On cities

David Miliband, writing in the Guardian, asks why no one is talking about cities —

In all the many column inches on the European refugee crisis, one point has barely received a mention: the overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees are not in refugee camps. Rows of white tents in an otherwise sparse landscape are often featured in the media, but the reality is that 80% of Syrian refugees have sought refuge outside of camps, and the majority of these are living in urban areas – whether in “informal tented settlements”, rented rooms, or half-finished buildings.

He goes on to note the potential shift this means —

The challenges for humanitarians are huge. Outside the physical confines of a camp, refugees can melt away, almost invisible and dispersed amongst the urban population. This complicates the tasks of registering, providing services, disseminating information, and ensuring refugees are aware of their rights, and able to access assistance should they experience exploitation or abuse.

Humanitarians must change too, and tailor their responses to the urban environment. Whereas in a refugee camp, almost everything must be brought in from elsewhere and a micro-society built from scratch, in urban areas, refugees’ needs can be met in ways that support existing systems and contribute to longer-term development goals – benefitting the whole population: host and refugee.

Humanitarian programmes have the potential to make the difference between dependency and development. For example, providing refugees with cash rather than in-kind goods, so they can stimulate the local economy by buying what they need. Or making sure that refugees can access education and work – critical both for contributing locally, and for rebuilding the society on their return home. Or supporting municipal authorities to provide housing for refugees, thus contributing to longer-term sustainable urban development while avoiding the creation of expensive camps.

Related: IRC’s 10 urban planning principles every humanitarian should know

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