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Developing a Profiling Methodology for Displaced People in Urban AreasFinal Report

Increasing numbers of the world’s rural population are moving to urban areas, and refugees, internally displaced people and humanitarian populations are amongst the recently urbanized. UNHCR estimates that almost half of the world’s 10.5 million refugees now reside in urban areas.

In seeking to develop effective programmatic interventions, it is useful for humanitarian agencies to understand whether displaced people in urban areas are worse off than the urban poor and other migrants amongst whom they live. There is controversy around this issue. A widely held belief is that refugees and IDPs are worse off in urban settings, because they have lost their assets and social networks, and lack secure housing, land and property rights, and the cultural knowledge required to survive in a city. Others have argued that refugees are not necessarily more vulnerable than other migrants, and these differences are eroded over time. In particular, some research suggests that international migrants, including refugees, are often better equipped to deal with cities than newly urbanized citizens of the host country. Whether refugees and IDPs are more economically vulnerable and at greater risk is one of the questions we explore in this research.

One problem confronting humanitarian agencies is the difficulty of distinguishing refugees and IDPs from the urban poor amongst whom they live. In the towns and cities of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, refugees live in low-income areas, experiencing the same problems of poverty, poor services, crime and lack of employment, and often even sharing housing with the urban poor. This mixing of humanitarian and local populations creates a range of difficulties for aid agencies. While the government and/or UNHCR can register refugees who present themselves to the relevant office, many refugees, including some of the most vulnerable, are often not reached or even known about by agencies. Some of these ‘hidden’ refugees deliberately choose to avoid contact with aid agencies; others may not know about or be afraid to access agencies that could potentially assist them. This creates difficulties for humanitarian agencies wishing to assist refugees or estimate their numbers.

Finding ways to locate refugees, distinguish them from other migrants and the urban poor, and determine whether and how they are more vulnerable than other groups, thus become important programming issues. A profiling approach can help provide information about these issues. In this set of reports and case studies, we have developed a methodology to obtain profiling information about the population of refugees in an urban setting and how their experience compares to other groups amongst whom they live.

In low-income areas, where most refugees tend to live, it is important to determine whether and in what ways refugees are worse off than their neighbors, the local host population. In countries of first asylum, the urban poor face significant health, crime and poverty problems. Humanitarian programs can be seen as discriminatory when they target refugees whose neighbors may be equally badly off. Agencies need to justify – to host governments, to local people, and to donors – why they use resources to support one group and not others. If agencies can demonstrate that the target group is more vulnerable, or has special needs not faced by the larger population, targeting of resources can be more easily justified. Special needs can include for example, family tracing, trauma counseling, provision of documentation, and other problems arising from displacement which are less likely to be experienced by stable (non-displaced) populations.

Please click on the links below to view the 3 case studies in this report:

Mae Sot, Thailand
Polokwane, South Africa
Aden, Yemen