Reimagining refugee futures: cities, not camps? full transcript
Host [00:00:01]: You are listening to the Make Change Happen podcast for IIED, the International Institute for Environment and Development.
In this episode, recorded for World Refugee Day, researchers from our urban development and energy teams, along with local experts working in Nairobi, discuss how and why refugee populations in Africa and the Middle East are shifting from camps to cities.
Liz Carlile [00:00:29]: Welcome to IIED’s podcast Make Change Happen. I’m so glad you could join us today. I’m your host, Liz Carlile, and I’m director of communications at IIED. I have some IIED colleagues here in the online space with me that I will introduce you to in a moment, and we hope to be joined by some special guests.
I think, for us, the Make Change Happen podcast is really important. It’s trying to make us think about change, and not for a long while has the word change resonated so strongly in the world. I think we’re seeing around us, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter, outpouring of support.
These have really demanded that we change our way of working, our ways of being, and our ways of seeing the world. And I think today’s conversation is also pushing us to see the world differently, to see that we’re prepared to think about people, think about their roles, and their different way their lives and how these play out.
We’re launching this episode for World Refugee Day, June 20
th, and this morning I’m going to be talking to researchers here, at IIED, my colleagues Deena Dajani, Lucy Earle and Kevin Johnstone. And I’d like to take a minute now for them to introduce themselves. Lucy…
Lucy Earle [00:02:01]: Hi Liz, hi Deena and Kevin. As you know, I’m a researcher in the Human Settlements group. I’m working on a big research project that’s just started comparing the wellbeing and self-reliance of refugees and other displaced people in urban areas and camps. So I'm particularly interested in how displaced people experience life in towns and cities.
Liz Carlile [00:02:25]: Great. Deena?
Deena Dajani [00:02:28]: Hello Liz, hello Lucy, hello Kevin. My name is Deena, I’m also a researcher at the Human Settlements group and I work with Lucy on the project she mentioned, protracted displacement in an urban world. I’ve been working on several research projects on refugees in the past few years both in the Middle East as well as refugees, who have settled in European cities in Athens, Berlin and London.
Liz Carlile [00:02:53]: Great. And Kevin, I know we’ve spoken before on our energy podcast but please, do introduce yourself again today.
Kevin Johnstone [00:03:01]: Thanks Liz, hi Lucy and Deena. I’m an energy access specialist looking at ways to bring energy to everyone around the world. Recently, I did a piece of work looking at the crossroads of energy, gender-based violence and deforestation in refugee camps in Tanzania, focusing on cooking.
Liz Carlile [00:03:24]: Fantastic. And I’m also happy to welcome, or we will be welcoming at some point in the programme, Dyfed Aubrey, who is the Inter-Regional Advisor for the UN-Habitat based in Nairobi, and Michael Owiso, who is dean of the School of Development and Strategic Studies at Maseno University in Kisumu, Kenya. We’ll be very lucky in having their contributions to some of the points we’re making today.
So, going back, World Refugee Day, June 20
th, this is a huge issue for us and it’s growing in importance. What we’re trying to do is to think about the different ways in which we perceive this issue of refugees and displaced people, and it’s a great moment to ask Lucy and Deena perhaps to clarify what we mean by refugees.
The UNHCR website, the UN refugees agency, says here that there are 70.8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, and 25.9 million of those are refugees.
Lucy Earle [00:04:44]: Yes Liz, when the UNHCR talk about refugees, it’s talking about a specific category of people who have crossed an international border and that’s really important.
I actually did write down the definition of refugee, I’ll try to get it right, but it’s somebody who is forced to flee because of persecution, war or violence, have a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, and they are unable or afraid to return home. But, obviously, you also have people who have been displaced because of persecution or violence but haven’t crossed a border, and we refer to them as internally displaced people or IDPs. And then, you have a whole category of people who are dispersed for other reasons. For example, climate change or a disaster or a big development project like a dam. And in some cases, these people also cross borders, but they are not called a refugee. That’s a bit of a point of argument amongst specialists.
Liz Carlile [00:05:45]: So it’s quite clear it’s complicated and, probably, no agreement entirely on what the figures are at any given point, but what we do know is that this is a big issue. And I think by the time we’ve recorded this podcast, it’s likely that 1,300 people will have been displaced in some way. So, this is something we need to focus our attention on. So, I think, perhaps, we could start by looking a little bit about the impact of the camps. What they are and how they work. Who would like to start off in that direction?
Kevin Johnstone [00:06:25]: Maybe I could start with some of the work we did last year with the energy team, Liz?
Liz Carlile [00:06:32]: That would be great. I think just to give people a sense of how it works, and what we mean by that, would be really helpful.
Kevin Johnstone [00:06:38]: Great. So, we were tasked to look at cooking specifically, but also to understand the effects of cooking on deforestation and gender-based violence in three refugee camps in Western Tanzania.
One of the camps has been there since 1996, and two of them were set up in 2015 as several hundred thousand Burundians fled the violence and political upheaval in Burundi. What we found is, from our kind of brief look there, what we could tell is that most people were reliant on wood and some people preferred charcoal, and that kind of brings in some of the issues around cooking and individual preferences and these kind of things.
But the main issue to look at is that women and girls are the custodians of energy in the household, in this context, and so they’re tasked with a lot of the so-called chores around cooking: cooking food, the prep, the clean-up, all these things. And most importantly, tasked with getting fuel. Actually, the UNHCR provides a distribution of meals but the means to cook that meals is up to the refugee.
There are a lot of limitations on refugees getting fuel. So there’s political issues, they don’t have freedom of movement, they are only allowed about 4km outside the camps, legally, to collect the fuel, and if they go further than that it’s actually illegal. It brings in confrontations with community members over scarce resources and, of course, you have women and girls trekking many, many kilometres over many hours to collect the wood itself and bring it back.
This, obviously, leads them open to all sorts of protection issues, to violence, to rape, and even murder. At the same time, interestingly enough, in Tanzania, in some of the focus group discussions we discussed what the coping mechanisms and other strategies. Of course, they had so many different interesting solutions. One of them that clearly comes to mind is: why don’t the men go? And they said: yeah, well, of course, that’s an interesting solution but, in fact, if the men go, it’s quite common that they disappear altogether, which has implications on the household itself, in terms of missing someone from the household and distributions, and let alone the human cost of this.
On top of all that, there is the issue of deforestation, which the Tanzanian government and UNHCR are very concerned about. Normally, you see refugees as the scapegoat and clearly from satellite imagery, since 2015, there has been increased deforestation around the camps.
Usually, it’s blamed on the refugees collecting wood and, of course, these camps are 300-350 thousand people and, of course, there’s going to be a high contribution of deforestation by the refugees, but you also have other issues of land use change, host communities, the communities that live closest to the camps, changing the land that they use to grow more crops to trade with the refugees and so on and so forth.
We can see that cooking really is quite a complicated subject and there’re many different issues, and it crosses political, economic and social sectors. So, it was quite eye-opening for us to take a look at this as quick as we did, but it brings up a lot of questions around cooking and protection, and providing energy for refugees in camps.
Liz Carlile [00:10:52]: So, already we can see a huge complexity, can’t we? In terms of a group of people trying to live their lives as normal, but in a place where they’ve just effectively arrived and been put. And then, the communities around the camps trying to, I suppose, deal with both the threat and the potential of that. So, you’ve talked about gender impacts, you’ve talked about environmental impacts. Lucy, Deena do you want to contribute any thoughts here?
Lucy Earle [00:19:23]: Yes, I think what’s interesting to note is also that refugee camps, when they’re established, they often draw new populations of people from around the country to those sites. And because refugees come often with humanitarian assistance, there will be people setting-up a refugee camp providing food, aid and providing services like schools and hospitals and, actually those camps can draw populations to areas, which may not have had many people living there previously and that can really exacerbate as well the environmental impact, which Kevin mentioned.
But I think what’s it’s really important to note, actually, is that the majority of the world’s refugees are not in camps. Although camps draw people’s attention, I think it’s around 60% of the world’s refugees that are in towns and cities, and only a minority are in camps.
Jordan is a really interesting example of how things are really skewed towards camps, in that they’ve got – Deena probably has better figures but hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. 80% of those refugees are in urban areas, but 80% of the funding goes to the main refugee camps. And that’s kind of a skewed situation.
Liz Carlile [00:12:44]: Deena, do you want to tell us a little bit about that?
Deena Dajani [00:12:46]: Yes, absolutely. So, officially, there are around 650 thousand Syrian refugees registered in Jordan, but it’s estimated that around over a million, so 1.2 is the total number. That’s one of the issues that actually differs between working with the refugees, supporting refugees in camps and urban areas to supporting refugees in camps, because a lot of the refugees in urban areas are unregistered.
