5th debate

feathured photoShould refugees be sheltered and contained in organized camps or in urban and rural areas?

Final Announcement!

Winners of the “best contribution” awards:

The committee members (Jeff Chrisp, Kamel Abboud, and Danielle Labbé) acknowledge the engagement of all participants and their thoughtful contributions to this debate. They determined that the winners are:
Faten Kikano  First prize – best comments
1000 CAD$
Julien Deschênes  Second prize
500 CAD$
Mauro Cossu  Third prize
300 CAD$

Congratulations to winners!

Polling trend

The moderator’s opening remarks

The Canadian Disaster Resilience and Sustainable Reconstruction Research Alliance (Œuvre Durable for its acronym in French) and i-Rec (Information and Research for Reconstruction) are organizing an on-line debate (and competition) that explores the following question:
Should refugees be sheltered and contained in organized camps or in urban and rural areas?
Whereas some specialists consider camps as effective solutions that offer protection and essential services for refugees and forcibly displaced populations, others see them as places of control, segregation, and movement restriction. The former typically argue that camps facilitate administrative tasks and aid distribution, and help providing a legal and institutional status to refugees. They also contend that by settling refugees in camps, host governments can address more easily security concerns, attract donations, and distribute responsibilities among international humanitarian organizations such as UNHCR. Defenders of camps also emphasize that camps managed by international institutions help protecting refugees from exploitation and marginalization. Finally, they point to the fact that by settling refugees in camps, governments and humanitarian organizations are able to reduce competition over limited services, affordable housing, and jobs, potentially minimizing tensions between refugees and the local population.
However, several scholars and practitioners see in camps a solution that further isolates refugees, limiting their access to labor markets and hindering their social integration. Despite initial planning and expectations, camps often become permanent (or last for many years) becoming an expensive solution for host governments and humanitarian organizations. They typically blame camps for negative secondary effects on refugees’ mental health and education and for creating social and physical environments that facilitate crime, sexual abuse, and violence. In response, these experts and scholars believe that settling refugees in urban and rural areas prevent these drawbacks and ensure refugees’ socio-economic integration within host communities. Moreover, they point to the importance of refugees’ freedom to enter the labor market, find decent housing, and establish social ties with host communities – all of which, they believe, is easier to obtain in regular urban and rural areas.
In this debate, we invite two internationally-known experts to defend two opposite viewpoints. Over the next ten days, our panelists will present their most persuasive arguments, but the results of our debate rest in your hands. Do not be afraid to vote immediately—you can always change your mind. Even better, once you have cast your vote, add your voice to the debate and explain your decision. We look forward to reading the comments of all of those who participate.
URB_D_Labbé_2-small-Black and White copy  Danielle Labbé is a trained architect who received a Ph.D. in Urban Planning from the University of British-Colombia (2011). Her research focuses on the inter-relations between the production and appropriation of urban space in cities of the Global South. She uses a combination of historical, process-oriented, and social agency perspectives to explore the encounters between state intentions, governing practices, and everyday life during the urbanization process. While primarily focused on Vietnam and Southeast Asia, her research contributes to theoretical debates about state-society relations, urban governance, and regulatory informality in the fields of urban planning, human geography, and urban anthropology.  
Kamel Abboud-2014-03-black&whiteMr. Kamel Abboud is an architect graduated from the “Académie Libanaise des Beaux Arts-ALBA.” He also teaches and participates in pedagogy activities in ALBA since 1997. Between 1987 and 1994, he worked in Paris as an architect with three architectural firms. Back to Beirut in 1994, he worked for three years, as an associate senior architect, with “Architectural Design Unit, Basile, Homsi & Associates”. In 1997, he established his actual independent architectural studio, “AK-Architects,” based in Beirut. In September 2016, Mr. Abboud has presented “A century of Migrations and Urban Disturbances in Lebanon between 1916 and 2016″ in New Cities & Migrations International Workshop at the “Università degli Studi, Firenze” in Florence.
Jeff Crisp -Black and WhiteDr. Jeff Crisp has held senior positions with UNHCR (Head of Policy Development and Evaluation), Refugees International (Senior Director for Policy and Advocacy) and the Global Commission on International Migration (Director of Policy and Research). He has also worked for the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues, the British Refugee Council, and Coventry University. Jeff has the first-hand experience of humanitarian operations throughout the world and has published and lectured widely on refugee and migration issues. He has a Masters degree and Ph.D. in African Studies from the University of Birmingham. He is currently an Associate Fellow in International Law at Chatham House.


The proposer’s opening remarks
I would rather begin by reformulating the question, and suggest a slightly different approach:
Indeed, I find it difficult to narrow all possible actions to only two! How can we answer without putting into context? Are all refugees alike? Are conditions of all refugees alike? Are refugees running from a tornado in Florida to be considered with the same needs than those of Haitian refugees after an earthquake that demolished an entire city? Or, are boat people drowning by thousands([i]) under the “vigilance” of some European coastguards to be considered in the same situation as say, Ukrainian citizens fleeing the Russian-backed militias in Crimea?
Yet again, I am not sure that “camp” has a universal definition! Are we referring to camp as a primary group of tents or of shelters or of small housing units? And, if a camp is built with solid components, would it still be called a camp? And in that logic, when camps become settlements? And when settlements become temporary villages? And when temporary villages become cities? Is the definition of a camp linked to its lifetime? If a camp is still here, after 50 years of built adjunctions and transformations, is it still called a camp? Is the definition of a camp linked to the freedom of movement to refugees?
So, prior to any drafting of strategies, important factors are to be put in an equation:
1. The real cause of the migration at stake. Is it the result of:
a) naturally reversible phenomena (floods, fires, hurricanes…)?
b) an irreversible disaster (global warming disasters, earthquakes,…) or induced by human activities (nuclear disasters, dams…)?
c) an economical situation like extreme poverty or political turmoils and wars, all of which being of an unpredictable outcome in the short term?
2. The real needs and wishes of the refugees themselves, taking into consideration their cultural and educational background. Sometimes refugees themselves reject different hosting solutions than the one they have imagined. For instance, the Palestinian authorities never accepted that their fellow refugees be hosted anywhere else than in provisional camps, in order to maintain political pressure on all international politics. The reason evoked was the nurturing of “the right to return” to their despoiled land. We all know the disasters that were induced by such a policy, be it in Jordan, Syria and of course in Lebanon where they have been living in squalid camps, for much more than half a century now!
3. Space availability and distances! Analysis of territorial characteristics and transportation means are crucial for the establishment of a hosting policy. At what distance refugees are from their homeland now? Could they be back quickly to their country if the situation allows?
4. The number of refugees in relation to the inhabitants of the hosting structure, be it a village, a town, a region or a country! It might be one of the most important factors to analyze. Imagine for instance a hosting community of 1.000 inhabitants required to provide help, food, and shelter for a sudden flow of 50.000 refugees! It is actually the case in several villages in Lebanon.
5. The characteristics and real means of the hosting community itself:  geography, climate, economy and political conditions and, above all, the resilience of the existing infrastructure! Especially in the case of neighboring countries where political fragility would jeopardize the security of both refugees and initial inhabitants.
I guess my approach is somehow clear now. Most of the times we do not have the luxury of making an analysis as suggested above. Decent housing is the minimum acceptable condition to preserve human dignity, none would question that! But is it possible in any situation? Is Humanity generous enough to provide that minimum for all refugees? As of today, unfortunately, the answer is still definitely “NO”.
NGO’s have to deal with the emergency! So, the only immediate response is still CAMPS, where refugees can receive proper assistance and organized help! Sometimes for the sake of the refugees themselves, if not for the sake of the hosting communities! The real question would be: UNTIL WHEN?
[i] More than 5000 dead migrants in the Mediterranean sea, in 2016 only! Source: UNHCR
The opposition’s opening remarks
Throughout the 20th century, it was a common and largely uncontested practice for refugees to be placed in camps when they arrived in their country of asylum.
The advantages of this arrangement appeared to be self-evident. For aid agencies, concentrating refugees in a single location made it logistically easier to provide them with the shelter, food, water, sanitation and other forms of emergency relief that they required. Refugee-hosting countries considered that there would be fewer security problems if refugees were kept in camps, where their activities could be closely monitored. And there was a general sense that by accommodating refugees in large and highly visible settlements, it was easier to raise the donor state funds required for them to be sustained.
Over the past 15 years, such assumptions have come under growing critical scrutiny, and aid agencies such as UNHCR have increasingly looked for alternatives to camps, enabling refugees to live in urban centers or amongst host populations in rural areas. This major – and in the author’s opinion very positive policy change – has come about as the result of several considerations.
First, while camps might be an appropriate response at the height of an emergency, it became increasingly clear that refugee situations usually lasted for years or even decades on end. And throughout that time, camp-based refugees and their offspring were often denied basic rights, such as freedom of movement, access to land and the labour market, and the inability to establish a livelihood. Refugee camps were often located in remote, isolated and inhospitable areas, making it impossible for refugees to grow their own food and to contribute to the local economy.
Second, even a well-resourced refugee camp provides an unnatural and often dangerous environment for its inhabitants, especially women and children. Camps are frequently characterized by high levels of sexual violence, the forced recruitment of adults and minors into militia groups, as well as attacks from hostile external forces. Encampment is also known to generate trauma, psycho-social problems, and inter-generational conflict, making it difficult for individuals and communities to prepare for a peaceful and productive future,
Third, even in countries where refugees were officially obliged to live in camps (Kenya being one example), growing numbers of refugees chose to vote with their feet, moving to urban centres such as the capital city of Nairobi, where they had a better opportunity to find work and live a more normal way of life. At the same time, a growing proportion of the world’s refugees were moving to countries where, for a variety of reasons, the authorities, camps were not established at all or only used to a limited extent: Egypt, India, Jordan, Lebanon, South Africa and Turkey, for example.
Fourth, camps represent a lost opportunity. They make it more difficult for refugees to integrate with the local population and prevent them from acquiring the skills they will need if they are eventually to return and contribute to the rebuilding of their own country. They absorb a huge amount of scarce donor funding without offering their inhabitants the opportunity to become self-reliant and to find a solution to their plight.
In some situations, there might be little alternative to establish refugee camps, especially in the initial stage of an emergency. But this is no excuse for them to be perpetuated for years on end, progressively losing the interest and resources of the international community. As UNHCR has recently recognized, alternatives to camps must be pursued as a global principle, while the provision of appropriate support to refugees in urban centers and rural host communities must be improved.



