Help cities help people – bringing everyone together in the refugee response: Make Change Happen podcast episode 23

In the run-up to World Humanitarian Day, this episode of Make Change Happen brings together expert researchers and practitioners to unveil the challenges and lessons of urban forced displacement.

Article, 17 August 2023

In IIED’s ‘Make Change Happen’ podcasts, our researchers and guests discuss key global development challenges and explain what we are doing to support positive change.

According to UNHCR, the global number of people forcibly displaced by conflict, violence, human rights abuses and other forms of persecution has reached 110 million. When asked to imagine the living conditions of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs), rows of white tents or temporary structures often come to mind. In fact, around 60% of refugees and IDPs live in towns and cities.

Urban areas offer the potential for housing, education and employment, setting a pathway towards self-reliance, and for economic and social contributions of displaced people in their host settings. Providing basic services and support to enable integration calls for engagement from a range of actors including city authorities, mayors, service providers, county and national governments and humanitarian agencies.

But the role of these different actors in responding to the needs of refugees is often unclear; some do not recognise they have a role to play.

This episode of Make Change Happen is hosted by Lucy Earle, director of IIED's Human Settlements research group, and features Nassim Majidi, co-founder and executive director of Samuel Hall; Jack Makau, associate director of Slum Dwellers International in Kenya; and Samer Saliba, director of city practice at the Mayors Migration Council.

The podcast discusses challenges and lessons from ‘participatory forums’ – part of a 3.5-year research project – that brings together different stakeholders and refugee representatives.

Samer Saliba discusses the crucial role of mayors in responding to the needs of displaced communities in their cities: “Mayors are familiar with the local context. They are inherently multitaskers, working on housing issues, economic issues and with different populations in different parts of the city. They are mandated to serve all city residents, regardless of where they come from.”

Jack Makau describes the project’s progress in Nairobi, and the different approaches of bringing government, at city and national level, into conversations about refugees and IDPs, and how to shift attitudes to get different groups engaged in the refugee response.

Nassim Majidi, drawing on experience from the forums in Addis Ababa and Jalalabad, explains how convening stakeholders with seemingly different viewpoints can quickly build trust.


Head and shoulders photo of Lucy Earle.

Lucy Earle is director of IIED's Human Settlements research group. Her work focuses on the intersections of urbanisation, urban poverty and humanitarian crises, in particular forced displacement into and within urban areas.

Head and shoulders photo of Nassim Majidi.

Nassim Majidi is co-founder and executive director of Samuel Hall. She has expertise in return, reintegration and durable solutions to displacement and has published widely, for policy and academia, on issues around migration. Nassim leads teams of researchers across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

Head and shoulders photo of Jack Makau.

Jack Makau is an associate director of Slum Dwellers International in Kenya. For last two decades he has worked to build development relationships between marginalised urban communities and city governments.

Head and shoulders photo of Samer Saliba.

Samer Saliba is director of city practice at the Mayors Migration Counci (MMC). Samer has helped over 50 cities better serve migrant and displaced people. At the MMC, Samer supports city leaders deliver local actions that advance global goals, including through the Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees.

How to listen and subscribe

The ‘Make Change Happen’ podcast provides informal insights into IIED’s work to create positive change and make the complex issues we face more accessible to wider audiences. The title refers to IIED’s 2019-2024 strategy, which sets out how IIED plans to respond to the critical challenges of our time.

The podcast is also available on IIED's YouTube channel.

You can follow some of the people you have heard in this episode on Twitter at @lucyurbanearle, @nassimmajidi and @samersaliba. Follow the podcast on @IIED_Voices for all the latest updates.