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Cities for refugees: places of economic productivity, participation and wellbeing

  1. @IIED Cities for refugees: places of economic productivity, participation and wellbeing Lucy Earle, 6 December 2022 Director, Human Settlements Group, IIED
  2. Lucy Earle IIED 2 Aims of the project 1. Build an evidence base for national and local governments, humanitarian agencies and donors on the opportunities and challenges of hosting displaced people in camps and urban areas. 2. Promote an assessment of current responses to urban protracted displacement, raising awareness of unmet need. 3. Strengthen the capacity of municipal authorities, displaced people, organisations of the urban poor and other local actors to use participatory planning to underpin development-based solutions to forced displacement.
  3. Lucy Earle IIED 3 Fieldwork locations • Kenya – Nairobi and Dadaab camps • Ethiopia – Addis Ababa and Aysaita camp • Jordan – Amman and Zaatari camp • Afghanistan – Jalalabad and Barikaab Settlement
  4. Lucy Earle IIED 4 • Concept generating focus groups • Expert review panels • Survey (400 refugees camp; 400 urban; 50% men-women) A mixed methods approach • Qualitative interviews (50 per country split between well-being and livelihoods) • Key informant interviews • Participatory forums
  5. One way we have measured the difference between the camp and the urban is by developing a wellbeing framework and metric. The idea is to get beyond standard vulnerability indicators to understand other factors that contribute to a good life in protracted displacement. We can produce overall wellbeing ‘scores’ for women and men in camps and urban areas, as well as for each of our five dimensions of wellbeing. Lucy Earle IIED 5 Our approach to wellbeing
  6. Lucy Earle IIED 6 Wellbeing:Bodily,Economic,Social,Politicaland Psychosocial Between 7 and 10 indicators within each dimension:  Bodily – access to food, shelter, health care, WASH  Economic – access to paid labour, education, financial services, levels of debt  Political – rights, recognition, documentation, community representation  Social – networks, connections, leisure activities and spaces  Psychosocial – mental health, hope, aspirations, feeling at home
  7. • We did this research expecting to find that overall wellbeing is higher for refugees in urban areas than camps. • Overall, this plays out more or less as expected in Ethiopia and Kenya, where wellbeing scores are higher in the urban areas. Lucy Earle IIED 7 What we found…
  8. Overall wellbeing in Ethiopia and Kenya Lucy Earle IIED 8
  9. 9 There are variations across the five dimensions • The differences between urban areas and camps are not the same in all five dimensions. • We find that they are particularly important in the dimension of bodily well-being and economic well-being.
  10. Lucy Earle IIED 10 Bodily wellbeing scores: Ethiopia and Kenya
  11. Lucy Earle IIED 11 Economic wellbeing scores: Ethiopia and Kenya
  12. • In the other dimensions, the results are not as clear, and often appear more linked to the gender than to the location of the refugees. • Indicators for women are generally worse in Kenya but not in Ethiopia • Overall, the differences aren’t as stark as we had hypothesised. • And in Jordan, the camp and the urban wellbeing scores are very similar. 12 In addition…
  13. 13 Overall wellbeing in Jordan
  14. For psychosocial wellbeing in particular, qualitative data paints a different picture “[The camp] is suffocating. It’s like living in a bottle enclosed from all ends and recycling the same oxygen.” (45-year old woman living in Dadaab since 1992) 14
  15. Comparing camp to urban 1 “We came to the camp. It wasn’t what we expected. I have to be honest, they did the best that can be done, may God bless them, but I’m telling you - it wasn’t what I expected. It is true that I come from the countryside, but I’m accustomed to working with my hands and eating from what I plant. I don’t wait for anyone to come and hand me things. Do you understand? We wanted to get out. We wanted to get out. Why? Why? As I told you, my husband works in tiling, so we couldn’t stay there. And as I said, things came to a halt. There was no work for him in the camp at all We came here in July 2014. Before Sweileh, I was in Al-Azraq camp. At first, we stayed in the camp for ten days. Then we came here [to Sweileh] and we stayed for a year and a half. I told you that we were not supposed to be here. My husband got caught while working. They caught him and asked him about his papers and his ID card. We had escaped from the camp, so they took us back there. We were there for one week, we didn’t stay for long. We were sent there three times and every time we stay there for one week, or four or five days and then we came back.” Female resident of Sweileh, Amman. 15
  16. Comparing camp to urban 2 “The problems of the camps are definitely different from ours; I might be way better than them now, my situation might be 100 times better than theirs. It’s true that I have to worry about the rent of the house, but I am actually living in one, I have to worry about the electricity bill, but well, we have electricity.” (female Syrian refugee, living in Sweileh, Amman) 16
  17. 17 Why is our quant and qual data telling us such different things? • Adaptive preference: It results when we bend aspiration towards expectation in light of experience. We come to want what we think is within our grasp. More than a simple "reality check," adaptive preference formation involves disciplining one’s motivational structure with the benefit of hindsight (Steve Fuller). • Life in the city can be isolating, so some of the social and psychosocial indicators are not necessarily better in urban as compared with camps
  18. 18 Livelihoods and enterprises research findings The second main component of our study looks at refugee economies: the collective economy created by refugees through their livelihoods, enterprise, need for services and consumption, mutual support and diaspora inputs. • Cities are generally more conducive to work than camps • We find that many more people have income-earning work in cities than camps.