So, although a percentage of them are, many of them actually do not have access to any of the support or humanitarian assistance that can be provided if you’re a registered refugee. So, like Lucy said, most refugees live in cities and a huge amount of these refugees, a significant amount, are unregistered. That leaves one of the few options they have, in terms of livelihoods, is an informal economy where they could be subject to more exploitation because of the lack of any rights they have to protect them.
Liz Carlile [00:12:58]: Okay, so we have this situation, the camp situation that Kevin has described, and then we have the situation where there’re a number of people living in cities in some way or other, and this challenge of registration.
Before we leave this understanding around the impact of camps, I think, Lucy, you were going to talk to Michael Owiso from Moseno University on some of these kind of security issues around camps, and how people make choices as to where to house people, where should the camps be, where should refugees be housed? So, I think we are going to hear from Michael.
Michael Owiso [00:14:51]: Kenya experienced a large influx of refugees around 1990, 1991 and 1992. You know, with the conflict in Somalia and the conflict in Sudan. This then forced the country to make decisions in terms of where to house the refugees.
For Kenya’s part, two major considerations were made: the first was domestic considerations. In domestic considerations, Kenya, of course, was thinking about what are the costs that come with housing refugees: social costs, economic costs, environmental costs, health costs, and security concerns, and so forth. For example, Kenya talked about, socially, how would this create conflict between the host communities, particularly, if whether they would be hosted or not. If these large influxes, for example, were housed in Nairobi, what would that mean for the populations in Nairobi or populations elsewhere in the country? And so, Kenya then chose to house them in the Northern parts, which are sparsely populated, and we have huge chunks of land where we only have pastoralists moving back and forth in those lands.
That was one consideration. But also, economically, this also then did mean that Kenya would not have huge economic costs related to housing refugees, for example, in Nairobi, the capital city. By putting them in the Northern part of Kenya, that would also mean that the economic costs are negligible, so to speak.
Another consideration was to do with the environment, and of course, what environmental impact would this mean to the country and to the regions where they were housed? And of course, putting a refugee camp in the Northern part of Kenya would have some environmental impact, but not so much as opposed to, for example, creating a whole region in the White Highlands of Kenya, which is the bread basket of the country, and house refugees there.
The other consideration that was made was to do with security concerns. And here, we talk about both national security as well as the stability of the country. The security concerns were, supposing, for example, that these are refugees coming from Sudan and there’s some kind of retaliation from the Sudanese government, or from any other warring factions, for that matter, that made them to actually become displaced.
Containing them at the border would mean that such a conflict would not find its way into the Kenyan territory, and would be contained at that level and therefore, not affect the general Kenyan population. So when it comes to security concerns, these were some of the concerns that made the country, Kenya, host refugees at the borders.
Also, if you want to talk about stability, then it meant that if Kenya had camps, and big camps, such as Dadaab and Kakuma somewhere in the heart of Kenya, and the local population, for example, got wary of hosting refugees and got tired of the problems, challenges that came with hosting refugees, then it would lead to a situation of instability on the part of the country. Instability can also be seen from the view of a possible attack from a faction, from the other side. We saw, for example, historically, attacks by different communities, different factions in South Sudan and those spilling into Kakuma refugee camps, for example. So then, that would pose the instability question for Kenya.
Having spoken about the domestic considerations, Kenya also had, or has, foreign policy considerations that they make when hosting refugees. One of them is the reputation that, by hosting refugees, Kenya then would have a reputation regionally. Remember one of Kenya’s foreign policy agendas has been to appear as the regional peacemaker. That is key in terms of reputation that Kenya is a good neighbour, Kenya hosts refugees.
But also, in hosting the same refugees that Kenya also makes, and has made, efforts to pacify warring factions from example, in Somalia as well as in Sudan. Those are some of the benefits that Kenya considers. One other benefit has got to do with the question of extracting humanitarian aid, and the benefits that come from the international community as a result of that. Those also are considerations that Kenya has made in hosting refugees.
Lucy Earle [00:20:29]: Yeah, and I think a lot of the work that we’re doing at IIED is trying to see how refugees can actually benefit from being in urban areas. There are so many negatives attached to being in a camp: environmental ones, issues around violence, also the massive cost of keeping people in camps, and the lack of dignity and lack of opportunity that is there. Being an urban refugee, being a refugee in a town or city, that’s not easy either, but the research we’re doing is trying to show how towns and cities could be much better for refugees.
But although I personally would think that a world without refugee camps would be a much better world, it’s a complicated issue because there are a lot of sensitivities with host governments about who refugees are, and a desire in many cases to keep them in one place versus the other under relatively strict control. This contrasts from one country to another, but there are these sort of security considerations that do come to the fore for many governments about refugees and keeping them within a geographical area.
Liz Carlile [00:21:45]: So I guess moving our focus from camps to the cities, I think Lucy, you and Deena were just talking about how there has been this gradual shift and you mentioned research, presumably this is the new research that you’re undertaking with the GCRF. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Lucy Earle [00:21:05]: Yeah, so the GCRF is the Global Challenges Research Fund and it’s UK Overseas Development assistance that’s being used to fund research in a lot of different areas related to humanitarian and development challenges. We have funding for a three-year project from the GCRF and it’s looking at the issue of protracted displacement. So we’re looking at refugee situations and situations of IDPs, where they’ve been displaced for more than five years.
Liz Carlile [00:22:35]: Sorry, just to interrupt Lucy, for our listeners, IDPs, just to reaffirm, these are internally displaced people?
Lucy Earle [00:22:43]: Yeah, that’s right. We were talking a bit about IDPs earlier, those are people displaced by conflict or natural disasters or climate change, but who haven’t crossed a border. We’re looking at IDP populations in our Afghanistan study. In Afghanistan you have people who have returned, they were refugees, they crossed a border to escape conflict and they’ve returned, and sometimes they’ve been displaced again internally, or they’ve been people who’ve been displaced with Afghanistan because of other forms of violence. We’re also looking at Ethiopia, Kenya and Jordan.
And the idea of the study is to do a comparison between populations in camps and populations in urban areas, and look at the differences in experiences of wellbeing, of livelihoods and of potential self-reliance and being able to live a life, have a sustainable livelihood, with dignity.
We chose those countries because they have both camps and urban populations. One of the first things we’re going to do is a household survey. When it’s safe to do that we’ll be surveying around 400 or so refugees in camps and urban areas in each of those four countries.
We should be starting to get some preliminary findings perhaps in Spring next year, if we’re lucky, maybe a bit later.
Liz Carlile [00:24:02]: It’s very exciting, we’ll be able to actually bring the voices of refugees into your thinking around this, and to be able to get those voices higher up the policy chain I guess.
Lucy Earle [00:24:15]: Well, what’s really interesting about this research, and quite novel about it, although the urban camps comparison is novel but it hasn’t been done on a big scale before. What’s really interesting is that also, in each of the four cities, we’re setting up a participatory forum.
The idea is that we’ll be bringing in, bringing together refugees and host communities, refugees often live in informal settlements, so we’re bringing in informal settlement organisations. Bringing them into a forum with people who run the cities and people from the mayor’s office, people from other parts of government and service providers to start talking about solutions for refugees that work for hosts as well.
That’s really important because often the voices of refugees are just not heard in local planning processes. I think that’s something Kevin's mentioned before as well in relation to the Tanzania study about the lack of voices, particularly women’s voices, in local planning processes.
Liz Carlile [00:12:44]: I think that’s what struck me when I was preparing for this is, and why I said earlier about this need for us to see things differently, you know, to see the opportunities and perhaps prepare for those in a way that people haven’t been able to because they haven’t been able to hear the direct experience and voices of refugees when making these decisions.
I know Lucy too, you’ve been speaking to Dyfed Aubrey, who is working at UN-Habitat in Nairobi. And I guess it’ll be great to hear from him around how towns and cities can prepare in more positive ways for large numbers of refugees, so that they get the right kind of support for sustainable urban development.
Dyfed Aubrey [00:26:08]: I think it’s a very important question since the majority of displaced populations, refugees, IDPs are now coming to cities. I think one thing is important to try to understand the longevity of displacement. We’re finding displacement trends ever increasing and particularly in complex crises and in conflict situations. If it is expected that displacement should be protracted, there is a lot that cities can do. I mean, what we’re hoping is that IDPs, refugees, those people who are forcibly displaced can be put on track for self-reliance as soon as possible, so that they can contribute to the local economy, they can contribute to social development, etc.
