Why Governments Prefer Spatially Segregated Settlement Sites for Urban Refugees

By Kibreab, Gaim | Refuge, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Why Governments Prefer Spatially Segregated Settlement Sites for Urban Refugees


Kibreab, Gaim, Refuge


Abstract

The urbanization of Africa has been recent, rapid and notably disimllar from the pattern of urbanization that occured previously in Europe. Significantly, the urbanization of Africa has occured in the absence of structural transformation. Within this reality, refugees are viewed by African host governments as exacerbating the problems of urbanization and are most often located in government-designated and spatially segregated sites-refugee camps or settlements. Often in defiance of such policies, most refugees with urban backgrounds tend to congregate in urban centres. The case study of Sudan illustrates that even where the stay of certain refugees in urban areas may be formally regularised by governments there are nonetheless identifiable common patterns and problems arising out of and causing the spatial segregation of refugees away from urban centres. It is argued that the underlying reality of urbanization in Africa plus the protracted problems for governments created by urbanisation generally and cross-border ethnic solidarity in the case of many refugee movements in Africa, shape current hostile refugee policies towards urban refugees.

Resume

L'urbanisation de l'Afrique est de date recente. Elle s'est faite de facon rapide et a suivi un parcours particulierement different de celui emprunte par l'urbanisation precedente de l'Europe. De maniere significative, l'urbanisation de l'Afrique s'est produite en l'absence d'une transformation structurelle. Avec cette realite comme toile de fond, les refugies sont percus par les gouvernements hotes des pays d'Afrique comme aggravant les problemes d'urbanisation, et ils sont le plus souvent installes dans des lieux specialement designes par les gouvernements et spatialement separes--notamment des camps de refugies ou des zones d'installations.

Souvent en faisant fi de telles politiques, la plupart des refugies issus des milieux urbains tendent a se rassembler dans les centres urbains. L'etude de cas du Soudan demontre que meme la ou des gouvernements arrivent sanctionner le sejour de certains refugies en milieux urbains, on peut neanmoins identifier des tendances communes et des problemes qui resultent de, et provoquent, la segregation spatiale des refugies loin des centres urbains.

L'article soutient que la realite sous-jacente de l'urbanisation en Afrique, ajoutee aux problemes a n'en pas finir confrontant les gouvernements et engendres, d'une part par l'urbanisation en general, et de l'autre par la solidarite ethnique transfrontaliere dans le cas de beaucoup de mouvements de refugies en Afrique, tout cela pris ensemble, faconne les politiques actuelles relatives aux refugies qui sont hostiles aux refugies urbains.

Introduction and Statement of the Problem

The question of urban refugees should be placed in the context of the rapid process of urbanization experienced by most African countries. What is peculiar about the process of urbanization in this region is that it is taking place in the absence of structural transformation. (1) In the West, rural--urban migration took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the context of massive process of structural transformation reflected in technological innovation, industrialization, and shrinkage of the primary sector--agriculture. As a result, those who were separated from their means of production were easily absorbed in manufacturing and later in the expanding service sector.

In much of Africa, however, the manufacturing sector is very small and its capacity of absorption is quite limited. The manufacturing sector has been experiencing further constriction due to macro-economic policy reforms introduced in connection with structural adjustment programs. Many adjusting economies in sub-Saharan Africa have been experiencing a process of de-industrialization due to inability to compete with economies that enjoy technological comparative advantages. …

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