The proposer’s rebuttal remarks
Participants’ comments are very relevant and might help to shift the debate on other levels. Ideas that are being brought are very interesting to develop! For instance, the hint that the definition of “refugee” as per the 1951 Geneva Convention is somehow obsolete and that people refer to “refugees” even in the case of displaced persons within the same country! Or the idea of providing camps with extra territories that would allow self-sustained communities. Or the logical assessment that bringing assisted refugees in poor zones will only bring more poverty and despair. All those concepts deserve deeper attention. But reacting to multiple interlocutors at the same time is an exercise beyond my means for this debate, so first, I will try to keep the initial track.
It seems we all agree that encampment is the first necessary step in providing help for refugees, but encampment should not be permanent.
Undoubtedly, as Dr. Crisp said, the advantages of encampment appeared self-evident for aid agencies in the second half of the 20th century. But after half a century of debatable results of camps around the world, and especially in the Middle East, the main aid agencies are reconsidering their initial approach.
Search for alternatives policies is quite understandable today, knowing the exponentially growing number of refugees throughout the world and the inversely proportional funding possibilities. But, in order to be implemented, such important new approaches have inevitably to be coordinated with international politics. And international politics being politics of the mightiest, the opinion of the smallest and most fragile countries do not account for much! For sure, humanitarian considerations and conditions of the hosting countries will always be analyzed by main aid agencies, but they will always be put in balance with the interests of the powerful countries.
In parallel, the world is witnessing the stiffening of the asylum regulations in most Western countries, even in the ones that are receiving a relatively small amount of refugees. Lately, in most speeches of Western countries’ leaders and in UNHCR declared intentions, we always hear the leitmotiv of integrating the refugees with the “local population”! But what is not necessarily said out loud is that this integration is meant to be achieved in the countries adjacent to nations in conflict, with an apparent objective of regional containment of the problem.
Some weak states lacking resources cannot manage the burden of the major humanitarian crisis on their own soils. For them, massive changes of population, of cultures and demographic equilibrium might have irreversible consequences even for a short period of time. The case of Lebanon is quite explicit by itself: according to the UNHCR, the Syrian refugees in Lebanon are estimated to 1.835.840, whether Palestinian refugees (living in camps) amount to some 295.000 and Iraqis more than 17.000. A total of 2.147.840 refugees for a total Lebanese population of 4.4 million! Some 48.8% of the population are refugees! Integrating them in the local population is certainly not a viable solution!
UNHCR is helping as much as it can and did provide 236 million USD of aid in 6 years (out of 2.75 billion appealed!), but this only represents less than 22 USD per year per Syrian refugee! In such conditions, how could we foresee any solution including funding for housing programs? Lebanon, initially suffering more structural, social and political problems than others States, is already at the edge of economic collapse under the burden of the humanitarian crisis.
So, in my opinion, “integrate refugees with the local population” might in some situations backfire as a worse solution than the initial camp solution.
Camps are definitely a horrible way of sheltering refugees, but maybe the problem lies in their initial organization process! Until recently, most camps were planned and organized without an added urban and architectural approach. People still organize camps as they’ve always imagined a camp ought to be! Maybe it is the time that urban designers and architects to be involved more deeply in the planning and the organization of camps, not merely shelter designs, typical scholar exercises, but more profound reflections about space and nature of temporary dwellings.
The opposition’s rebuttal remarks
I agree that the question that we were originally asked to consider is somewhat simplistic in nature and needs to be answered in a nuanced manner.
First, and in terms of the scope of the debate, my opening comments were strictly limited to large-scale refugee situations in developing countries, and were not intended to relate to the situation of refugees travelling by boat, to people displaced by environmental disasters in the industrialized states or to asylum seekers who are in transit, moving from one country to another. The settlement options pursued must evidently be tailored to the nature of the displacement that has taken place and the country context.
Second, and as Kamel has rightly suggested, the notion of a ‘camp’ requires further interrogation, as this concept is currently used to describe a wide variety of different situations: rural settlements where refugees have access to land and few limits placed on their freedom of movement; ‘closed camps’ that are surrounded by fences in order to contain and confine the refugee population; informal settlements that refugees themselves have established (in Calais and Idomeni, for example), and Palestinian refugee ‘camps’ which can be difficult to distinguish from the surrounding urban environment.
Third, and as I suggested in my first contribution, the passage of time is indeed an important variable: an approach to refugee settlement that is appropriate and effective in the earliest stage of a mass influx will almost certainly have to be revised as the situation stabilizes and the longer-term needs and aspirations of the refugees (especially education, employment and livelihoods) attain a higher priority than the provision of emergency relief.
At the risk of over-generalization, I continue to maintain that refugee camps of the type traditionally established by UNHCR in developing countries make it more difficult for these needs and aspirations to be met and make it more likely that refugee rights will be violated.
Fourth, Kemal correctly reminds us of the need for refugee preferences to be taken into full account when planning settlement solutions. There may be situations, for example, when refugees from the same country prefer to be congregated in specific locations, either for security reasons, or because camps provide the basic services required by the most vulnerable members of the community.
At the same time, it is important to recognize that camps have frequently been used by refugee elites and militia leaders to exert control over the civilian population and to deprive them of any choice in their place of settlement. Such situations must evidently be avoided if we are to prevent a repetition of the human rights violations perpetrated by, for example, the Khmer Rouge on Cambodian refugees in Thailand and Rwandan genocidaires in Tanzania.
While I generally disfavour the maintenance of long-term refugee camps and consider it preferable for refugees to be given an opportunity to live in urban areas and with rural host communities, I acknowledge the dangers of this approach. Once refugees are out of camps, there is also a risk that that they will also be out of mind.
To avoid such scenarios, three things must be done. First, effective monitoring and outreach mechanisms must be established, allowing an ongoing assessment of the state of the refugee population, especially those who are least able to support themselves.
Second, there must be an active programme of advocacy, designed to ensure that non-camp refugees can exercise all the rights to which they are entitled, especially access to the labour market and freedom from harassment and exploitation.
Third, if refugees are to be accommodated outside of camps, the needs of the host community must be met and their perspectives taken into full account. Refugees cannot be adequately protected nor can solutions be found to their plight if they are unable to live at peace with their neighbours.


The proposer’s closing remarks
Prior to concluding this debate, I would like to revert to a major point drawn by Jeff in his rebuttal. Jeff said his comments were “strictly limited to large-scale refugee situations in developing countries”. This is precisely what brought me to raise the point of view of a citizen of a “developing country”, a country submitted to both diktats, the management of the refugee crisis and the obvious international intention to contain them on its soil:
When the situation becomes unbearable to hosting country and refugees, only two alternatives get under scrutiny:  Send the refugees back to their original country trying to relocate them in secured zones, supervised by UN, UNHCR…, or dispatch them, at any cost, to other countries, preferably industrialized ones. (As not all countries have signed the 1951 Geneva Convention protocol, with its binding “non-refoulment” article, the application of such measures could become possible.)
Now, I hope the participants will agree with my tentative summary of the answers to the original question:
• Encampment as a first immediate response, but not necessarily contained (revised conditions of encampment: free liberty of movement, self-supporting activities, permanent adequate assessment, advocacy and control, new innovative approaches for camps’ organization).
• Monitored rural or urban sheltering as a second step, once the final destination is identified, and depending on the culture, education and initial natural environment of the refugees. Dispatching refugees by small groups and in different countries/regions would help counter the ghetto effect.
Time management remaining the major unknown.
In conclusion to this debate, I think an overview of the world situation today is necessary. 
All signs show that a mutation of human civilization as we already know it is taking place. If not a deterioration, it would sure be a drastic change never witnessed before. An unknown yet unfortunately imaginable dark future is taking shape ahead of us. Global warming, uncontrolled demographics, overexploitation of nature, and scarcity of resources will make harsher life conditions on the planet. An aftermath of unbridled Globalization will leave the less affluent populations in an increasingly dramatic situation. In parallel to the circulation of goods, will inevitably grow population movements throughout the world with a clear flow direction, from poor South-East to wealthy North-West. If no revolutionary vision of the future is granted to humanity, we shall be heading towards decades of impoverishments of wider zones of the globe.
In my opinion, major migration waves haven’t really started yet! To date, we are only witnessing the preliminary symptoms of massive population displacements. Till now, Asian populations, mainly Chinese and Indian are not yet really compelled to start migrating outside their respective frontiers, or if they are doing so it is still at a very slow and peaceful pace. International organizations’ structure as we know it is not prepared to operate with what might happen when such massive movements will start.
In front of all what might occur, humanity has no choice but to change drastically its vision of its own destiny!
If no utopia is created; If no other economic system that unbridled consumerism is implemented; If no real mechanism of control of the international policy of the countries (exempt from the injustice of the UN veto system) is established; If humanity cannot find a way to dismantle the lobbies of the armaments industry and those of the world’s major financial groups, then poverty, violence, and wars will multiply throughout the world at an exponential rate.
International authorities and agencies should focus on developing a new approach to conflict prevention and not just on post-disaster assistance. Preventive, political, economic or even, in the worst case, military action would be much more effective and far less expensive than providing post-disaster relief, as it is today.
It is indeed the discourse of a dreamer, but this will not downplay its relevance.
The opposition’s closing remarks
Kamel and I are in clear agreement that “camps are a horrible way of sheltering refugees.” As I’ve suggested before in this debate, camps have usually been associated with violations of fundamental human rights, especially freedom of movement. They have often been located in hostile environments, and have rarely provided their residents with decent living conditions or the opportunity to become self-reliant.
By definition, they segregate refugees from other members of the population, based on a misguided assumption that if they are allowed to mix and integrate with the local community, they will never choose to return to their country of origin. In fact, for the many thousands of refugee children who have been born and brought up in refugee camps, it is difficult to say what their ‘country of origin’ is.
I fully agree that if it is necessary to establish a refugee camp, then they should be designed and managed in the most humane manner possible, drawing upon the insights that can be provided by urban planners and architects. As Kamel has correctly said, there have not been sufficient efforts to draw upon such expertise in the past.
But that will not be an easy task, given the limited resources available and the fact that many of the world’s refugees are to be found in states that are either dysfunctional or authoritarian in nature. We cannot expect refugee camps to be islands of prosperity and democracy when they are located in such countries.
At the same time, there is a need to acknowledge that once a camp has been established, it will prove very difficult for it to be dismantled and for its residents to be dispersed and allowed to live a more normal way of life.
On a more optimistic note, something of a paradigm shift seems to be taking place in the international community’s approach to refugee settlement and assistance. For many years, it was considered completely normal for refugees to be confined to camps and provided with their basic needs by means of long-term ‘care and maintenance’ programmes, involving the distribution of food and other relief items by UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies.
That model is no longer a sustainable one. As UNHCR’s statistics demonstrate, a majority of the world’s refugees no longer live in camps – either because the host state has chosen not to establish them, or because the refugees themselves have chosen to live elsewhere.
Rather than providing refugees with goods, it is becoming the norm to make cash available to them, so that they can make their own purchasing decisions. The whole notion of ‘care and maintenance’ has been discredited, and much more attention is now being given to the ways in which refugees can be enabled to find decent work and establish their own livelihoods. Largely as a result of the massive influx of Syrian refugees in host countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, there is now a recognition of the need to pursue area-based approaches that take full account of the needs of host communities.
Last but by no means least, after decades of discussion, development actors such as the World Bank and UNDP are finally becoming substantively engaged with the issue of human displacement and are promising to bring some fresh ideas to the challenge of providing refugees with appropriate and equitable long-term settlement options.
Back in the 1990s, I visited a camp for Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone. I came across a young man who had just finished constructing a rudimentary mud hut to replace the tent that he had been given. He picked up a wooden stick, and on the wall of the hut inscribed the ironic words, “This is not my home.” A refugee camp can never be a real home and we should do everything possible to avoid their establishment.

The moderator’s closing remarks

This debate turned into a rich and lively conversation. If we only look at the numbers, the question raised attracted a sizeable audience. Over the last week or so, the debate’s website was visited 2,100 times by 826 people from 82 different countries, with over 350 people have voted on the question debated. Moreover, the debate attracted 35 comments generated by a students, scholars, and practitioners. This is a fantastic level of engagement!
Beyond this quantitative outlook, the most important outcome of this debate are the diverse and thought-provoking arguments put forward by both panelists and commentators about the benefits and shortcomings of the encampment and non-encampment approaches. Comments played an important role in widening the debate and thus began to respond to one of the earliest post in the debate regarding the “incompleteness” of the affirmation debated. A major – and I think widely shared – conclusion from our exchanges is that refugee settlement is an inextricably contextual problem, always multifaceted and getting increasingly complex. As such it is not only unrealistic, but in fact counterproductive, to look for simple, one-size-fits-all solutions.
As panelists and commentators were exchanging views and ideas, a poll was conducted on the question “Should refugees be sheltered and contained in organized camps or in urban and rural areas?” Interestingly enough, in the pre-debate period and during the early days of the debate, voters clearly leaned towards the no-encampment option. But as the debate unfolded, the poll got tighter and, against all odds, the pro-encampment option ended with a slight majority (65.8%).
This evolution of the poll reflects, I believe, the increasingly nuanced views that panelists and commentators developed about camp and non-encampment approaches. Over time, participants and panelists tended to converge and agree on two key ideas neatly summarized by Kamel in his concluding remarks:
1. Those encampments are an imperfect but acceptable immediate response to refugee crises but they need to be rethought and redesigned to be more “complete” environments (with job opportunities, services, etc.) that can evolve over time. This might occur by involving urban planners and architects but also other professionals able to provide services beyond housing, and
2. When refugees settle in urban and rural areas, they need to be well-supported to avoid marginalization, exploitation, and stigmatization.
Many more questions were raised by participants that remain open-ended such as the issue of uncertainties and time-management, the multiple definitions of a refugee, and the issue of jurisdiction and responsibilities of different levels and sources of authority in deciding how to shelter displaced people, to give just a few examples. These are questions that we need to continue to ponder collectively and as Jeff mentioned, the good news is that international agencies dealing with refugees are aware of their importance.
Finally, I want to thank Mahmood Fayazi, Kamel Abboud, and Jeff Crisp for their enlightening contribution to this debate. They surely join me in acknowledging the valuable and rich contribution of all participants. Please note that the winners of the “best contribution” awards will be announced by June 5, 2017. Congratulations to all participants!
Stay tuned for information about the next i-Rec – Oeuvre durable will be posted online in the next few months. I invite you all to participate in it!

