBOs and Refugee ones) rather than bringing in superior relationships could be an option to explore as well.

Priyanka Jain's picture

I would like to add on Dale's comment on Delhi. In the absence of a national legal framework of asylum, UNHCR registers, issues documentation to, determines the refugee status of, and assists over 24,000 urban refugees and asylum seekers from non-neighbouring countries and Myanmar. UNHCR assists refugees and asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Myanmar and Somalia in addition to smaller percentages of people from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Sudan, Iran and other countries. All of the communities face challenges in the areas of employment and security, housing security, physical safety, harassment and discrimination and education.

A successful case study is that of the Tibetan diaspora. The location of Majnu-ka-tilla or New Aruna Nagar, a Tibetan colony in Delhi, is akin to Grand Central Station of Tibetans. As a result, you will find in Delhi an intriguing gathering of Tibetans of different backgrounds. For the organisation of the refugee community, and more importantly to guide the Tibetan struggle for national self-rule, the Tibetan Government -in-exile with the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) have set up their headquarters in Dharamsala, 500 kilometers north-west of New Delhi in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.

The Tibetans, both inside and outside Tibet, recognise the CTA as their sole and legitimate government. The success of the Tibetan refugee community is attributed to its hard work, spirit of independence and adaptability. This has enabled Tibetan refugees to make the best sue of humanitarian assistance received from the government and people of India as well as from international aid organisations. Between Dharamshala and Delhi, CTA play an active role in four divisions: administration, agriculture, planning and development, and welfare.

The difference between the Tibetan diaspora and other communities show that governance and strong representation of the community is an important factor contributing to the adaptability of urban refugees within the local communities.

Sarah Elliott's picture

Thank you Sonia for inviting me to contribute to this discussion. I was the former Community Outreach Program Director at the Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance in Cairo from 2012 - 2014, where I worked with ten CBOs from six different refugee communities. My priority was to work to support these organisations after I realised that in most cases they were providing the services and solutions other refugee service providers weren't - namely protection, recreation, housing, financial and food assistance. I also became well aware of the need for such organisations to become more sophisticated in their governance and financial structures, to regularise their legal status, to approach and research potential funding possibilities offered by Embassies for example and to partner with Egyptian NGOs or other humanitarian organisations as flagged above by Dale. For this reason, we began with hosting workshops on CBO management, leadership and cross-cultural communication trainings by experts where many were inhibited by the discrimination they received or ongoing conflicts they had with their neighbouring host community. We conducted legal sessions on entering into tenancy agreements, civil status issues, on how CBO leaders could represent its members before police, hospitals and schools. Further, our Somali community outreach officer with a degree in community development provided guidance on writing proposals for micro-finance projects funded by UNHCR's Tadamon centres. Our Eritrean community outreach office also assisted her community CBO better articulate their concerns and needs before regular meetings with UNHCR's Representative, Elizabeth Tan, managing to secure the reopening of over 20 closed files. Although AMERA faced increasing difficulties and no longer is the organisation it once was, I'm incredibly proud of what my community outreach team began and of the possibilities that CBOs in Cairo had to become active members of host communities. I'm sure similar such capacity building activities are going on in many other urban contexts where refugees live in the world, and I'm very interested to learn more about them. What we could not do was provide the necessary funds needed to fully support the survival of these CBOs beyond the soft skills we were equipping them and the 'rent' we gave to host trainings or workshops at these centres. I'm looking forward to reading more on the ground experiences of working with CBOs in this discussion!

Edmund Page's picture

I would like to add to Dale Buscher’s perspective with which I agree. My perspective is limited to Nairobi and Kampala where I have worked with refugees since 2008, and here, as Dale mentions, most agency interventions are still designed around the reliance of refugees on subsistence support. There need to be more interventions that address the cause behind this reliance rather than continually treating the symptoms. Refugees would rely less on agencies if they were better educated on their situation and their rights.

