Policy and advocacy concerns
The large-scale influx of refugees into urban areas raises unique challenges for both refugee advocates and those charged with managing the cities in which forced migrants live. Delivering services to people who are not included in a census or who do not have proper documentation is difficult under any circumstances. Moreover, whereas refugees living in internationally managed camps are in principle often guaranteed access to a minimum of social services (e.g. water, health care, education, housing), forced migrants settling in urban areas - even when part of a formal resettlement programme - typically rely on existing public services. And while international agencies often have sophisticated means of determining necessary water and food allocations for those in camps, no such standards exist for urban refugees. The fact that delivering aid to those in urban areas is often many times more expensive only discourages aid organizations from taking on, developing, and ensuring such standards are achieved. Efforts are also not helped by a prevailing belief among aid agencies and domestic governments that urban refugees are able to take care of themselves. (Buscher 2003; Bascom 1995).
While urban forced migrants are likely to face similar difficulties to the poor local population in accessing services, migrants face a series of additional challenges. Those living without proper documentation, or where refugee documents are not widely recognized by front-line service providers, are unlikely to access public services effectively. Others face communication challenges, or may simply not be aware of the services that are available or their rights to them. There are many reports in South Africa and elsewhere that even when documentation is in order, migrants are refused services as a result of outright discrimination or xenophobia. With few public champions, they may have little recourse and will be forced to go without services or seek them through private - often informal and unregulated - markets.
The presence of non-national populations entitled to use public services - as legally registered refugees are in most places - raises issues for city planners. From a technical standpoint, local (or sometimes national) governments must ensure that people who do not speak a local language have the chance to learn those skills. In the meantime, concessions must be made so that non-nationals will not be misdiagnosed in hospitals and that children will not go without education or protection. The provision of accommodation (or ensuring fair access to it), access to credit, business licences, bank accounts, and legal services are all thorny governance challenges even when dealing with poor urban citizens. These are almost always magnified with non-national populations. As most urban refugees live in resource-scarce environments, it is especially critical that urban planners make such arrangements without giving the appearance that they are dedicating precious resources to what are often popularly resented populations.
Access to affordable housing is essential for all urban residents' personal and economic security. In many cities, however, migrants face difficulty in securing appropriate accommodation. Whereas domestic migrants and the urban poor may be able to call upon extended family or close friends to provide shelter, such resources cannot be universally assumed for forced migrants (although many do stay with family and friends upon arrival). Instead, forced migrants most often compete with local residents in the (often) low-cost housing market or resort to self-built housing in shantytowns, slums, or peri-urban settlements. As such, many forced migrants' concerns in securing accommodation are parallel to those of the urban poor generally. There are, however, potentially significant and noteworthy differences between the two groups.
Emergency housing or shelters may, in some instances, provide legally recognized refugees with certain temporary advantages over national migrants. In most cases, however, host governments do not dedicate space in public housing to forced migrants. Moreover, what public shelter is available for non-citizens is typically available only for short periods immediately after arrival. Without citizenship or permanent residency, refugees may not be eligible for other public housing. The chances are even lower for those awaiting the resolution of asylum claims or who are undocumented.
Without adequate money for a deposit, local references, or permanent employment, forced migrants are often severely disadvantaged in the private housing market even when their papers are in order. Under such circumstances, forced migrants frequently find themselves subletting or taking rooms within another household not previously known to them. Alternatively they may find a landlord willing to grant a short-term contract at a premium price. These choices are not ideal and may have significant consequences. Subletting often makes forced migrants vulnerable to exploitation by the contract holder, while sharing accommodation with unknown families makes them vulnerable to health risks, theft, and physical or sexual violence. Short-term contracts may mean that forced migrants - who regularly earn less than comparably employed nationals - pay more for their accommodation and are required to relocate frequently within a given urban area. Those squatting or living in informal settlements may also be subjected to eviction or slum clearances (see Evictions, forced removals, and slum clearance). Such relocations are likely to have significant effects on migrants' livelihood strategies, given the time, expense, and psychological uncertainty associated with moving. Frequent moves may also retard migrants' (and their neighbours') ability to build 'social capital': the personal networks necessary to find employment and gain access to schools and other social services. Those not able to find any form of formal housing may end up on city streets exposed to even greater physical risk and economic uncertainty.
Evictions, forced removals, and slum clearance
Evictions, forced removals, and slum clearances, often under the guise of public health campaigns, infrastructure improvement, or urban regeneration initiatives, have at least two significant consequences for those concerned with forced migration (and forced migrants) in urban areas. For the reasons discussed above, forced migrants arriving in urban areas are often forced to compete with poor 'locals' for limited low-income housing. In rapidly growing cities the competition can be fierce, and public efforts to limit the growth of slums and squatter settlements may further restrict access to accommodation for all marginalized populations. As the neighbourhoods where forced migrants first settle are often popularly associated with urban decay, these areas may be particularly targeted for efforts to improve sanitation, sewerage, safety, or cities' public image.
Evictions of various kinds are also, in and of themselves, a cause of forced migration. Although rarely considered under the rubric of refugee or forced migration studies, such movements should be classified as a form of internal displacement. In severe instances, they may also stimulate international migration. Nowhere was this illustrated more explicitly than in apartheid-era South Africa, where the occupants of whole neighbourhoods were moved out of central urban areas in the name of 'separate development' and racial purity (Murray and O'Regan 1990). Even in less extreme circumstances, people may or may not be given advance warning or compensated when their residences are either condemned or destroyed (Patel, d'Cruz and Burra 2002). Those living in informal settlements - often considered illegal by policymakers - are particularly unlikely to be adequately compensated or assisted in their search for alternative lodging (Macharia 1992). While such relocations may not involve formal asylum claims - and will almost never involve international aid - many of the social and economic consequences associated with them parallel the experiences of those displaced by persecution, famine, war, or natural disaster.
Many of the points in this section are drawn from Shani Winterstein and Lee Stone's 'Forced Migration and Education in Johannesburg', prepared for a workshop entitled Forced Migrants in the New Johannesburg: Towards a Public Policy Response held at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (12 August 2003).
The right to education and its benefits for refugees are widely discussed in the forced migration studies literature. In urban areas, education may play a particularly critical role in social integration or in helping those coming from rural areas to garner the necessary skills to be economically competitive. As the numbers of unaccompanied minors living in cities climb - in Africa a lethal combination of war, poverty, and HIV/AIDS is creating unprecedented numbers of orphans - providing education to both forced migrants and local children is a growing concern. While many of the challenges of accessing and benefiting from education apply equally to forced migrants in rural and urban settings, there are a number of issues associated with access to education that are particularly significant in urban environments.
Forced migrants often face considerable problems in accessing education. The most obvious obstacles they face are legal provisions or long-standing practices that may prohibit forced or undocumented migrants from accessing public educational services. Even where migrants are technically ensured places, they may face discrimination from school administrators who do not wish to see non-national children in their classrooms or from teachers who will not encourage full participation. Due to the long journeys migrant children take from their countries of origin - or the fact that educational services there may have been disrupted due to economic or political crises - many are not of appropriate age for their education level. Many schools will not, for example, enrol students if they are more than two or three years above the class average. In other instances, forced migrants face problems of access similar to other socially and economically marginalized groups within urban areas, particularly school fees and expensive, time-consuming, or insecure transport to schools. The fact that many forced migrants earn less than locals and live in peripheral areas without schools only exacerbates these concerns. The short-term economic opportunity costs of sending children to school may, as everywhere, further discourage enrolment. Fears that children are being exposed to undesirable cultural values or practices may have a similar effect.
Once in the classroom, children who have experienced trauma or the psychological stresses of relocation may also have trouble concentrating and keeping up with work. As most urban refugees make use of existing schools rather than special facilities, these difficulties may be magnified by the need to listen and read in a new language or make adjustments to new pedagogical techniques or teacher expectations. Classmates and forced migrants' attitudes about religion, gender roles, race, and nationality may also provide further obstacles to learning.
- Boyden, J. (2000) ‘Children and Social Healing’, in Carlson, L., Mackeson-Sandbach, M. and Allen, T. (eds.) Children in Extreme Situations, Proceedings from the 1998 Alistair Berkley Memorial Lecture DESTIN working paper No. 00-05, London School of Economics and Political Science. http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/DESTIN/pdf/WP05.PDF
Given the cramped conditions under which urban forced migrants often live, frequently without clear water or proper sewerage, access to health care is a critical public health issue. Access to clinics and hospitals is, of course, only a small but significant part of a larger set of health-related issues including broader public health campaigns, awareness, and education, along with the provision of culturally appropriate mental and psychological services. Forced migrants in city areas share many of the problems in accessing health care faced by both refugees in rural settings and other marginalized urban residents.
As it is impossible to review the full range of mental and physical health concerns facing these groups, it is instead worth drawing attention to those that may be distinctive to urban forced migrants. There are, for one, rarely special facilities or programmes dedicated to the urban refugees' health needs. City-based forced migrants consequently must most often rely on existing public and private health services. As high-quality private services are usually unaffordable, this will most often mean reliance on informal health care services (including 'traditional' medicine) or public hospitals and clinics.
As with many other social services, accessing public health services is linked to forced migrants' legal status, rights, and documentation. Depending on national (or sometimes local) legislation, undocumented migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees are entitled to different levels of services and often fall under different fee schedules. While recognized refugees will usually be entitled to similar services as the urban poor, they may not be aware of their rights or may be unfamiliar with the administrative requirements for accessing care. Moreover, unless they are issued with proper documents and those documents are recognized by front-line healthcare workers, they may not be able to effectively utilise those services to which they are entitled. Even with documentation, it may not be possible to convince front-line healthcare workers to provide appropriate care. In Johannesburg, for example, forced migrants regularly report being turned away by intake nurses who either do not accept their documents or do not recognize migrants' rights to service. In other instances, forced migrants report being given only partial prescriptions or being charged for services that the law requires they be given free or at reduced costs. Given that forced migrants - particularly recent arrivals - typically earn less than the local populations among whom they live, even reduced fees may be difficult for them to afford.
Even with the best intentions on the part of healthcare workers and host governments, forced migrants must overcome a number of technical hindrances. Perhaps the most significant and immediately dangerous of these surrounds the issue of communication and the provision of culturally appropriate health care. In linguistically heterogeneous urban environments, it is practically impossible for hospitals to retain staff members who are able to communicate with all of their potential clients. While certain facilities that cater to particular ethno-linguistic groups may be able to hire a translator or someone able to communicate with their clientele, this is not usually a first priority. The resulting misdiagnoses and prescriptions can be dangerous if not lethal. There are also instances in which forced migrants may feel uncomfortable interacting with hospital staff. Such uneasiness is particularly common in, but by no means limited to, women and girls. The consequence is that they may either not go to a clinic when needed, or they may feel uncomfortable speaking with someone who is not a member of their ethnic, linguistic, or religious community.
Networks, livelihood, trade, and the informal economy
Forced migrants living in urban areas are unlikely to receive the kind of direct monetary or nutritional assistance provided to many refugees settled in camps or formal settlements. Given the expense associated with urban living, most of those not receiving some form of assistance or subsidies still rely on other forms of income generation to make ends meet. To do this, the majority of the world's urban refugees - especially those in poor countries - support themselves through casual labour or participation in the informal economy (Lindstrom 2003). As such, the study of urban refugee livelihood strategies resonates strongly with inquires into other marginalized groups' economic and productive activities in the urban economy. For the poor in any urban environment, this means contending with violence, poor transportation and infrastructure, crowded living conditions (which limit the ability to work from home), and stiff competition for the few available jobs.
While all urban poor face considerable challenges in meeting their material needs, forced migrants face a range of challenges less likely to affect the nationals amongst whom they live. In many places, there are severe restrictions on immigrants' and asylum seekers' rights to work and their entitlements to welfare or other forms of social support. While most countries allowing refugees to self-settle outside of camps also afford them the right to work, refugees face a number of disadvantages when competing with members of the local population. Although immigrants' willingness to work for lower wages than similarly qualified nationals often makes them desirable to employers, employers may not recognize refugee identity documents as legitimate or accept them as providing the holder with the right to work. They may also use the lack of legitimate documentation as an excuse for lower wages or other forms of exploitation. There may also be scepticism about an immigrant's commitment or qualifications for the position, or worry that an applicant may be too temporary or otherwise unreliable. Others will, quite legitimately, be concerned about problems of communication across a language barrier. Some employers may simply discriminate or believe that the presence of a foreigner will turn away xenophobic customers.
Although forced migrants in cities are often relatively educated and skilled - self-selection often brings the most entrepreneurial and educated to cities (Sommers 1995; Kuhlman 1994) - many may not be initially prepared to work in a new environment. This is not only so for people who were previously living in rural areas, but for doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals whose credentials are not valid without additional training or local certification. Those wishing to start their own businesses - whatever the size - also face problems obtaining business licenses (when required) and accessing financial services like savings accounts and credit. As many urban migrants rely on self-owned enterprises, the lack of such services is of particular importance. Little access to credit provided by banks, local organizations, or extended family - something more likely to be available to local entrepreneurs - limits the kind and size of business enterprise a forced migrant can hope to start. (It should be noted, however, that at least some forced migrants are supported by families or friends still in their country of origin.) Even the smallest business owners without bank accounts are at an additional risk. Since they are effectively forced to work in a cash economy, both their goods and earnings are vulnerable to theft. For people living in shared or insecure housing, the risks are particularly great. One can also not ignore perennial harassment by police. While the police may periodically raid all informal businesses and try to prevent hawking and other forms of street trading, immigrants (especially those without proper documentation) are particularly likely to have their goods seized or be asked to pay bribes or other forms of protection money. As many work in informal jobs outside (e.g., hawking, construction, cleaning) they are also vulnerable to general theft and assault along with xenophobic violence.
- Alchemy Project: Report of Activities Year One (2001-2) http://famine.tufts.edu/pdf/alchemy_eoy2002.pdf
- Lindstrom, C. 'Urban Refugees in Mauritania', Forced Migration Review, Vol. 17: 46-7, 2003 http://repository.forcedmigration.org/show_metadata.jsp?pid=fmo:4838