Cities can really support that a lot by ensuring access to education, ensuring access to the health system, but also in terms of planning, ensuring that they can be accommodated within the urban fabric through densification approaches or city extensions. We’ve seen, for instance, in Iraq a lot of progress in accommodating IDPs within extensions of cities. The Oromia Region in Ethiopia, for instance, where 11 cities were required to create spaces in the planned fabric of the city for IDPs.
There’s a lot that cities can do with the local private sector to see how these labour markets of refugees and IDPs can be utilised and brought into the urban economy.
So, there’s a lot that can be done but it does require investments. It requires investments in your health and education systems, in urban infrastructure and support from the private sector. Cities quite often just don’t have those resources. They don’t have unsourced revenue and fiscal transfers enough to be able to accommodate sudden changes in population.
That brings it back then to how we can use development assistance to support increased fiscal transfers, or to increase the resources available at the city to be able to do that. I think in the longer term, there’s a clear economic argument that prolonging humanitarian support might not enable IDPs and refugees to make an economic contribution. But then, advancing development support early could enable self-reliance and their economic contribution sooner. So, for cities to be able to really do what they can do to support displaced communities, we need also a change in thinking in terms of how development actors can get involved with that process.
UN-Habitat is involved in these kind of displacement crises situations simply because IDPs more and more are coming to cities, and refugees as well. Some of the work we’ve done, for instance, in Sinjar has involved working with the cities but also, at a legislative level, in finding ways to ensure housing land, property rights, tenancy security for people returning. For example, the Yazidi population didn’t have land rights to begin with so we’ve introduced a social recognition of land rights, which was adopted by the government of Iraq, and has enabled the return of thousands of people.
Similarly, in Somalia, we’re involved with planning an extension of the city in a mixed-use plan but ensuring that the IDP population will be included in that planning process, and will find long-term solutions in this planned city extension.
We’re also seeing the potential of smaller towns and cities to accommodate displaced populations. Quite often because of the economy of larger cities, we find the displacement mainly takes place into the larger cities, but we do feel that, by supporting infrastructure developments in small and intermediary towns and cities, it will be possible for them to also absorb IDP and refugee populations. And by doing so, strengthen their own economies.
Lucy Earle [00:31:20]: Yeah, I think that’s really important because there are certain countries that have been host to refugees for decades, if not even longer. And so, although it seems odd to plan for an influx of refugees, actually, in some places having that sort of responsiveness and resilience embedded in your planning process is probably quite a good idea.
I think Deena could say a bit about Amman given that the city’s experience of receiving refugees is over, I think it’s more than decades, right?
Deena Dajani [00:31:53]: Yes, absolutely. In fact, in many ways, Amman is a refugee city. It’s one of the longest inhabited cities in the world since Neolithic times, but there was a plague in the 1300s and led to, unfortunately, the city more or less died. The first to resettle it after that were a group of Circassians refugees, who were fleeing persecution from the Russian Empire, walked through the Ottoman empire and ended up settling in Amman. Since then, it has hosted numerous refugee populations: two flows of Palestinian refugee population, Iraqi refugees, Syrian refugees, Armenian communities, Chechen communities. So, in many ways, it’s been one of the most welcoming, it has a history of being one of the most welcoming cities in the world.
Things like you mentioned in Tanzania, things have hardened politically over the last decade as well for several reasons. But there is still a lot of solidarity as well.
Liz Carlile [00:33:05]: So this question of welcoming rich and vibrant groups of people, I mean, there are benefits and costs, aren’t there? The question of support and livelihoods. Can you unpack for us, a little bit, the economics, how it works, what are some the threats and challenges, and what are some of the opportunities?
Lucy Earle [00:33:30]: I suppose people often see large numbers of refugees coming into a country as a threat in terms of taking jobs and accessing services. And although, yes, there are impacts on jobs and schools and health care, there are people looking for housing and jobs, and there are impacts on those that can’t be denied, but we should also be thinking about how we harness the skills and experiences of the displaced people.
One of the things that for me is really important to note is this question of humanitarian funding. Humanitarian funding is often very significant, and at the moment, well at one point, it was reported that one camp in Jordan cost $500,000 a day to run. That camp I think was established in 2013? It’s been around a long time. Think about the amount of resources that camp is absorbing.
Then, you sort of think, well, what could you have achieved in Jordan’s towns and cities if some of that money had been invested in services for everybody? What kind of industries might have sprung up, or would we have managed to improve the situation around water security. These are really difficult questions to answer, but camps are meant to be temporary things, and yet aid agencies and donors pour money into them, sometimes for decades.