In my experience, increased opportunity for resettlement in third countries can be added to the varied list of reasons why refugees choose the urban setting above the camps. Often the incentive of being resettled can be masked by other motivations but it later comes out as the most significant reason for staying in urban centres. Proportionally, in East Africa more urban refugees are resettled than refugees from the camps. This could be for a variety of reasons including that resettlement agencies have their head offices in cities and that other urban based NGO’s will be able to refer refugees to resettlement agencies on the basis of the ‘insecurity criteria’. Many refugees are also under the illusion that they will be referred for resettlement if they present a strong case of economic vulnerability. In fact, there are no criteria for resettlement based on being poor, and for those with other vulnerabilities the chances of resettlement are low and the process is long. The dream of being resettled is understandable and it is fuelled by elaborate reports sent back to East Africa by the diaspora who have succeeded in being resettled, but the dream is damaging when it is ill-informed.

A solution to this negative culture, which has knock on effects across the whole refugee community, is a greater awareness of the resettlement process and the opportunities available to refugees in their host countries. There are very valid criteria for being resettled, but refugees are not aware of what they are, and if they are they often do not know how to start processing their application. Most refugees do not know what it means to live Europe of America so how can they make an informed decision that that must be their destination?

Projects such as www.tamuka.org, ‘The Refugee ‘ magazine in Dadaab, FilmAid and www.kanere.org in Kakuma are making grounds in spreading awareness to refugee communities on all sorts of issues. However, I believe we need to launch a holistic education package, starting in refugee populated schools extending to community outreach programmes and post-graduate courses in Refugee Studies that are accessible to refugees in countries such as Uganda and Kenya. Are there any examples of such awareness programmes working well in other parts of the world?

Thank you for your invitation to contribute to this discussion to see how we can find solution for the challenges faced by the urban refugees and IDPs and the key role of CBOs towards the actual refugee situation. I am called Paluku Kapiteni, I am a former UN staff member and actually in exile as a refugee in Uganda. Actually I volunteer at BETHSAIDA COMMUNITY CHURCH/UGANDA as the representative for the urban emergencies. I was selected to as the spokesperson to represent John Kasereka Abraham, the BETHSAIDA COMMUNITY CHURCH director in order to always forward and reach you well the comments on behalf of the urban refugee population of Uganda.

In light of the above, I prefer to limit my perspective to Kampala only where I am experiencing the sufferings of a human being. And I want you to read this between lines you will see bloody drops from my eyes on this message. We are blocked in every situation and activity and the Pharaohs heart is hard, they refuse to let the people go this is the exact situation of the Israelite community (we are exactly living the Exodus), we need urgent interventions to save this population from security, hunger, extreme poverty and the high risk of lives.

We are the right people to represent our interests because we are affected directly. Also, on behalf of the urban refugee population of Uganda, I seek this opportunity because we are refugees ourselves and understand the challenges our fellow refugees face on the ground, instead of being represented by someone who has not experienced the pain of segregation, hunger, marginalization and other evils that refugees go through (see case of Congolese refugees living in Kampala).

Major problems that refugees are facing in Kampala:

a) Education: Primary school education is NOT FREE for urban refugee children in Uganda contrary to the UNHCR/European Union report that primary education which is compulsory and FREE for 4 children in every home. Unfortunately this is not true, a refugee child reach a total amount of at least 100$ a year to access the education in public primary school; this includes fees (60$ a year). Children are forced to stay out of school for failure to pay school fees term plus scholastic materials charged separately and parents have got bank account where to disburse directly the school fees of every child.