More than 40 comments were submitted by participants during the 5th debate:

Mouna ghoussoub
This question is not complete.
It doesn’t take into consideration a number of factors which will affect the outcome
1- number of refugees
2- if they are not personally persecuted , can’t they be relocated to safer areas within their own countries.
3- what about a rotation system so they are not stuck in one camp for years ( if they are staying in camps)
4- what about introducing a form of work in the camps so they feel productive.
5- relocating them to urban and rural areas seem more humane and less iisolating in the long run although isolating families from other families might be very isolating in the short run and carry negative effects.
Online Debates
Dear Mouna, Thank you for your interesting comment. Among your five critical considerations, I am very interested in the rotation system (#3). Would you please bring an example and discuss its outcomes from both positive and negative point of views. Thank you so much!
Julien Deschênes
Like both debaters and first commenter I find the question difficult to address because the context plays an important role on how we should treat refugees. I see refugee sheltering as a continuum aiming toward the ideal of their reestablishment in their homeland or the stabilization of their housing condition in a receiving country.
In small scale and temporary displacements a refugee camp located near the situation occurring would be the best response because it is not affecting much of the receiving country structures. When the displacements are more important and permanent the camp option appeal decreases because the temporary camp becomes permanent and problems that were discussed erupt. At that point of the continuum, the international community should redistribute the refugees in nearby countries or, if necessary, in countries willing to receive refugees. Upon arrival to those countries, a temporary camp could be useful to admit the refugees and prevent pressure on local structures before guiding new comers in urban and rural areas where their status could then be stabilized.
Also, the camps seems to be the emergency room while sheltering refugees in cities and rural areas are more likely to be the rehabilitation process where they will rebuilt their lives. For this reason, camps should remain unencumbered to facilitate their emergency purposes while cities and rural areas should open up at the right time to ease the integration processes that could affect refugees when done by big impersonal batches.
Those 2 points could resume the continuum I propose:
1. The situation causing refugees is more likely to resume → sheltering in camp and then planning the return
2. The situation causing refugees is more likely to be permanent or long term → a brief passage in camps and then sheltering in cities and rural areas to maintain camps operations crisis oriented
The major limits about this perspective is that political games are played to limit the amounts of received refugees and that the evaluation of a crisis causing refugees is extremely contextual which makes it difficult to statute if a return is likely or not.
Looking forward for the rebuttals.
Danielle Labbe [moderator]
Thanks Mouna and Julien for opening up the discussion with thoughtful comments. Both entries insist on the importance of taking the context (number of people displaced, reason for displacement, etc.) into account when devising the most appropriate sheltering solution. Mouna’s comment is centered on the issue of refugee’s well-being, an important part of the problem for sure, Yet Julien also raises the question of the refugee’s (potentially problematic) impacts on host countries. How does one balances the various (and perhaps divergent) needs and expectations of refugees versus host? And who (national governments, international organizations, other) should take such decisions? And then, their is the problematic quetion of the expected duration of displacements, a variable that has proven difficult to predict in the past, thus raising questions about refugee settlement planning in contexts of uncertainty.
Faten Kikano
In order to make the debate question more specific, it is pertinent to give more precisions about the legal definition of a refugee.
The status of refugees has been defined in the 1951 Refugee Convention organized by the United Nations in Geneva and signed by 145 countries. This convention represents the key-document for the definition of the status of refugees, their rights and the legal obligations of states towards them. It states that a refugee is any person who, “owing to well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country, or, is unable or unwilling to return to it. The convention was “updated” during the 1967 Protocol, which withdrew its geographical and temporal restrictions (The convention concerned people fleeing due to events that took place prior to 1951 in Europe). One of the main obligations of the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol is the principles of non-refoulement by which “No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion ”(Article 33 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees).
Thus, people who become homeless following a natural disaster, or people who are forced to move to another place due to effects of climate change are not refugees. Migrant populations move from their place of origin for economic reasons unlike refugee populations who often flee for political incentives. Refugees are outside their country of origin otherwise they are Internally Displaced Populations (IDPs). An asylum seeker is a person who applies for the status of refugee and who is awaiting the decision of the government of the host country to grant or reject his/her application.
I support the debaters and previous commenters concerning the importance of the context: A refugee in Canada is different from a refugee in France, who is also different from a refugee in Kenya. In fact, despite states being signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, their sovereignty always prevails, and consequently, refugees’ living conditions, including settlement policies, are at the discretion of the host country, and vary enormously from one country to another.
Faten Kikano
In reply to Mouna ghoussoub.
Dear Mona,
Thank you for your interesting comments and suggestions. Please allow me to react to the 5 points that you raised.
1. Number of refugees
Did you mean that a country hosting a large number of refugees ought to create organized camps for them? Wouldn’t these organized camps, especially if they are located in weak states that lack authority and control over these extraterritorial spaces, represent 1) a risk for the host country (militarization, like the case of the Palestinian camps in Lebanon), 2) a vulnerable environment for refugees, with “high levels of sexual violence, the forced recruitment of adults and minors into militia groups, as well as attacks from hostile external forces” (from Jeff Crisp’s opening remarks)? Please note that 85% of refugees live in developing countries with a high index of state weakness.
2. About refugees being relocated in areas within their own countries
Intersting point that raises many questions: Who benefits from refugees’ stay in the host county? Is it the host state who gets funding from the international community for hosting refugees, or the NGOs for whom refugees represent a “work opportunity”? Are refugees used as a political tool to put pressure on specific political actors? In case they are urban refugees, do they represent a cheap labor force and play an significant role in the economy of the host state?
3. A rotation system for refugees
I find it terrible for uprooted people to suffer continuous evictions through a so-called “rotation system” by which they are continuously relocated. I cite one the the young refugees I met in the Zaatari camp (Syrian refugee camp in Jordan) in a humanitarian workshop, who, despite the harsh living conditions, the segregation, and the lack of freedom, refers to the camp as “home”…
4. Creation of jobs in camps
In some organized camps, markets are created and organized by the NGOs managing the camp. However, most camps spontaneously become urbanized and jobs are informally created amongst the refugee population (the case of the Zaatari camp in Jordan and it’s famous shopping street, the “Shame- Damascus in Arabic- Elysées”).
5. Refugee settlement in urban and rural areas
Urban refugees are in some cases very vulnerable. They seldom benefit from protection or aid delivery from the UNHCR and other NGOs. However, (and this is the flip of the coin) they enjoy the support of their social networks. Families and friends often gather in the same localities and are therefore rarely separated or isolated.
Faten Kikano
In reply to Julien Deschênes.
Dear Julien,
Thank you for your interesting propositions. Following your comment, two ideas come to mind.
First, on camps as emergency solutions in refugee situations that are likely to resume:
Camps are indeed a good emergency response. However, studies show that almost 70% of refugee situations become protracted and last for years. Shouldn’t housing solutions be planned accordingly, especially given the difficulty in evaluating the duration of a conflict or a war? Despite past experiences proving the frequency of protracted situations, humanitarian agencies still create and fund expensive “one fits all” temporary solutions, seldom adapted to the climatic conditions in the host country, and to refugees’ specific needs and cultural practices. From temporary, these solutions often become permanent. Isn’t it better id funds are invested in more durable and adapted dwellings, and that, if situations resume and refugees are repatriated, the dwellings are used for other purposes?
Second, on settling refugees in urban and rural areas in long-term situations:
In this case, what are your thoughts on other aspects of refugees’ lives?
1) Legal status: Whose responsibility are refugees in this case, the host government’s or the UNHCR? What would their legal status be: Refugees (second class inhabitants) living amongst well rooted citizens? Should they live like most urban refugees (75% of the world’s refugees) as illegal settlers continuously fearing arrests, deportations, and adopting a strategy of invisibility which makes them vulnerable to all sorts of exploitations?
2) Livelihood opportunities: Are refugees legitimately allowed to work, or would they be exploited in the informal job market and earn very low wages? In this case, wages for the locals would be consequently decreased and the vulnerable category of the host population would be pushed into more poverty, which would create tensions between the refugee and the host populations.
