Marc Sommers: Only urban areas offer young the hope of paid work

Share
Related Topics

Governments and international institutions have been slow to recognise, accept and address the shift of refugees to cities. UNHCR's report on this issue is to be commended, as it calls attention to an urgent concern with global implications. It is also a significant and positive step away from the agency's previous grudging acceptance of urban refugee realities.

Two demographic shifts that are transforming today's world help explain how the policy of sequestering refugees in rural camps was bound to be stop-gap and inappropriate. First, today's population is the youngest in human history. Nearly a quarter of the world's population is aged between 12 and 24, 85 per cent of whom live in developing countries – where most refugees reside. Second, most of humanity now lives in cities, and the numbers are growing.

At the intersection of these two trends is youth. Most refugees are from countries with strikingly young populations. War-affected cities usually mushroom in size. Naturally enough, young refugees are pouring into urban areas. Cities offer young people the chance to reinvent themselves and connect with the broader world.

They are also places of economic opportunity, a particularly important feature for male youth and adult men. It is difficult to gain recognition as a man, in many cultures, if you do not have some sort of income. Since paid work is difficult or illegal in camps, refugee men, particularly young men, seek work in cities regardless of the dangers.

And it is dangerous. Refugees generally enter cities that are already overcrowded and teem with destitute people who lack access to basic services. Urban refugees compete for jobs against citizens there. Some refugees become so desperate that they will work for much less than their citizen competitors. Taken together, this presents a potentially explosive humanitarian and security problem.

Camps will continue to be relevant for some refugees. But refugees in cities are now an irresistible, unavoidable reality. In the face of these sizeable challenges, field research suggests a means of survival for urban refugees: the best way to protect yourself is to act as if you are a model citizen. That essentially means hiding your refugee identity without breaking laws. Energetically accepting urban refugees therefore opens the door for them to contribute positively to the cities they live in.



The author is Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, and author of 'Fear in Bongoland: Burundi Refugees in Urban Tanzania'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Liberal Democrats leader says efforts need to be focused on cracking down on the criminal gangs  

Nick Clegg: We should to go to war on drugs, not on addicts

Nick Clegg
East German border guards stand on a section of the Berlin wall in front of the Brandenburg gate on November 11, 1989  

Twenty-five years after the Berlin Wall fell, Hungary’s PM thinks it is Western capitalism that is in its death throes

Peter Popham
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes