Urban Refugees –Hidden in plain sight Introduction According to UNHCR’s most recent statistics, almost half of the world’s

10.5 million refugees now reside in cities and towns, compared to one third who live in camps. Only one of every two urban refugees is supported by the UNHCR. Who are urban refugees? In simple words they are refugees who live in urban centers or urban areas and not in refugee camps. Why do refugees move to urban areas? The points listed below will throw light on some of the reasons. They come to urban areas not to seek a good life but to save their lives and seek the protection they are denied in the own home countries. Refugees come to urban centers to seek security, education facilities, employment, housing and better services. They come because of the large restrictions on life in camps, no hope for a better living and to escape from harsh camp life. They come with a dream to stand on their own feet .Camp life can be harsh, characterized by poor standards of housing, sanitation, lack of adequate food, water, and medical facilities, a lack of security and, perhaps worst of all, enforced idleness and dependency. Unlike a closed camp, cities present obvious opportunities to stay anonymous and build a better future. But urban life also presents an array of dangers: They are often confronted with a range of inadequate and overcrowded shelter, as well as vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence, HIV-AIDS, human smuggling and trafficking, language barriers and extended period with no legal status and this makes them open to protection risks such as the threat of arrest and detention, refoulement, harassment, exploitation, discrimination, deportation. Forced to live in overcrowded slums and shanty towns, with little or no access to health and social services, most are obliged to eke out a living in the informal sector of the economy, where they are subject to exploitation. Many individuals prefer to remain "invisible" for fear of deportation. Also the influx of refugees to urban areas puts a strain on resources of the community that is already unable to meet the needs of the urban poor and in worst cases it can fuel xenophobia. Also for most urban refugees life in the city is an unending struggle to overcome poverty. Though hoping for a better life in the city they face a different reality. They lack supportive social networks and may not have the skills and knowledge required to survive in a city. They lack the required identity documents to avail of public services such as ration and education. They struggle to meet high cost living in cities are sometimes forced by these situations to return to refugee camps.

The UNHCR policy on urban refugee’s document was revised in December 1997 after the arrival of the first document in March 1997. the limitations of the previous urban refugee policy. The first document that arrived in 1997 defined urban refugees as person of urban background in country of origin who is not an irregular mover. livelihoods and services in urban settings. no rural settlement option exists. The document of November 2003 gave a more precise definition that was preferred it defined urban refugees as all refugees. The Urban refugee profile was explained by an assumption that urban refugees were young single males this was challenged in 2003 document. if of rural background.In September 2009 the UNHCR issued a new policy on refugee protection and solutions in urban areas This policy was formed taking in to consideration the growing number and proportion of refugees who are taking up residence in cities and towns. which was introduced in 1997.aldhomm. Also along with a need to place special emphasis on the protection of women and children the 2003 policy suggested gender and age mainstreaming. It was further revised in November 2003 and a new policy document on the same was issued by the UNHCR in 2009 that is in use till date. Protection must be provided to refugees in a complementary and mutually supportive manner. .org . The UNHCR policy on urban refugees 2009 The policy document states that “It is based on the principle that the rights of refugees and UNHCR’s mandated responsibilities towards them are not affected by their location. or part of a prima facie caseload. the means whereby they arrived in an urban area or their status (or lack thereof) in national legislation. whether of urban or rural background. A comparison of all the features and limitations of every document of the UNHCR policy on urban refugees is available online on www. By protection space is meant A primary UNHCR objective is to ensure that refugees in urban areas enjoy access to the social welfare systems that are available to nationals. UNHCR’s policy on refugees in urban areas thus has two principal objectives: • to ensure that cities are recognized as legitimate places for refugees to reside and exercise the rights • to maximize the protection space available to urban refugees and the humanitarian organizations that support them. who are resident in an urban area. irrespective of where they are located. the serious difficulties encountered by many urban refugees in their efforts to access protection. solutions.

” . although there are also substantial numbers of Ethiopians.The demand for better food and housing of females are not met forcing them to resort to theft and prostitution. “In Yemen. Urban refugees in Yemen cities The great majority of urban-based refugees in Yemen are Somali.000 Somalis arrived in Yemen .opportunities for Somali refugees in Yemen's cities are likely to deteriorate further. Eritreans and Iraqis. The inherently complex nature of the urban refugee issue has put forth some important questions 1) Should urban refugees be provided with protection and assistance by the UNHCR in countries where they have an option of residing in camps or are obliged to do so by the country of asylum? 2) Does the provision of assistance act as a ‘pull factor’ attracting refugees to urban areas? 3) At what level should assistance be provided in relation to the local standard of living? 4) To what extent should the UNHCR support public services in urban areas in view of the pressure that refugees will place on them. What is very important is that Yemen adheres to the UNHCR policy of not employing refugees in foreign organizations. In 2008 over 50. The key complaints by urban refugees in Yemen are the inefficiency of the UNHCR’s implementing partners (IP) of the policy. It left several question relating to the exact nature of assistance.The document in 2003 presented a less restrictive more refugee supportive approach than the earlier documents.as increasing numbers flee conflict between the government of Ethiopia and Oromo insurgents. According to the Tim Morris an anthropologist and development worker.and with the scale of internal displacement increasing significantly as a result of conflict in northern Yemen . emergency assistance for groups with special needs and assistance to facilitate self-reliance/local integration to be provided by the UNHCR in different circumstances unanswered. Though a comprehensive UNHCR policy on refugees in urban areas exists I will focus on highlighting the challenges with the implementation of this policy and the lives of urban refugees in different cities. In the worsening economic climate .a 70% increase from 2007 . UNHCR lacks the funds and the political clout to fully exercise its mandated role to assist and protect urban refugees.

2009) The RSD (Refugee status Determination) process should lead to the recognition of refugees and their interests and rights. They do not have work permit and are forced to do menial jobs in the city. Columbian refugees in the neighboring country city of Ecuador According to a UNHCR official in Ecuador. It is not very difficult to distinguish Somalis from Kenyans and are hence subjected to harassment by local police at work and on the roads. . Le Pe says he was forced to flee from his home at gun point. underserviced and insecure camps of Dadaab and Kakuma to seek refuge in Nairobi.Refugees in Kuala Lumpur city of Malaysia Burmese refugees live around 25 in a single apartment in the city of Kuala Lumpur. Mr. According to the UNHCR Urban Refugee Policy a refugee ‘who is unable to live in decent and dignified conditions and who has no real prospect of finding a durable solution in or from their country of asylum within a reasonable timeframe cannot be considered to have found effective protection’ (UNHCR. education and housing. acute protection threats from their precarious legal status as refugees. refugees in Nairobi have established community networks and initiatives over the past two decades. Today they live in perpetual fear of being arrested during frequent raids by law enforcement agencies. home to more than 2 million Columbian refugees says. His family that followed was arrested and kept under detention for seven months were they were traumatized. They come thinking they will get an access to services in order to re establish themselves. They are subject to rape and most of them are left alone to bring up children and families. Their only dream is to live a peaceful life without any fear. but also ongoing. They live on the margins of society. Kenya Urban refugees in the city of Nairobi are mostly people having fled violence in Somalia and Mogadishu. They come seeking anonymity and employment. they come to cities first with the intention of protecting themselves due to invisibility. Many of these people have escaped the overcrowded. Our goal is to identify them make them visible so that the local government recognizes their presence. refugees living in Nairobi are confronted. however. However they still find life better in the city than in their home towns. not only with inadequate governmental and nongovernmental assistance. In reality. “What is generally observed in that. They are traumatized by city life. Urban refugee women here are the most vulnerable. registered UNHCR refugees and asylum-seekers in Nairobi are not enjoying the protection that their status should afford them. However. Urban refugees in Nairobi. They fear they will be deported and sent to refugee camps. In the absence of adequate national and international attention and assistance.

According to the survey conducted by the UNHCR. other asylum seekers who may or may not be refugees.they have the same human rights. The source has pointed out that refugees in urban areas face difficulties in accessing resettlement as compared to those in camps. and both UNHCR and host states have an obligation to protect them and respect their refugee status. harassment and violence. Through the various studies. large numbers of refugees in protracted urban situations are often at significant risk of arbitrary arrest and detention.in cities or in camps . Thus the UNHCR points out to the role of the local government as pivotal in dealing with urban refugees. resentment from local populations and bureaucracy and government regulations of the host country. And the UN refugee agency needs to work in more innovative partnerships with municipalities. According to the statement of the International Council for Voluntary Agencies (ICVA). However. whether registered with UNHCR or not. .”In many cases it in incorrectly presumed that the longer refugees remain in urban situations the more likely they are to be locally integrated. ’What is clear is that wherever refugees are . Refugees in Nairobi also contribute to assistance to their counterparts in the camps. With assistance of NGOs and local governments the UNHCR is trying to ensure the basic needs and rights of urban refugees are protected amidst the challenges of mixed migration. the local and national government. the influx of Somalis and other refugees since the 1990s has contributed greatly to the transformation of Eastleigh (the suburb of urban refugees) into a commercial and business area of central importance. The UNHCR is working through various initiatives and programmes to lessen the problem of urban refugees that are specific in different national settings. despite being a key target for routine extortion. The UNHCR clearly says. local community associations and others to adequately serve refugees in towns and cities. research and surveys conducted on urban refugees by the UNHCR and other NGO’s recommendations specific to the refugees of that area are made taking into consideration the UNHCR policies.