3) Housing solutions: Where would refugees live? When in urban areas, would they informally occupy overcrowded spaces or illegally rented accommodations at very high prices, with a continuous risk of eviction in both cases? In this situation, the surge in demand for affordable housing would raise prices and would affect the poor local population as well as the refugee population. In rural areas, the most common solution is Informal Tented Settlements (ITSs). In many cases, from tents, refugees transform these settlements to more durable constructions, gradually altering the urban landscape without any prior planning and often causing environmental drawbacks (such as the pollution of the water table and the soil).
I would also like to know Jeff’s opinion concerning the above.
Thank you Mouna, thank you Danielle (and especially) thank you Julien and Faten !
Now that you’ve perfectly resumed the whole matter, I guess Jeff and I can go rest for the rest of the debate ! (:-)
Faten Kikano
In reply to Kamel.
Hello Kamel!
My comments (as well as Mouna’s, Julien’s, and Danielle’s) are not statements but rather questions open to your reflexions and thoughts, and to other participants’ comments and points of view. Looking forward!
Tushar S Pradhan
My point here is in favour of settling the refugees in urban settlement. Giving them an opportunity to get perfectly adaptable in the host population. The notion in favour of organised camps, I consider it as an temporary reactive response but the long term implications of settling people in organised camp would detiorate the situation in terms of psycho social, physical, financial, livelihood, cultural aspect. Ghetoization of like minded people is evident in organised camps but will that be sufficient for recovery…? The segregation of refugees would render a stagmatic effects on there recovery. Having a fully facilitated camp can resolve temporary needs, but not long term adaptation. The interaction between various stake holders is also crucial in the over all strengthening and building confidence among the refugees but one must not forget at some point all these support system will be phased out. So to enhance there resilience need to expose to dynamic conditions in urban settings. If they are unable to gel in the host environment the recovery would be a mear normal.
Online Debates
Dear Jeff and Kamel, Thank you so much for following discussions on the comment section. Your opening remarks have attracted very interesting comments, thoughtful opinions, and questions. We always encourage our audiences to play active roles in the debate and create sub-debates on the comment section, which would help explore different dimensions of the question. We look forward to reading your rebuttal remarks, which may include your reactions to the opening remarks and answer questions and concerns raised by the audience. Thank you so much!
Julien Deschênes
In reply to Faten Kikano.
Thank you all for the new contributions. I already wanted to react on a few interesting points that were brought up by Faten.
The major problem we face as an international community is when it comes to the responsibility of refugees. It is like no one wants to take the burden to receive or welcome the refugees. UNHCR still lacks powers to enforce resettlements in contributing countries. The easiest way not to put pressure on existing populations is to diffuse the resettlements as much as possible by enlarging the amount of receiving countries and in these countries to develop spatial distribution of the new comers so it is only affecting slightly local structures. Some of the challenges linked with the integration of the refugees in such a diffuse manner could be overcome by new technologies. If the resettlements of refugees were more diffuse and frequent nations would see it less as a burden and more as an asset. Our international reaction towards refugee resettlement is presently much more crisis oriented then sustainable. I have to admit that I am clueless about how to put an end on the emergency response and start resettlements, which stills remain a limit to my lecture of this problem.
If there were a real diffusion between nations and within states the livelihood opportunities and housing solutions would not put a undue pressure on local vulnerable populations. In a perfect world I would be advocating for formal work and housing opportunities but reality as proven that migrants tend to dive in informality because it’s more accessible. As long as the conditions of local and refugees are equal or better than in the camps I don’t see a reason why it could not last. Informality as chaotic as it may seem creates the networks and the independence needed for a successful integration process.
I think it is important they preserve their status as the Convention protects them until they voluntarily repatriate to their original country. If they have a refugee status would it express that they have entered by legal means in the receiving country and followed refugee process accordingly? If it were the case, I would see them as special citizens in a process of becoming completely citizens. When it comes to public policies cities can play a role for the urban refugees you have described by being sanctuary where regulations facilitate their informality. Mainstreaming those sanctuary cities would also be a way to ease their everyday life by reducing constant fear of being deported.
Jorge Carvajal
On the subject of “Refugees” we can find a lot of normativity and literature on the Internet, so I would think that the debate basically focuses on whether these should be grouped or whether they should be integrated into society.
In Colombia (South America), more than “refugees” is the case of “displaced persons”, that is, people who have had to leave their place of residence, usually the countryside, as a result of violence generated by groups outside the law, mainly the FARC.
It is a very complex situation throughout the world, especially for the different causes that generate them.
When it comes to large groups of people, you might think that they flee their own country for a conflict that threatens their lives and prevents their free development, and they usually arrive in an unexpected and illegal way to the territories of destination. Of course, there will be other cases where people will require refuge as a result of natural disasters in their own countries.
It is important then to bear in mind that they are refugees who were not able to face or solve their problems in their own territories, and seek to find a solution in other nations, creating problems for these nations, that they did not have.
To think that we could integrate these refugees into society and in the labor field, without knowing anything about them, would think that it is very difficult, when it is not even easy for a citizen with all the scrolls, to obtain a job.
Almsgiving and poverty bring more poverty, so refugee camps should be not only a refugee camp, but fields that could become self-sufficient through agriculture, livestock, and other jobs that they could develop with their own refugees.
So in my opinion, I support and agree with the concept that they should be refugees in organized camps, and would include self-sufficient, so as not to cause the slightest harm to my own fellow citizens, especially, when you are talking about thousands of them.
Jorge raises the very pertinent case of Internally Displaced Populations (IDP) in Colombia. In Colombia, however, must IDPs have been integrated in urban areas and in fact, in many cases, in informal settlements. Jorge: are there cases of organized camps for IDPs in Colombia? do you have examples to share in which services and job opportunities were provided?
Jorge Carvajal
In reply to Gonzalo.
Gonzalo, as I know, unfortunately NO.
The displaced in Colombia are a big problem especially for the main cities where they arrive, believing that there they will find a better future.
Local governments try to locate and assist them, but end up becoming extreme poverty groups with no job opportunities, focis of crime because of their needs.
In Colombia, it has usually been tried to return them to their places of origin, once they have been able to restore security in those areas, through the Armed Forces.
Mauro Cossu
Dear all, I would like to give you some thoughts and pose mostly questions.
Although immigration policies, resettlement and relocation of refugees are taken by national authorities, the effective response to the refugee crisis takes place in cities. However, not only displaced people (migrants, asylum seekers, and ‘climate-induced’ refugees) have different needs and expectations but also the cities that host them are deeply different––the type of response cannot ignore these assumptions.
When we speak of destination cities, in fact, we should not imagine an abstract city but a place with special characteristics. As Faten has remarked, a refugee in Canada is not the same as in Kenya, and even among European countries there are specific resources, complexities and criticalities, as well as within a single country like, for example, in the North and South of Italy.
Probably, some contexts are better for temporary settlements such as tents or housing modules, others are better equipped for widespread and long-term reception. This may be complementary to camps or one solution designed for certain categories of refugees hosted in rural or in low-density urban areas.
So, trying to answer the initial question, I would say that there is not – and there cannot be – a ‘better’ model to be implemented and extended in all cases. There are several possible scenarios that should be calibrated on existing opportunities and on the ability of cities, job markets, and education systems to integrate the newcomers.
While housing is a primary need for those who arrive in a new city, we must always be aware of that a refugee crisis is NOT just a housing crisis. It may seem more efficient and less expensive (at least at the beginning) to build a large number of dwellings, where land costs are lower, but this entails (subsequently) significant economic and social costs. With this perspective the risk of repeating past mistakes is huge, by creating large areas of ‘non-city’ ghettos, organic and improvised housing solutions and isolated settlements.
A prominent example is the recent interventions made in Brazil through the ‘Minha Casa Minha Vida’ (My House, My Life) program. Launched in 2009, it was designed to stimulate the production and acquisition of new housing units in order to provide access to decent housing for low and very low-income families.
But the limits of the program, and its overall fragility, appear evident by observing the new settlements that are being implemented in areas poorly connected and isolated from the cities. As a result, spatial and social segregation is intensified.