And they’re often perhaps not in the most appropriate places as we’ve been talking about: camps in Tanzania are really quite remote, camps in Kenya are also in sort of semi-arid, and difficult regions. We are pouring aid money into those places, when actually, perhaps, supporting refugees to live in urban areas, and supporting the systems they use could be better for local economies. It’s hard if we don’t have the data to prove that but I think that, slowly, with our research, that’s something we want to start looking at.
Liz Carlile [00:35:37]: So, I suppose, how you integrate sort of different approaches to the right to work. I know you’ve said to me that the right to work is “highly contentious and political, and quite difficult to understand”, and I get that, but presumably, if people are going to be there for a long time or they have skills to bring or there’s a particular recipe that can combine with a local community. Presumably, the different ways of doing that, are things to think about. Are there other benefits or approaches that you think are worth mentioning now, or reminding us of?
Lucy Earle [00:36:20]: There’s one thing that I think I’ve omitted to say. It’s that most refugees in towns and cities get no assistance at all. Although it’s different actually in the Middle East now because there are so many refugees in towns and cities, but in most of Saharan Africa, if you’re a refugee in an urban area you really don’t get assistance.
This has really come to the fore, recently, on the issue of COVID-19. There was an announcement by the authorities in Uganda that refugees outside of camps would get no food assistance. There was an outcry, we heard from our partners and refugee organisations in Kampala, there was an outcry about it. These are very vulnerable people and they’re being excluded from food assistance and being told: well, if you want food, then go back to the camp. This is a real affront to the human rights of the refugees who should have the right to the freedom of movement, and the right or freedom to work, and yet, so often these rights are denied. And they really are some of the most vulnerable populations.
There’s a sort of assumption that refugees should go to camps, well, you know, these refugees may have well been living in urban areas before they were forced to flee because of conflict. We have assumptions that all refugees know how to till the land and they’re rural people, and that’s really not true. And I think there are a lot of assumptions around who refugees are, why they are where they are that need to be broken down. If people are vulnerable living in urban areas, then we need to be getting the humanitarian community to think about how to assist these people.
Liz Carlile [00:38:09]: And in some ways it’s, as you said, it’s not just about assistance. It’s about participation, isn’t it? It’s about working together to build self-reliance and local integration.
Liz Carlile [00:38:28]: Deena, do you want to add anything on this last point around the pros and cons of funding models or the right to work or different approaches we might be able to see?
Deena Dajani [00:38:39]: Yes. I’ll just follow-up on Lucy’s examples to mention that despite all those issues that urban refugees in particular go through, refugees do seem to choose urban areas.
For example, refugees that are in camps in Jordan did not have any choice. They were directed to the camps when they crossed the borders but numbers indicate that at least 17,000 left, even though outside of the camps, if they didn’t go through the process in a certain way, because there were no permits to because urban refugees, you would lose a lot of that humanitarian assistance. S
o, we know that people still prefer to be in cities. Like Lucy said, the need to be able to recognise that and support that and support that, so people can live the dignified lives they want to live, rather than direct them in certain ways. Though there are no large-scale studies on the motivations of refugees, I think that’s where the project that Lucy spoke about, and that I’m working with her on, can really make a difference.
Liz Carlile [00:33:05]: Thank you. Is it fair to say that, for those of us not engaged on this issue all the time, there tends to be this reinforcement of the kind of camps-type presentation through the media when crises happen. But actually what I'm hearing is that there’s a considerable amount of innovation and different thinking and approaches, and methods for trying to change the relationship and understanding around how people fare in either cities or camps and their motivations, and how they can contribute. Is that fair? Is this a space that’s opening out to new ideas, Lucy?
Lucy Earle [00:40:33]: Yes, I think it is, it's a slow process. IIED has actually been involved in this type of work for quite some time. We ran a project called the urban crises programme that had funding from DFID, and worked closely with the International Rescue Committee.
And through that project, programme we were trying to bring urban development specialists together with humanitarians and try to bridge that gap. They do tend to speak very different languages and work different timeframes: humanitarians are about saving lives, acting very quickly and yet, you have to do that carefully in urban areas to make sure you’re not actually preventing sustainable urban development.
So these conversations between urban development actors and humanitarian agencies have been going on for a few years now. And there’s something called the Global Alliance for Urban Crises that IIED is a member of. This is a new platform that’s trying to bring together all the different types of people that should be involved in this conversation.
So that’s humanitarians and development agencies that I’ve mentioned, but also built environment professionals like planners, architects, engineers, networks of municipal authorities, and academics, like us as well. So yes, the space is opening for these conversations but it’s not a natural habitat. The urban area is not a natural habitat for humanitarians. So there’s still quite a lot of understanding that needs to be gained.
Liz Carlile [00:42:13]: We like to finish with a question about the change we want to see, hope to see, need to see. So for you Lucy, what’s the change you want to see first and foremost?
Lucy Earle [00:42:25]: I’d like there to be some change in mindset around refugees' rights to live in urban areas and towns, and cities. And for us, as a collective , to be focusing on how we can make those things happen, to make urban areas, towns and cities, more welcoming and more productive places for refugees.
Thinking about how we invest humanitarian resources to those who are most vulnerable, but also working with city systems so that everybody benefits. So improving lives in informal settlements for both people who live in there already and the new arrivals.
That’s what we try to do as IIED, we work with our partners, who have been, for many decades, gauging informal settlement upgrading, and making sure that we bring in the refugee perspective into those discussions at the level of community and local governments as well. I suppose I’m after a change in mindset. There’s no reason why refugees shouldn’t be living in towns and cities if that’s where they want to go and I’d like us, I’d like people to recognise that and start making it happen.
Liz Carlile [00:43:35]: And Kevin, from your work, is there a particular change that you think could just make that difference?
Kevin Johnstone [00:43:41]: Yes, building on what Lucy said: change in mindset, change in perspective. And giving my own example, I guess, I’ve worked for many years in international development, so I kind of bring that perspective. The more I discuss with humanitarians in the sector dealing with energy and the camps, the more I kind of realise that I myself had the wrong perspective.
There’s disjointed planning between humanitarian and development actors in general. Lucy was talking about the vocabulary of urban builders versus humanitarians and how difficult it can be to discuss, and I think that’s the same with humanitarians and development sectors, in general.
My own analysis was initially that humanitarians need to reach out to development actors and build more on that. But actually, I’ve had deep discussions with my wife, who is a long time humanitarian and has worked in numerous complex emergencies and, after these discussions, I realise that it makes more sense to the development actors, who have the long-term funding structures, who have the long-term planning and the space to think bigger, and more development-oriented, they’re the ones that need to reach out to the humanitarians, who are, as Lucy mentioned, more focused on the most vulnerable people and being focus on these kind of things. So I think, in terms of shifting perspectives, this is quite important going forward.
Liz Carlile [00:45:27]: That’s really interesting, that’s a good call to action for us. Deena, from your perspective, what do you see as an important change?
Denna Dajani [00:45:36]: I’ll start with a slightly personal story if that’s OK. I mentioned earlier Amman’s history as a place of welcome and reception, and that's actually, how I ended up there. My grandparents were forcibly displaced, went first to Cairo and then came to London, and then my grandfather got a letter from his brother, who had gone his own route to Amman. Sent him a letter to London and said: they’re very welcoming here to refugees, and my grandparents moved, and here I am today.
So I think for me, really what needs to be done is to not think of just refugee assistance, but start to think more about reception. And building cities that can be receivers of dignity, a bit like Lucy was saying. To think not of refugees as this population that are dehistoricised all over the world, you know, this category of refugees. But rather as a group of people who, if there are structures of reception to receive them, can really thrive and be part of creating really exciting encounters in the new places where they settle, regardless of whether they chose to go back when circumstances permit or not.
Liz Carlile [00:47:01]: Deena, thank you very much. It’s really heartwarming to hear that personal story and a strong call to all of us to think about this in a different way, and to see potential.
Thank you all very much indeed for a really interesting conversation. It was really good to hear from you and our partners and colleagues in Nairobi. We look forward to you listening to this podcast and others in our series. Many thanks.
Host [00:47:35] You can find out more about IIED’s work in this area and the responding to retracted displacement in an urban world project online at www.IIED.org/urban, under the heading ‘urban risk’ and ‘urban crises responses’.
We greatly value our listeners’ opinions, so please leave us your feedback and comments at soundcloud.com/theIIED, that’s all one word.
Then, you can also listen to previous podcasts in IIED’s Make Change Happen series.
The podcast is produces by our in-house communications team.
For more information about IIED and our work, visit our website at www.IIED.org.