Now considering the cost of life which is high and the cases of urban refugees with big family size (10-15 people concentrated in single rooms), some children can access to education and others are forced to be out of schools for failure to pay school fees. And the consequences have become horrible: increase in number of urban refugee children born out of rape because young girls out of schools and are now involved in a forced prostitution for the living, they are being victims of eventual attacks and defilement and get children out of rape, and there is no guarantee that they are not going to be raped again because some of them in my community have already 2 kids at the age of 17 and most of the directly affected are the Congolese minors and no one is willing to support their medical bills.

b) Health: Drugs are being prescribed in government hospitals but they are not available (some refugee were found HIV/AIDS positive who need medical care, case of malaria attack to refugee children due to the presence of mosquitoes in the area, and all kind of infections to women).

c) Employment: Work permits are required but too expensive for the refugees.

d) Finance: CBOs and the registered faith based organizations initiative do financial assistance to fund their self help projects for the well being of urban refugees.

e) Standard of living: We are with not ignoring that Donors' fund and the recent US health cut to the country (this includes direct financial assistance) this very high since the refugees are not employed. As a result, they are forced to repatriate in spite of the insecurity in Eastern Congo.

f) Security: urban refugees with security threats
First of all, let me mention to you that Uganda government and human rights activists have clashed over the status of urban refugees and this counter accusation emanates from the findings of a report released by the refugee law project, which states that urban refugees in Uganda are discriminated and denied opportunities to better life. And these refugees are from DRCongo, South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Ethiopia, Erithrea and to now we have been reduced to societal rejects. To arrest our "psychosocial challenges" we need urgent intervention.

Contrary to the view that any refugee who chooses to live in urban area does not require support, the findings further demonstrate that we are living in the urban area we also require assistance, however government insists that it can only extend services in settlements.

Urban refugees remain recognized as the vulnerable who decided to live on their own. We retain the refugee status but the government and the UNHCR doesn't cater for us. Now government intervention is for those in settlements. "If urban refugees want help, they should request to go back to join the settlements," said Kazungu, the commissioner attached at the Office of the Prime Minister - Department of Refugees.

In addition to that, let me tell you a little bit that resettlement fulfills the responsibility to protect refugees.

Resettlement allows refugees whose lives are under threat in Uganda to reach a third country of safety. It can literally mean the difference between life and death. Here on ground government and the UNHCR have recognized this life-saving quality of resettlement on numerous occasions. Furthermore, facilitating the resettlement of refugees from a country of first asylum where their lives are at risk is the responsibility of both UNHCR and the international community. Unfortunately there is unwillingness shown by government agencies and UNHCR partners which have their head offices in Kampala to assist the urban refugees.

It is true we, urban refugees are not informed of the opportunities available to us in our host country. We also know that there are very valid criteria for being resettled but there are points to be mentioned as a problem of resettlement in East Africa:

• Continuing problem and the corruption scandal including some UNHCR staffs in Nairobi. We are people who have lost everything and now we have nothing. The money UNHCR is getting is on the name of the refugee unfortunately they spend this amount of the refugees for themselves. They eat three meals a day while we eat only one meal.
• Delay in reviewing and processing files and refugees in urgent need of resettlement have been waiting under risky condition.
• The inadequate resettlement referrals for prima facie refugees in Kampala.
• Malfunctioning resettlement system: government and the UNHCR are too slow in processing our case. Once resettlement authorities receive a referral, new bureaucratic delays arise. Straightly I am one of the victims, let me refer to you my own case, I'm a former UN STAFF member working with MONUSCO (the UN mission in DRC) I fled my country since 2010 due to security threats and because I managed report military intelligence officers who abducted my young sister for a period of 8 years, just few meters on my way from the UN office, I was kidnapped by the military along with some of my family members who were tortured to death but fortunately we managed to escape and we run to Uganda to seek asylum. The UN/Monusco officials forwarded officially my case to UNHCR senior protection to be assisted because I served the UN and I left unwillingly. But till now no one is on my rescue; this example will relate you relating you that it is particularly worrisome given the extraordinary security problems we face. This means my life is at risk and I must remain living under dangerous condition while my file is processed. I am with serious security problem I have 15 members on my file and I have been found to be HIV positive.

I, on behalf of the urban refugee population and the Bethsaida Community Church in Uganda, agree with the opinions brought as contributions to solve the matter. And mostly I appreciate your comment, Dale and Louise that there is a certain unwillingness shown by the larger development or humanitarian actors to support urban refugees through self help projects and all the comments in regard to the malfunctioning resettlement in Uganda.