In contrast with this example, I would mention a virtuous experience: the SAAL operations in Portugal[1]. At the end of the dictatorship of Salazar, more than 1 million emigrants – mostly from African ex-colonies – returned to the home country. In order to cope with this enormous housing deficit, in just over two years between 1974 and 1976, new homes for about 40.000 families were built through the active and organized participation of people (known as “brigades”); resulting projects were designed with the residents and not just for them. The settlement pattern of SAAL did not impose a relocation in the suburbs. Interventions were implemented in the same spaces occupied by temporary residents, keeping the horizontal social structure and the proximity to services (jobs, schools, etc.).
The recognition and definition of all phases of the reception process may provide more conceptual thinking and, possibly, encourage research. By decomposing the process (from the arrival to the possible return to the home country, or a stable integration into the host community), appropriate resources can be allocated for different stages and outcomes can be monitored.
I wonder how a successful urban program for refugees should be developed. Clearly, we cannot focus only on the arrival but we have to provide answers for all the phases.
Is it possible to make cities more ‘permeable’ to the progressive integration of temporary or future permanent residents?
If the response to refugee crisis is at the city-level, why strategies for refugees should not be integrated with other issues that cities are already facing? Why plans for refugees tend to be ad-hoc, with extra budget measures? Additional resources often come from national governments and are supplementary to other urban strategies. Cities instead should be strengthened, their role in addressing the crisis formally recognized, and provided them with adequate tools.
It might be interesting to reconsider Stewart Brand’s discourse [2] which propose a non-deterministic but evolutionary approach, able to rethink the entire built environment in a dynamic way. How leftover buildings can be transformed, and how can be included in urban regeneration policies that involve also the refugees? How can vacant houses and abandoned buildings be made available for this purpose? Maybe, is it possible at stages following the initial reception?
How to enhance the resilience of the urban systems, or better their “antifragility”[3]? I refer not only to the capacity of the cities to tolerate and recover from stress but to improve over time and to be able to take advantage from changes, even when strong and unexpected, as well as from crisis and disasters.
Hot to design pilot projects taking into account all these factors? Should refugees be active in determining and orienting reception policies (as occurred in the SAAL case)? The question is not “camps vs. integration in urban and rural areas”, but – being every city dense of specific ‘determinants’, as well as the refugees themselves – we need to find complex strategies and work on them.
Could active participation be a possible strategy?
[1] Serviço Ambulatório de Apoio Local (Local Ambulatory Support Service).
[2] Stewart Brand (1994), How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built.
[3] Definition as proposed by Nassim N. Taleb (2012), Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder.
Danielle Labbe [moderator]
The conversation is taking a very interesting turn with more dimensions of the problem being brought up. I’m thinking here, in particular, of the useful distinctions made by Faten and Jorge between different types of population displacements calling for different responses. The comments made so far suggest a need to go beyond the parameters set by the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugee for war/persecution-related refugees given that the convention doesn’t address internal displacements or climate/economic-induced displacements. Another important point brought to the fore is that of phasing or evolutive solutions. This point came up early in Julien’s comments and was brought up by Tushar and by Mauro. However, there seem to be at least two possible avenues here: should camps be devised as places meant to evolve into longer-term living environments, that is proper neighborhoods with services, jobs, good connections to city (thus keeping people settled) or should camps be what Julien called temporary “emergency rooms” from where refugees are dispatched to rural and urban areas? Finally, an important question emerged in Julien’s and Mauro’s comment regarding territorial-administrative jurisdictions over refugee settlementm raising the question of nations’ versus cities’ powers and policy-making capacities. What should be the roles of the national versus municipal levels? The question is open.
Jorge Carvajal
In reply to Mauro Cossu.
Dear Mauro Cossu, and all…
Would believe that in the particular cases of Portugal with the “SAAL – Sociedades de Apoio Ambulatorio Local (Local Ambulatory Support Societies)”, and of Brazil with “Mi Casa Mi Vida (My Home My Life)”, it was not “immigrants” but of fellow citizens who had returned to their country of origin , or of fellow citizens living in extreme poverty as a result of the political situation in their countries.
Being a situation that presents itself with fellow citizens, I believe that it should be sought for them, the support for a definitive and permanent solution in time.
But in the case of immigrants, people of another nationality, who must be given a quality humanitarian support, without any kind of return, should the solution be temporary or permanent?
Another possibility is that of inhabiting districts or abandoned buildings, events that have happened especially with people “displaced” in my country.
Let’s say they have achieved a “temporary ceiling,” but there are no “productive” programs that make them self-sufficient. By remaining “dependent” on state alms, they become centers of delinquency.
Only if the receiving country is to adopt immigrant refugees as permanent citizens, “SAAL” and “Mi Casa Mi Vida” would be excellent solutions; but if the intention is to return them to their countries or places of origin, I still think that the solution would be the self-sufficient camps.
Jorge Carvajal
Dear Miss Danielle Labbe, and all
1. Should camps be devised as places meant to evolve into longer-term living environments, that is proper neighborhoods with services, jobs, good connections to city (thus keeping people settled)
In my opinion, with places destined to become extended living environments, one would run the risk of producing effects contrary to the desired ones, since the “refugee” might not want to return to his country of origin, being able to find all the Solutions of life, in those “neighborhoods with services and everything”! Then, we should know exactly what the true intentions of the receiver country are: to help them? Or, nationalize them?
But to the benefit of all, I also believe that they should be given rehabilitation, training and guidance, to make themself-sufficient, and programs should follow chronology and time, seeking the return of immigrants to their countries of origin. The variable that really is unknown, is the time! When can they really return to their places of origin? Only when the cause that caused its displacement, has been overcome, in some cases, indefinite.
2. Should camps be what Julien called temporary “emergency rooms” from where refugees are dispatched to rural and urban areas?
I understand the “Emergency Rooms”, such as the “Refugee Collection Centers”, which should then be redistributed to the different “Refugee Fields” organized in the receiving countries.
But we are speaking then, of countries that know they are going to have refugees, or who already have them of years back.
I would then believe that the views of this debate are due to countries that already have “refugees” and that seek to improve the system of attention to them; Geopolitics is tremendously variable, and situations in the countries can change drastically in a sudden manner, generating a runaway of Immigrants that we normally never know when, how many, or where they will reach us.
3. What should be the roles of the national versus municipal levels?
Governments that are prepared to receive Immigrants, have surely collected the necesary resources to atend these situations. It should be the responsibility of the National Government to collect the economic resources and establish the regulations regarding Refugees and the Fields of Attention to them; and the Municipal Governments should be the direct responsible ones to execute those resources based on well detailed budgets, and to develop the Established programs for the care of refugees, their development and evolution.
Then, in my opinión, taking into account all the possible variables of an “immigrant”: a person who does not belong to the country, who for some reason flees from his country of origin and ends up sitting “temporarily” in our territory, but in turn, so undefined, it would concentrate on self-sufficient fields for its development and subsequent return to its country of origin.
Dear Gonzalo, Miss Danielle Labbe, and all
From my researches over camps in Turkey or new neighbours in Istanbul. Both of the decisions cause problems. Because at the beginning, the camps seem as a good shelters for refugees but after a while due to the restrictions on right to move freely, camps become depresive prisons. On the other side, the refugees who have to stay in the city or in rural areas, have right to move freely and job opportunities, but being confronted with the social stress and conflicts and have problems of integration with the other societies.
For the sake of example, the refugees, who settled in tenement districts of Istanbul, create new ghettos (chinatowns) in which rerfugees restrain themselves within the social boundaries. Therefore a new perspective with hybrid solutions are needed to. Such as; new free camps life that offer free entry and exit, work opportunities and help refugees for adaptations. Or, we may offer a city life where institutions serve to refugees for business, education, health and consultancy.
Rosemary Wangari Wachira
Refugee issue is complex and it is difficulty to come with one straight jacket solution. One key issue to be considered is categorization of refugee based on what caused the refugee crisis in the first case, and the clear analysis of the problems in their original countries. Hopefully this might help the authorities to design an appropriate settlement plan for different categories of refugees. One observation though is that a lot has been learned and knowledge gained over the many decades of dealing with the refugee crisis globally. This knowledge should help the authorities handling refugee crisis to develop better models of refugee settlements. Arguably enough, the early settlements were developed without adequate insight into the holistic problem making the current refugee settlement inadequate. Is it possible to upgrade the current settlements without having to move them to the urban areas where inevitable they will likely create different type of problems? I believe it might be an area to consider
Julien Deschênes
To pursue in the different trajectories the debate is taken I will treat the topic regarding two angles.
1. Like Kamel said in its rebuttal: planners or architects are not invited to think the built infrastructures of camps. This might be a part of the explanation why those environments are hostile and austere. Having the planners and architects insights could improve the living conditions of refugees. I would also add a layer that could increase the engagement of those vulnerable populations: self-construction. The perfect example is the Quinta Monroy project in Chile that allows old slums households to upgrade their new shelters by an architecture that was open for add-ons. Building basic shelters and leaving upgrade possibilities by providing materials to refugees would create an adapted form of housing that could then be easily dismantled and reuse elsewhere. Camps are mostly offering housing that is heavily standardized but refugees have cultural differences on how they perceive housing. By letting them build their shelter (or adapt a basic structure) we could reduce the negatives impacts of camps. This way, planners and architects could guide but would not be leading camps housing solutions.
2. When it comes to policy, local governments are always in a reaction position to what is happening on national or global levels. Sanctuary cities are a way to denounce national stands on immigration or refugee policies. Local governments offers local services and therefore are the best when it comes to react to different problems like refugee’s integration. However, they have limited resources to face all the structural problems. Fortunately, they are evolving in a trend where they are gaining more and more powers from urban growth and I am confidant that, as time past, they will become major advocates for planned refugee and immigrant integration. Planned or unplanned refugee integration being a reality for some cities I am sure they would prefer it to be planned then unplanned. The decision of receiving refugees or not will most probably remain in the hands of nations but they will be asked more often to provide integration plans so cities can adequately and efficiently face this reality.
Jorge Carvajal
Dear all…
The issue of Refugees or Displaced Persons is very interesting, especially because many places are not prepared to receive them.
In fact, would believe that the debate arises from experience, in order to improve his condition.
Regardless of the cause, it would also be important to take into account the quality of the “refugee”.
The cultural level and their socio-economic position in their country of origin, creates a huge difference in their way of reaching the country of destination.
Some of them, perhaps few in reality, arrive in the country of destination independently, then ask for “asylum”, and become a permanent refugee who has no intentions and does not want to return to their country, because that their socioeconomic status allows them this possibility.
These people who ask “asylum”, normally can demonstrate their origin, the causes of their displacement, their capacity for work, their socio-cultural level, and will be those who can integrate into the society that welcomes.
The case is very different with the groups of “immigrants”, those that arrive en masse, of which little or nothing is known. What would happen with them, if they wont want to return?
Mauro Cossu
In reply to Jorge Carvajal.
Thanks for your reply, Jorge.
MCMV and SAAL refer clearly to the particular historical, political, and socio-economic context which formed the basis for the two experiences. This wasn’t meant to be an evaluation of good or bad practices but to focus on the processes, on complex systems – as are the cities – and the role that cities can play (compared to nations) in addressing the refugee crisis.
The reception of refugees, whether they are ‘internal’ or displaced people from other countries, is fundamentally an urban challenge.
In my view, plans for refugees should be plans for the whole city and integrated with all other plans impacting urban development. Plans for refugees, in principle, should not be solely conceived in static terms, thought temporary, also because very often those plans continue for much longer than expected or become permanent. Attention should be directed to the evolutionary process of refugee resettlement and not just to the short-term effects of emergency actions.
Probably, in many cases, we would need a design for the process more than the ‘product’. And a design for self-organization?
Faten Kikano
Mauro’s suggestions about evolutionary systems and deconstruction of phases in refugee situations are very interesting concepts. They raise other questions: Should organized camps be conceived and built to “evolve” into permanence?
Fred Cuny (1977) says that a refugee camp, being a space that hosts a group of people, ought to be planned like a city with the same infrastructure and services. However, refugees’ problem is one of politics and not one of capacity, logistics or planning. When those “undesirable populations”, as Michel Agier (2008) refers to them, are hosted in organized camps, the intention of host governments is to settle them temporarily, keeping them away from the local population, until they are either voluntarily repatriated, or resettled in a different country. Refugee spaces and their “design” are simply the outcome of such policies. Creating irrelevant environments that are “hostile and austere” as Julien rightfully states, without involving planners, designers and architects, is a conscious decision meant to discourage refugees from staying. Camps are intentionally maintained in a situation of temporality and refugees in a situation of dependency on humanitarian aid. Should camps be initially planned to become durable, sustainable and self-financed, they would no longer respond to their original purpose: aid delivery, protection, (and paradoxically) segregation, and control.
Julien says that in cities, planned or unplanned, refugees’ integration is a reality. The same statement can be made about camps. In fact, studies show that in many cases, and despite more or less restrictive measures, camps end up by becoming urbanized. Markets places, economies and social organizational systems spontaneously emerge. Modular housing units (caravans) are transformed and adapted to refugees’ needs ad way of life. Very often, architectural features from the place of origin are reproduced. Mauro and Julien mentioned the possibility of a participatory approach. I strongly support this idea. Refugees should be seen as agents with the capability of inhabiting even the most unwelcoming spaces and adapting them according to their needs.
Nevertheless, camps seldom become “real” cities: they are often constructed on public land far from inhabited localities and are therefore isolated; refugees do not benefit from services such as high level of education, or advanced healthcare; in most cases, camps are under the military authority of the host country and refugees do not have freedom of movement. In such conditions, to whatever degree it evolves, a camp unfortunately remains an open-air prison in which refugees feel separated from the rest of the world. The longer the duration of stay lasts, the more the impression of isolation grows.
The feeling of xenophobia is quite common towards refugees: they are the others, the strangers, and the invaders crossing over on our territory. They are often seen as the source of all problems. That, of course, is a false image usually used for political purposes. Refugees are people who love, care, have hopes, ambitions, and dreams. They can be skilled and creative.They are generous and hospitable. They organize and take care of the places where they live and keep them tidy and clean. Nevertheless, visiting a refugee camp, watching the years go by with these people, especially the young, living suspended lives, makes one wonder what sort of persons are these unhealthy environments “producing”, and wether unjustified fear of them now will become valid in the future.
Faten Kikano
In reply to eenginoz.
Dear Enginoz,
I totally agree with you. Camps, when necessary, should offer a dignifying environment for their inhabitants. In some cases, they are necessary and even better than urban settings. In such situations, the host country is unable to contain refugees, especially large numbers of them, due to political or economic instability, insufficiency in services, and an unadapted infrastructure. If refugees are hosted in urban areas (usually the poorest and most affordable), both refugees and the host population will live in extreme poverty, and social tensions will arise. Refugees, seen as a burden, might become subject to agressions and violence, and they usually adopt an strategy of invisibility that makes them more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Delivering aid in such contexts may prove to be quite problematic, and an additive source of tension between both populations. I think here of the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon…
Faten Kikano
In reply to eenginoz.
In the case of Turkey, on what basis are refugees settled in camps or in cities?
In Jordan, from what studies say, refugees in camps are the poorest. Those in cities have social connections (and can find a Jordanian sponsor, a legal requirement ), and have resources to pay fees for their residency papers, and eventually, their work permit. Is it the same for Syrians in Turkey? Is the choice of settlement given to refugees? If not, is it based on their economic status, or are there any other criteria?
In reply to Faten Kikano.
Thank you Faten!
Once added, two sentences chosen from two of your previous interventions put the debate on another level. They might even question the initial finality of the present exercise.
First sentence
“Who benefits from refugees’ stay in the host county? Is it the host state who gets funding from the international community for hosting refugees, or the NGOs for whom refugees represent a “work opportunity”? Are refugees used as a political tool to put pressure on specific political actors?”
Second sentence
“…The intention of host governments is to settle them temporarily, keeping them away from the local population, until they are either voluntarily repatriated, or resettled in a different country. Refugee spaces and their “design” are simply the outcome of such policies. Creating irrelevant environments that are “hostile and austere” as Julien rightfully states, without involving planners, designers and architects, is a conscious decision meant to discourage refugees from staying. Camps are intentionally maintained in a situation of temporality and refugees in a situation of dependency on humanitarian aid. Should camps be initially planned to become durable, sustainable and self-financed, they would no longer respond to their original purpose: aid delivery, protection, (and paradoxically) segregation, and control.” !!!
If I try to read between the lines of your sentences I could sense a lot of terrible hints!
Would all that mean that not only host governments intentionally maintain poor quality of life for refugees but that International Aid agencies themselves are underhandedly taking advantage of such situations in order to maintain the flowing of funding?
Danielle Labbe [moderator]
In reply to Rosemary Wangari Wachira.
Thank your Rosemary for this interesting comment. I’m wondering about this accumulated knowledge that your comment refers to. What do you think are the key lessons learnt (by key agencies such as UNHCR, Red Cross, etc. or by national governments) from several decades of dealing with international refugee crisis ?
Jorge Carvajal
Dear all…
The powers of a country depend basically on four main factors: Political, Economic, Psychosocial and Military, all present in the attention to the Refugee.
Under these factors, the situation of Refugees in each country is totally different, and may even vary over time.
Immigration has several stages:
The arrival of the Immigrants, usually unexpected.
The acceptance of the Immigrants as Refugees, or their rejection and subsequent deportation.
And if they are accepted as Refugees, will their acceptance be as humanitarian aid? Or will it be for political, economic, psychosocial and / or military interests?
There would then be many more questions than Mr. Kamel has formulated, because we could also talk about Military strategies, or Policies under Psychosocial or Economic influences on the population, both of the own and the refugees.
We should also differentiate the moment we are talking about, because the “initial” arrival of Immigrants is much different than their prolonged stay in time as “Refugees.” When they arrive, we are not normally prepared to receive them, causing a situation of “emergency or humanitarian crisis” to the receiving country. In this situation we can not think of specialized accommodations or full of comforts, but in immediate solutions such as hangars, sheds, or emergency military buildings, and even schools.
Talking about improving your housing conditions, we could only do so over time, and that is when we should look under what interests would be acted on, and only then, if we are going to require the services of other Construction professionals.
Today, countries such as Denmark allow the confiscation of Refugee assets, to pay for their stay and discourage immigration.
It is indisputable that the issue of refugees affects mainly the political and economic interests of countries, which of course there are many interests and hundreds of different responses according to those interests.
The segregation of Refugees or their integration into society, will depend mainly on the Politics of each country; But looking at it only from a humanitarian point of view, will depend very much on the number of them and their quality, that is, on their professional level and / or psychosocial status; But thinking of numbers that surpass the receiving population, would almost believe that its integration into society is almost impossible. There may be some exceptions, with those that demonstrate their knowledge, skills and cultural level; And if everyone could prove it? …
Jorge Carvajal
Dear all…
Well, I think we have reached the end of this excellent dissertation; I particularly learned a lot from each of the comments expressed here, especially when I live on a nascent continent with respect to yours.
History tends to repeat itself continuously, and the ambition for power continues to destroy the world.
From my point of view, I would only put two more factors on the table:
How much is a long time? … The same time is for some, all his life, for others the end of his life, and for other half life; But when the decades or the centuries pass, it was only a moment in the history of life.
Neither chose where to be born, but if it is the decision of each to act or not to act in the face of the problems that arise, and unlike natural disasters, the others are created by the same man, before whom there are only two options: Face them or run away.
Many have chosen to flee, but will that be the best solution? … or is it moving the problem to another region? … Refugees are precisely the transfer of a problem to another region, which did not cause or provoke. Then I have another question: Should we help? Or give a solution?
Mr. Kamel refers to a total of 2,147,840 refugees, who are almost 50% of the total population of Lebanon, and says that integrating them into society would not be a viable solution.
We struggle to give humanitarian aid, But do Refugees help themselves?
The situation will always be very difficult for a Refugee, and that is why I think the solution would be self-sufficient camps.
Thanks a lot to every body.
Julien Deschênes
One thing is sure is that throughout this debate we did not “camp” on our positions. It was in fact really relevant to discuss those topics that, as Kamel highlighted, will be more and more frequent.
Climate change, the rise of inequalities and access to resources will probably be the main three challenges that we shall face. We talked about conflicts that were often not caused by receiving countries, but those three challenges I cited are caused by the international community. The climate refugees for example will be difficult to treat as the international community caused their displacement. Being collectively responsible who will bear the responsibility and host them and should they receive any funds because of this altruistic gesture? When it comes to inequalities or access to resources the same debate will prevail, as we are all collectively responsible of the international system in place by acting in it or being passive. We tremendously lack of an international solidarity when it comes to protect our internal solidarity. We are more interested in preserving our interests then in helping our fellow congeners.
Writing about interests, Jeff points out a dramatic trend that is probably leading us towards more and more inequalities: the direct cash subsidies to help refugees. We are merchandising one of the fewest sectors of life that was still preserved by the diktats of capitalism. It seems like a good empowerment opportunity for refugees to “choose” freely what is best for them. In real life, the market will organize as to benefit from this international largess to capitalize on the misery of people.
It really takes much more then money to overcome this urging issue. It takes time, infrastructures, ideas and most importantly a shift in the general mind set to be more humanistic. It is what all this is really about: humans helping each other in difficult times. Economical, political, military and religious gains are far less important than the promises held by the UNHCR which is to « … ensure that everybody has the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge, having fled violence, persecution, war or disaster at home. »
On a lighter note, I wish you all to continue rising questions and testing answers so we can collectively find solutions to upcoming clouds.
georgia cardosi
I believe that the issue of the return of refugees to their country of origin is important in this debate. I consider the case of Dadaab in Kenya: the world largest camp accommodating 463,000 people. It was opened by the Government of Kenya (GoK) in 1991 as a temporary solution to civil war in Somalia, but later accommodated refugees escaping from famine and drought that heavily hit the country in 2011 (1000 persons/day arrived in the camp).
In 2013 the GoK signed the Tripartite Agreement with Government of Somalia and UNHCR. The objective was “to provide for a legal framework for the safe and dignified ‘ voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees ‘ from the Republic’ of Kenya and their reintegration in the Federal Republic of Somalia” (NRC, 2016). The agreement met the international standards for refugee protection of which Kenya was signatory and included: 1) Voluntary character of Repatriation; 2) Freedom of choice of destination; 3) Return in safety and dignity; 4) Preservation of family unity; 5) Special measures for vulnerable Groups; 6) Designated border crossing points and transit arrangements.
But, on 6 May 2016 the Kenyan government announced the intention to close Dadaab’s camps by end of November, mentioning economic and environmental burdens for the country and risk for national security due to recent terrorist attacks. Allegedly, the camps provided a source of recruits for Al Shabaab. The Kenyan Department of Refugee Affairs was disbanded and the numbers entering the returns process increased; but intimidation and coercion of refugees for them to return to Somalia were frequently reported. According to studies done by Medicines sans Frontières in 2016, about 83% of interviewed refugees were not willing to return to their country, due to lack of security conditions and health assistance in Somalia. In fact, some returnees came back to the camp because of violence and persecutions in their country. Some returnees were blocked crossing the border because of lack of international protection, and sent back to Kenya’s camp.
The repatriation process based on the respect of international standards on protection of refugees failed. The Dadaab’s camp are still there but in the process of being dismantled. Refugees live a situation of chaos and fear. This suggests us that the existence of camps, if any, must be coupled with the existence of sustainable repatriation programs, that is : The decision to return is made voluntarily and upon the provision of information on return areas; access to infrastructure and health services; and international protection in safe return areas. Practically, as the Norvegian Refugee Council states : “Repatriation should provide viable durable solutions to the refugee crisis. The aim should not simply be to facilitate the return of as many refugees as possible”, “…it should prevent people returning becoming internally displaced in Somalia or returning as undocumented refugees to Kenya. Return should be viewed as a process of rehabilitation, restructuring and rebuilding, not as a project with an end date in mind.”
In Dadaab refugees are marginalizated and cannot move out. Returning home is a very difficult, objective for less developed and instable countries such as Somalia. Consequently, camps have very little reason to exist as temporary solutions aimed to repatriation. