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

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star