As Bascom (1995) notes, the integration of urban refugees is one of the most poorly understood and under-researched topics in forced migration (along with repatriation). Much of the challenge of social integration, from both an analytical and practical perspective, is linked to urban areas' heterogeneity and dynamism. Although one must never assume rural settings to be static, and the arrival of forced migrants and aid can be destabilizing, one rarely witnesses the kind of ethno-linguistic, national, or economic variety common in cities. The interactions of such a heterogeneous population also raise the possibility of new identities and novel forms of social organization simultaneously incorporating values, practices, and activities from multiple social and geographic origins (see Globalization, transforming identities, and translocality). At the very least, the close proximity of migrant and 'local' populations will lead to considerable debate over cultural values (Hirschon 2000). The results of these debates are theoretically and practically significant and anything but pre-ordained.
Xenophobia is one of the most common responses to the interactions of foreign migrants and host populations. While refugees and migrants everywhere are often greeted with hostility - scapegoated as the cause of crime, vectors of disease, and a threat to locals' economic opportunities and cultural values - urban migrants' typical reliance on existing markets and public services makes them particularly vulnerable to the effects of xenophobia (Human Rights Watch 1998). With few local allies, police harassment or vigilante justice may be popularly tolerated if not encouraged. In the most extreme instances this can result in violence or illegal detention or deportation. More commonly such tendencies manifest themselves as petty harassment and extortion, discriminatory hiring practices, difficulty in obtaining accommodation, and exclusion from social and financial services.
That many cities are destinations for large numbers of internal migrants, many of whom maintain strong links to rural home areas, further confounds a simple model of integration or assimilation.
For this point I am grateful to Graeme Gotz's 'Local Government and Forced Migrants: Framing Paper for Discussion' 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).In areas of rapid urbanization, structural change, or urban renewal, it may be difficult to determine who is integrating with whom. In many parts of the world, urban areas - and especially particular neighbourhoods within cities - serve as temporary destinations for nationals from throughout a country seeking new experiences, economic advancement, transit to another location, or simply adventure. Such people may only temporarily stay in the city or may quickly move to other neighbourhoods where they will settle more permanently. One must, therefore, be careful to delineate the boundaries of 'community' in developing indices of integration. While one might measure economic integration by comparing employment and wage profiles across nationals and non-nationals (see Networks, livelihoods, trade, and the informal economy), discussions of cultural integration are far more complex. Rather than convergence along a set of cultural values and practices (including language) it may in many instances make more sense to speak of hybridization. As in all refugee situations - but perhaps even more so than in those areas were aid is readily available - displaced people's individual characteristics are key to the ways in which they integrate or assimilate, and establish livelihoods. The pre-migration character of particular cities - their level of diversity, demographic dynamism, and physical infrastructure - and the values and resources of those who live in them also play significant roles in structuring emerging behavioural patterns.
- International Metropolis Project http://www.international.metropolis.net/frameset_e.html
Globalization, transforming identities, and translocality
Throughout the world, cities are important nodes in the global exchange of ideas, information, goods, capital, and people (Sassen 1998; 1995). For many, globalization is synonymous with the expansion of information technology and the movement of business elites and multinational corporations (Castells 1989). Cross-border goods trades and remittances have an undeniable impact on the people and communities on both ends of the exchange, and there can be little doubt that the forced (and voluntary) migration of people in the world's cities challenges domestic political, economic, and social processes. Although less pronounced than in camps or settlement schemes, the involvement of international actors such as the United Nations and the invocation of international law may, moreover, contest state institutions' authority and sovereignty.
The close proximity of multiple national groups in a given urban area is also likely to engender novel identities, affiliations, loyalties, and forms of social organization (see Social integration). Although it is premature to dismiss national borders and the identities associated with them, there is a growing need to reconsider their role in people's lives. In some instances, cities - or parts of them - become transnationalized: filled with people from elsewhere with little commitment to the territory they inhabit or the solely domestic processes surrounding them. In other instances, the massive influx of refugees (and other migrants) into cities is strengthening nativist discourses and host populations' commitments to their national territory and ideals, however understood. The short-term effects of this may be segregation of 'foreigners' and 'natives' within a given urban environment. Over time, however, these divisions are unlikely to be maintained. Mixed marriages (between forced migrants and hosts and among various migrant groups), business enterprises engaging locals and migrants, the creation of new linguistic idioms and religious organizations, and the diffusion of ideas will necessarily have transformative effects on all involved (Mandaville 1999). Under what conditions particular outcomes are likely, what those outcomes may be, and what they will mean for migrant and host populations remains one of the most significant and under-explored themes in forced migration research.
- Sommers, Marc, 'Urbanisation and its discontents: urban refugees in Tanzania', Forced Migration Review Vol 4, 1999. http://repository.forcedmigration.org/show_metadata.jsp?pid=fmo:4839
- Wagner, Sarah, 'Perspectives on Transnational Membership: The Political Activities of Congolese and Burundian Refugees in Camps and Urban Areas,' Report of Pilot Research Project in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 2002 http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~sewagner/
- Willems, Roos, Embedding the Refugee Experince: Forced Migration and Social Networks In Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, PhD Dissertation, University of Florida, 2003 http://etd.fcla.edu/UF/UFE0002281/willems_r.pdf