Although it is difficult to analytically divide urban and rural areas and rural and urban migrants, this research guide attempts to focus on those aspects of forced migration that are distinctly urban. Many of these themes - shifting identities, struggles for livelihoods and services, legal protection - are well represented in the broader refugee studies literature, a literature which has, to date, been dominated by discussions of 'rural refugees'. There is much work to be done comparing the similarities, differences, and interactions among forced migrants living in camps, rural settings, and urban environments. This research guide, however, is premised on the belief that the greatest analytical purchase comes from integrating the study of urban forced migrants with more general discussions of urbanization and urban phenomena. Such inquiries, especially when used in conjunction with general refugee studies literature, can provide conceptual and methodological guidance, hypotheses, and comparative reference. Drawing attention to the under-explored dimensions of urban life has the added benefit of helping refine existing causal and empirical assumptions and conceptual categories. Geographically, this research guide has a particular focus on sub-Saharan Africa, due to the author's experience in conducting research in that region.
Apart from those described above, there are at least three specific reasons why the study of forced migrants in urban areas benefits explicitly from its intersection with a broader urban studies literature:
1. Despite forced migrants' long-standing presence in the world's cities, there are surprisingly few studies focusing exclusively on displaced persons' experiences in and effects on the urban environment. This oversight is rooted at least partially in the methodological challenges associated with studying refugees in urban environments (see Research methods) as well as thematic and conceptual biases within 'refugee studies'.
2. There is a growing body of theoretically and methodologically sophisticated literature within the parameters of 'urban studies', much of which is applicable to the study of forced migrants. Indeed, 'urban studies' inquiries into displacement, social and political marginalization, and livelihood strategies all speak explicitly to established themes within 'refugee studies'. This literature also includes discussions about shifting patterns of identity; new translocal forms of social and political organization; and concerns over environmental sustainability, health, education, and gender. These too resonate with established 'forced migration' issues.
3. Whereas camps may be at least formally distinguished from the social, economic, and political processes surrounding them - although this separation is never absolute - such distinctions make little sense in urban areas. Even in those rare instances where urban refugees inhabit designated buildings or areas, they almost invariably rely on local markets and social services. In doing so, they interact with local populations to a degree not necessarily seen among camp-based refugees. As the majority of urban forced migrants do not live in such areas but rather stay - however temporarily - among other migrant groups or amidst host populations, it is often senseless to analytically distinguish, a priori, between the processes affecting these sub-populations. Instead, research and advocacy are likely to be served when analysts are able to identify similarities and differences between forced migrants and hosts, who may themselves also be recent migrants.