The main assistance they provide to asylum seekers in Thailand      Counseling them on UNHCR Refugee Status Determination procedure Explaining Thailand’s immigration policies and how they affect asylum seekers. The policies of the UNHCR must be put into practice that is where JRS comes in collaboration and partnership with UNHCR. and emergency funds for housing and medical Advocating at local and international level for the international protection of refugees and asylum seekers in Thailand JRS recommends that the Thai government gives them temporary legal status so that they are protected from detention.JRS also contributes to refugee research at the University of Oxford and the University of Deusto. . a small amount of money. particularly those with no legal documentation Advising on appeals for asylum seekers who have been rejected by UNHCR Providing material assistance in the form of food packages. To mark their 30 anniversary launched a campaign to focus on urban refugees.The Jesuit Refugee service campaign (JRS) on urban refugees The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is an international Catholic organization founded in 1980 with a mission to accompany. Bilbao. JRS explains to them the rights of refugees many times people cannot accept that whatever status they once had is lost. JRS work with urban refugees in Thailand After asylum seekers have registered with the UNHCR they are referred to the JRS. Not knowing the relevance of sharing certain pieces of information during the interview can lead to rejection of refugee status. The urban refugee campaign focuses on refugees living in urban areas that comprises of half of the refugees attended by the UNHCR today. serve and defend the rights of refugees and forcibly displaced people. JRS prepares their files and also prepares them for mock interviews of RSD (Refugees status determination) with UNHCR. Each asylum seeker spends about three months with a JRS volunteer receiving social. psychological and emotional counseling.JRS also informs them of their right to appeal if their status is rejected and follows up on cases if it feels the person deserves the right. The JRS works in co-ordination with the UNHCR to provide counseling to refugees prior to their refugee status determination. JRS is an implementing partner for the UNHCR in urban refugee programmes. The JRS works in over fifty countries providing assistance to refugees and the forcible displaced.

to accompany the people wherever they are by visiting them”. This is a kind of a pastoral work as JRS is a church organization. Education helps refugees survive in an urban setting and get involved in the market. Jesuit refugee service provides a variety of aid to urban refugees but they regard education as the most important. Education provides hope says Fr. In Rome. China and Vietnam are just a few countries from which refugees living in Phnom Penh originate. the Centro Astalli which is the Jesuit refugee service centre in Rome has assisted urban refugees since 1981. Education helps them thus to find a long term solution. neutral in terms of politics. Peter Ballies S. to challenge society when it become hostile to foreigners . Sudan. only a very small number are recommended for resettlement in third countries. In Thailand. For example learning a foreign language. The second is they use to a great extent local structures be it church schools or even spaces of parishes where people can meet on neutral grounds. medicines and help to vulnerable and elderly.Its centre provides meals. and to find a living. Afghanistan. to make it publically known to challenge government legislation when it becomes hostile or strict. For example. “JRS has in its mission to Accompany and this is the corner stone of their service that is. people have to fend for food themselves. Ballies the international director of JRS says. Iraq. Education also adds an extra point in their appeal to be re settled in another country like USA or other western countries and better their life.JRS work in Phnom Penh city of Cambodia The urban refugee population in Cambodia comprises people from all corners of the world. And there is a clear request by refugees themselves for courses like computer or sewing that they can earn some money. and Nairobi food is distributed to vulnerable families. JRS has facilitated small training workshops enabling women to gain skills which will help them to find employment in Phnom Penh city of Cambodia. In a number of places JRS has centers to have activities for refugees activities like to learn English. Hence the JRS provides food packages. JRS focuses on meeting the long-term needs of refugees. The third is Advocacy that is to speak about refugees. The JRS teams visit the families regularly and then refer them to places where they can get help. With this in mind. Fr. Of the many refugees who apply to UNHCR. Burma. Cambodia. Porous borders and the fact that Cambodia is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention are the standard reasons refugees give for seeking asylum here. Iran. helping them to become self-sufficient. J. In urban areas there is not always a world food programme distribution like in a camp.

The JRS has thus recognized the needs of ‘forgotten’ refugees and is helping them rebuild their lives. .

th) UNHCR policy on urban refugees -2009 www.org Surviving in the City: Kuala Lumpur.unhcr. Colombia.net Jesuit Refugee Service. (www. Kenya Sara Pavanello.unhcr. Video on www.jrs. International Office Jesuit refugee service facebook page Videos Sort film -Hidden Voices-Urban Refugees in Nairobi.unhcr.Reference Hidden and exposed:Urban refugees in Nairobi. www.org Websites www.or. Video on www.jrs.unhcr.aldhomm.org JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service) services for urban refugees on Vimeo JRS(Jesuit Refugees Service)Urban Refugee programmes in Thailand on Vimeo JRS Advocacy in support of urban refugees on Vimeo JRS focus on Urban Refugees on Vimeo .2003 and 2009. Advocay officer JRS Thailand. Kenya on Vimeo Surviving in the City: Bogota.org Urban asylum seeker and refugees in Thailand by Veera Den Otter.org.The UN Refugee Agency www.www.org –For comparison of UNHCR policy on urban refugees documents 1997. Samir Elhawary and Sara Pantuliano HPG Working Paper March 2010 Evaluation of the implementation of UNHCRs policy on refugees in urban areas. Malaysia.unhcr.

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