Sonia asked 2 questions and we support 100% this conversation because urban refugees are claiming of being tired of having intermediaries and the request is if a way can be adopted to STOP this supported modern strategy to embezzle the urban refugee funds. In order to avoid the conflict between the population, in Kampala we do NOT require INTER Aid (UNHCR partner in Uganda for the urban refugees)

Our recommendation: For the work done and the good conduct and the organizational reports some of the largest CBOS have been registered by the government and granted PERMIT TO OPERATE AS NGOs in Uganda. But still we lack financial assistance to fund our new projects. With this,

1. We request a direct partnership between CBOs and the larger development or humanitarian actors. The UNHCR will have to meet refugees directly within our respective communities (CBOs). For example, BETHSAIDA COMMUNITY CHURCH is one of the largest community organization in Uganda, composed by refugees themselves with the initiatives of small scale projects to enable women, youth, children and the vulnerable groups as soon as possible to reduce poverty and have better lives, it is a well organized institution, it is registered and has been promoted from a small COB to an NGO. And
• was granted a PERMIT TO OPERATE AS AN NGO for a period of 3 years starting 2014-2017 document granted by the government because of its own success in self help projects for self sustenance and to reduce poverty (agriculture and home vegetable gardens/organic plants) for food relief to vulnerable among the urban refugees and for their well being.
• BETHSAIDA COMMUNITY CHURCH has got its own account in an international financial institution, own land, own building, office and a new brand car recently imported car to support the administration logistics.

2. Humanitarian actors and the fund will have to be directly to refugees accounts to decide how to use. Rather than being filtrated through intermediaries' priorities. Proposals from CBOs will have to be directly sent humanitarian actors. CBOs do not require NGOs in between to represent, introduce or organize urban refugee proposals. because we want to enlarge our community with new emergency projects:

- Opening school and increasing centers for (language, hair dressing, tailoring, carpenter, craft, computer science) for the assistance of the urban refugee children who are forced to be out of schools for failure to pay school fees to STOP the increase in number by the minors in a forced prostitution
- Opening of a health care facility and medical assistance (case of malaria attack to children because of the presence of mosquitoes in the area and the vaginal infections mostly on the claims women)
- Employment opportunity to urban refugees

Jorge Bela's picture

As Erin points out, there are about 33 million Internally Displaced People (IDP). Of those, about 4.5 million live in Colombia. This is an astounding number, and clearly illustrates the severity of the problem. The displacement has come in different waves: the first wave created by the still ongoing armed conflict, which started in the 1940s. The second wave started when paramilitary groups erupted in the 1980s. Initially created to fight the insurgency, eventually these groups grew into organized crime structures. The third wave was fueled by drug cartels, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, and the final one arose as the demobilized paramilitary members created new criminal bands early this century. It is noteworthy that these waves often coexisted simultaneously.

It is estimated that about 150.000 people are still being displaced each year in Colombia. Ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the armed insurgencies bring a ray of hope to this problem. Also, legislation has been approved in order to give back stolen land to their original owners, now turned IDP. Unfortunately, this process has been slow and difficult to implement, as armed groups still present a very real threat in much of the rural areas.

The impact in cities has been enormous. Here in Bogotá it is possible to perceive in the slums that climb in the southern mountains, the different waves of displaced people. In the older parts of those neighborhoods live the descendants of the earlier waves of IDP, in houses that show a much higher degree of consolidation than those higher on the hills and occupied by more recent IDP. The massive arrival of people brought a quick deterioration of living conditions in the neighborhoods they were occupying. Both Colombian cities covered by URB.IM have been magnets for IDP. In Bogotá they come primarily from the Magdalena region and the Atlantic coast, while in Cali they come from the nearby Pacific coast and the Valle del Cauca. It is estimated that in Bogotá alone there are close to half a million IDP.

Although the unemployment rate has decreased to slightly under 10% in recent times, it is still the highest in Latin America. This high rate is caused to a large degree by the IDPs, which are unable to find jobs in the large cities they move on. Once again, as Erin points out, this is causing that a significant number of IDP are moving from one city to another.

As I pointed out earlier, the peace negotiations bring hope that the armed conflict will finally come to an end, after more than 50 years of violence. This is the best hope to stop the displacement in Colombia. Still, levels of violence of all sorts, including that caused by criminal bands, will also have to come down in order to make possible the return of many IDPs to the locations of origin.

María Fernanda Carvallo's picture

En 2013 el ACNUR, Casa Espacio Refugiados, la COMAR y Sin Fronteras realizaron un diagnóstico participativo de los refugiados en México en donde se encontró como principales hallazgos que los refugiados no pueden insertarse al mercado laboral bajo una remuneración adecuada debido a la falta de reconocimiento de los documentos migratorios por parte de los empleadores. Así mismo, eso obstaculiza que puedan tener acceso a créditos en instituciones financieras, y a su vez que puedan adquirir o rentar una vivienda con las condiciones adecuadas. Con respecto a la seguridad y justicia, los refugiados desconocen sus derechos y pueden ser víctimas de maltrato y deselvolverse en acciones inlícitas por el contexto en el que viven.

Todo los elementos anteriores aumenta la vulnerabilidad de los refugiados en la Ciudad de México, por lo que las instituciones involucradas proponen diversas estrategias, algunos ejemplos son:

1. Coordinar con autoridades la implementación de una estrategia de difusión del documento migratorio emitido a los refugiados.
2. Coordinar la difusión de los talleres sobre derechos laborales para personas migrantes y refugiadas y la preparación de un folleto informativo sobre los principales derechos y garantías laborales existentes y exigibles en México.
3. Consultar con el gobierno del Distrito Federal cuáles son los programas de crédito hipotecario disponibles de los cuales podría beneficiarse la población refugiada.
4. Explorar la posibilidad de establecer convenios específicos con escuelas de tiempo completo o guarderías en apoyo a familias refugiadas.
5. Coordinar la difusión, entre la población refugiada, de los programas de salud y campañas de vacunación vigentes para promover la prevención de enfermedades. Y brindar información sobre los programas de salud.
6. Proponer la reimpresión y difusión de la “Guía de Bienvenida a la Ciudad de México” que publicada por el gobierno federal y la elaboración conjunta de un nuevo folleto con información que sea de utilidad para los refugiados sobre los servicios disponibles en cada delegación del Distrito Federal, como escuelas, centros de salud y hospitales, estaciones del metro, teléfonos de emergencia, etcétera.


widya anggraini's picture

Thank you for the interesting discussion and I am very moved by Paluku’s statement and concern. I really wish something could be done in your part of the world regarding your issue and the community. I can say that even in Indonesia even after the violent conflict in Ambon, hundreds of thousand of refugee have still not found back on their feet and living in an old run down warehouse with no means to cover their basic needs.

The government has provided assistance in the past by giving money to build an emergency house but it’s only temporary assistance and fail to capture long-term need of the people living as IDP. Government’s priority mainly is to return displaced person to their homes but often it is difficult to do because of security issue. Hence, initial help usually was in term of temporary housing as well as temporary school and other assistance in the camps. The choice of ‘transmigration’ is also offered.

International humanitarian organization, national and local Ngo are usually working hand in hand towards this issue. For example The World Food Program worked through local Ngo in distributing food, UNHCR in Jakarta also helped to assess situation of displaced person or WHO was helping in assessing health condition of displaced person, however, it has not given a significant impact in ensuring the protection for IDP. Hence, to answer Keeya-Lee question where can we start maybe we can start by looking at this refuge as part of the city not an outsider or stranger. Government, with their strong political will, must acknowledge their existence and start to include them with decision making process and provide same basic service as other citizen. Rule of law must also be fairly implemented to avoid jealousy among people.

I'm writing from Kampala, Uganda, where I've worked with urban refugees for about four years, and I would like to respond to Sonia Ben Ali's first question.

