New Approaches to Urban Refugee Livelihoods

By Buscher, Dale | Refuge, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

New Approaches to Urban Refugee Livelihoods


Buscher, Dale, Refuge


Abstract

Increasingly refugees live in urban areas--usually in slums impacted by unemployment, poverty, overcrowding and inadequate infrastructure. Host governments often restrict refugees' access to the labor market, access that can be further impeded by language barriers, arbitrary fees, and discrimination. UNHCR and its partners are seldom equipped to understand and navigate the complex urban economic environment in order to create opportunities for refugees in these settings. Based on assessments undertaken in 2010 and 2011 in Kampala, New Delhi and Johannesburg, research findings indicate that refugees in urban areas adopt a variety of economic coping strategies, many of which place them at risk, and that new approaches and different partnerships are needed for the design and implementation of economic programs. This paper presents findings from the assessments and lays out strategies to address the challenges confronting urban refugees' ability to enter and compete in the labor market.

Resume

De plus en plus, les refugies vivent dans les zones urbaines, generalement dans des bidonvilles affectes par le chomage, la pauvrete, la surpopulation et des infrastructures insuffisantes. Les gouvernements qui les hebergent limitent souvent l'acces des refugies au marche du travail, alors que cet acces est en outre limite par la barriere de la langue, des frais arbitraires, et la discrimination. Le HCR et ses partenaires sont rarement a meme de comprendre les environnements urbains complexes et de s'y orienter, dans le but de creer des opportunites pour les refugies vivant dans ces contextes. Bases sur des etudes en 2010 et 2011 a Kampala, New Delhi et Johannesburg, des travaux recents montrent que les refugies dans les zones urbaines utilisent une variete de strategies de survie economique, dont plusieurs sont risquees, et qu'il y a un besoin de developper de nouvelles approches et des partenariats differents, et de mettre en place des programmes economiques. Cet article presente les resultats de ces etudes et propose des strategies repondant aux defis auxquels sont confrontes les refugies urbains qui veulent entrer sur le marche du travail.

Introduction

Amongst the world's burgeoning urban populations are refugees fleeing conflict and persecution. Escaping their own countries, they arrive in cries already collapsing under the weight of over-population, inadequate infrastructure and stretched public services. These refugees arrive with little more than the clothes on their backs and crowd into the urban slums of developing world cities like Nairobi, Kampala, Johannesburg, Cairo and New Delhi. There they seek out a means of survival alongside the host community urban poor in neighborhoods plagued by high levels of unemployment, crime, sub-standard shelter, and often limited basic services--potable water, sanitation, garbage collection and public transportation.

Refugees, like internal migrants, seek out urban areas for access to better health care, educational systems, and economic opportunities. (1) Some also seek the anonymity that large urban centers provide. They may leave refugee camps for the urban areas or seek refuge in countries that do not utilize a camp-based model. Some refugees seek protection that they couldn't find in the camps; some come seeking access to other forms of humanitarian assistance and the possibility of third country resettlement. (2)

While fleeing to cries is not new, what is new is that refugees are migrating to urban areas in ever greater numbers. (3) According to UNHCR's 2001 Statistical Yearbook, 13% of refugees were in urban areas, while the organization's most recent statistics state that 58% of all refugees are in urban areas. (4) The urban refugee population in Kampala, for example, tripled between 2007 and 2010, (5) and they appear to be migrating ever-greater distances. One now finds Somalis in Hyderabad and New Delhi, India and Congolese in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa. …

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