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

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Andy Coulson  

Andy Coulson: With former News of the World editor cleared of perjury charges, what will he do next?

James Cusick James Cusick
Jack Warner  

Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Tom Peck
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back