I think the first step is identifying CBOs and then finding out which of them have good reputations in their communities. This can be done quite easily if you are living among refugees and/or interacting with them regularly.

Once some potential partners have been identified, it will probably take two things to better support and work with them:
1. Meeting regularly; and
2. Financial assistance.

Practically speaking what could be done is: give small grants of $1000 - $3000 to a variety of CBOs, and meet with them at least one month. Meeting regularly will make it easier to monitor how grant-money is spent. Through regular interaction it would also be possible to identify non-financial areas of need (a common example here is the ability to articulate ideas clearly in written English).

I'm not familiar with an existing good practice, but I am aware of a bad practice. Bad practice would be to talk about how important CBOs are but then very rarely ever meet with them and not give them any financial support.

Keeya-Lee Ayre's picture

Thank you for your insights Stephen.

I am curious about the implications of your small grants suggestion. Does anyone have any examples of grant monitoring strategies that have been used effectively (or ineffectively) with CBOs?

Olatawura Ladipo-Ajayi's picture

I have found this conversation very interesting. IDPs are definitely becoming an increasing occurrence- at multiplying rates, and there are definitely challenges in assisting internally displaced persons.

What I garner from the conversation is that very little distinction is being made in the approach to deal with IDPs and refugees, whereas the situations are very different-being that IDPs remain in their country in a different center while refuges often migrate to a different country. Without this distinction, programs cannot work. As was mentioned by some of the panelists, one of the bigger challenges is identifying IDPs- they easily get lost in the urban centers. We talk about creating programs that target their needs, help community based organizations support them etc. but if they can not be identified and their pressing needs determined how can programs and CBOs help them?

I did some volunteer work with the IRC in Georgia and the approach to resettling refugees may not work in IDP cases. For instance, Nigeria's IDP numbers are rising due to the Boko Haram Terror, their needs are different from say refugees coming from Niger, IDPs already have roots. Urban centers for most of these cities are already dense so there is additional strain on limited resources. This makes it important to work with local authorities as well, they more than anyone are more aware of areas with additional strain, more traffic, areas that have needed additional govt. attention are often places where population is surging with IDPs. As Loren pointed out priorities for IDPS are different and humanitarian effort doesn't always take the lead, CBOs are a great idea provided they are used distinctively for the two different types of migrating crowd (IDPS and refugees). CBOs can only be effective if used strategically, and are only useful if they can identify IDPs, refugees are easy and more often than not concentrated in a particular areas. Short of providing financial support and the need to create programs, ability to deliver to the right group of people is important so situations described in Uganda can be avoided.

Loren Laundau's picture

I've read with interest many of the comments above. Shifting back to some of the initial discussions around involving CBOs and how to best transform opportunities for urban refugees and IDPs. To be sure, everyone should be involved in ways that are as inclusive and sustainable as possible. From our experience in South Africa (and observations elsewhere), there are two or three concerns I have with working with CBOs. (These are not reasons to avoid them, only issues of concern when considering partnerships).

1. The first is a tendency of partners to speak unverified 'truth'. Aid agencies and advocates often rely too heavily on the words spoken by groups on the ground. We need to take these perspectives seriously, but our research suggests a need to approach claims of particular form of vulnerability or marginalization (and the sources of it) need to be empirically interrogated. As with other aid agencies, CBOs also have a tendency to exacerbate needs and over valorize their real and potential impacts.

2. Need for refugees and IDPs to come forward as refugees and IDPs. I remain suspicious of any organisation or body aimed exclusively at providing assistance to the displaced. This is all the more so at the local level where there may be great degrees of local, social surveillance. In my view, 'successful' IDPs and urban refugees are those who are relatively indistinguishable or invisible. Any organisation only targeted such groups may require them to come forward or create incentives for identifying as distinct from others. However, CBOs that provide general assistance to spatial areas rather than socio-bureaucratic categories may help address this.