  19. % of refugees with an income from work in cities and camps. 19
  20. Work readiness ● Refugees in cities are more likely to have the assets they need to work or run a business. Assets in our index include prior skills, financial, physical, social assets and legal rights to work. ● This was clearly evident in Ethiopia and Kenya, although less pronounced in Jordan. ● Importantly, men are far more likely to hold these assets than women. 20
  21. Livelihoods assets in camps and cities 21
  22. Two important challenges There is wasted potential, usually because of a tripartite of highly restrictive policies around (a) rights to work; (b) rights to run a business, and (c) restrictions on mobility: • Refugee livelihoods are curtailed, and many refugees either don’t work, or are doing jobs that don’t reflect their skills and experience. • For refugee-run enterprises, growth is constrained, either because they can’t invest, or they resort to exploitative partnerships with hosts to circumvent restrictions, as we found in Addis and Amman. • But in some contexts partnerships allow local economies to thrive e.g. Eastleigh (Nairobi) 22
  23. Challenges continued… • In urban areas, the livelihood vulnerability of refugees is hidden. While some can survive or even thrive, others – particularly women-headed households – are extremely vulnerable and receive neither community or agency support. • Our data on hosts shows that refugees are generally doing worse across all aspects of wellbeing – including economic – than their neighbours living in informal settlements. • So, life in the city is better than the camp, but huge vulnerabilities remain 23
  24. Returning to Jordan…Why are our results so similar between Zaatari and Amman? ● People who really want to leave the camp – and who have the physical, emotional and economic capacity – have probably done so. So they have a certain level of contentment. ● But all camps are not created equal! ● The Government of Jordan has maintained donor focus on the Syrian crisis and funding to support the camps. ● The level of entrepreneurial activity within Zaatari is considerable and unusual. There is a flow of goods between the camp and the local area. ● It’s a possible ‘best case scenario’ if you are going to spend your life in a camp. If we could do the study in Azraq, it would likely look very different ● And even with massive expenditure on Zaatari, quality of life is not higher for refugees than in Amman. 24
  25. An unsustainable situation ● Funding for Zaatari is unlikely to be sustained, and it’s already a questionable use of limited humanitarian aid: being spent on temporary, expensive and unsustainable interventions. ● Zaatari is the newest camp in our study (established 2012). Dadaab was established in 1991 And Aysaita in 2007 ● We see significant levels of hunger in Dadaab and Aysaita, despite the fact that the international community is paying to maintain people in them I have suffered a lot in this shelter and I don't want that to happen to my children. We came here because of political reasons, we look forward to resettlement or better opportunities to work outside of the camp. We have been here for the last 16 years and we don't want to continue this suffering. I want you to voice our concern. Refugee Committee member, Aysaita Camp. ● Is this the inevitable path that Zaatari will take? 25
  26. Some reflections ● The most vulnerable have probably stayed in the camps, and might not be able to make it in the city without significant support. ● But maintaining camps has negative intergenerational impacts. ● Meanwhile many refugees are carving out a better life for themselves in cities DESPITE the policies in place to prevent this. We need a fundamental rethink… 26
  27. Investing for real and positive impacts on refugees’lives • Concerted advocacy with national and city governments to recognise the presence of urban refugees, their capacities, aspirations and needs • Working to ensure humanitarian and development funding reaches the people on the frontlines in cities • Supporting refugee enterprise with access to finance and removing barriers to registering and running a business • Rejecting the narrative that refugees in cities must be ‘self-reliant’ • Focus on what it means to live a good life in exile – one that we would hope for, if we were displaced.
  28. Lucy Earle IIED 28 To know more • Project website: • IIED’s website: • Email:

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