3. The powerful biases and interests of local organisation. I recognise that every organisation has biases and interests. However, CBOs are often captured or controlled by relatively narrow sets of interests (ethnic, linguistic, religious, etc). In my own experience, claims that they represent or serve all people are often not born out. Due to overt exclusion or reluctance on behalf of IDPs/Refugees to seek help from 'others', may be behind this.

As noted, these are not reasons to avoid CBOs, but only that we must approach them with the same level of care that we would other groups or aid bodies.

Windsor’s perspective is true and correct for the challenges in Uganda because he is experiencing the problem on ground.

He is giving his comment from Kampala, Uganda, and where he has worked with urban refugees for about four years.

I think the first step should be to identify CBOs and their locations and mostly those which has already got reports of good conduct, discipline, community own bank account in international financial institutions, certificates to operate as NGOs within the communities.

The larger development or humanitarian actors want really to show their willingness and if we want to give a chance to these good practices on ground: first of all these larger development or humanitarian actors shall directly partner with the CBOs and avoid a third party in between, secondly keep organizing regular interactions urban refugees only and then providing them with financial support at least give small grants to support the small scale projects that shall benefit women, youth, children and the marginalized groups among urban refugees (amount for urban refugee purpose to be transferred directly to CBO’s Bank account than send it through intermediaries).

It's with great interest that I'm following this discussion.

I would like to add the need to inform the urban communities that eventually are hosting these refugees. As correctly pointed at the beginning of this conversation, often IDPs are facing hostility and treated as intruders. In Italy, that is geographically is located at the cross road of these flux of migrations, majority of people have a negative perception of refugees. IDPs are just considered as immigrants trying to take advantage of the national services and looking for jobs. I can imagine this gross misconception to be common in many other countries and locations.

Involving these target communities in cultural programs that could explain the real reason that are forcing IDPs to migrate, could represent an efficient tool to create the needed integration to IDPs. This context could also favorite the efficiency of CBOs and give IDPs more comfort in identifying themselves (rather then hide) as they could feel more accepted and understood.

Similar initiatives can be promoted at local level but will also need the support at National and Regional level (in the case of Italy the UE).

The role of NGOs and International agencies could be key to facilitate these process.

Interesting debate. I didn't really think about the concept of Urban vs Camp refugees before now. I guess it's very easy to overlook the idea of urban refugees, since the default image of refugees is sprawling rows of tents in the middle of nowhere, ravaged by disease and hunger and attracting foreign aid workers. Now I realise that urban refugee-ship is a more common scenario than we care to assume. It didn't take me a long time to realise that a good number of the refugees from the terrorist attacks in Northern Nigeria might actually be urban refugees. Because the worst attacks are happening in the most rural and cut-off places, there's a pattern of fleeing towards the bigger towns and cities. Here's my brief blog post on that humanitarian crisis: http://urb.im/blog/lagosin/140620

And then this, from today's news, as if in confirmation: http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/un-boko-haram-insurgency-has-displac...

I wonder if anyone is actually tracking these IDPs, and enumerating them. What percentage are urban refugees, for example?

Sonia Ben Ali's picture

Many thanks to all of you for having participated to this very rich conversation.

As a conclusion, I think most of us agree on the fact that CBOs play a key role and should be supported in their work and initiatives. Many challenges nevertheless exist (grant monitoring, navigating biases and interests, questioning real representativeness of those groups...). More research and sharing of best practice in those areas could help overcome some of those challenges. In this regards, I would like to incite anyone interested in sharing good practices and ideas on those issues to contact our team (www.urban-refugees.org/contact) or upload documents on UNHCR's website:


About the issue of involving development actors in the conversation, there is now a general agreement that this should be pursued in order to better assist refugees in urban settings and to shift approaches from camp to urban interventions. Our work at URBAN REFUGEES (www.urban-refugees.org) intends to engage those actors fully in the research of solutions, particularly those working on urban poverty issues. We welcome any organisation willing to take part to the initiative, so feel free to contact our team anytime.

This conversation will remain open at this link http://urb.im/c140609 and I hope we will keep it ongoing!

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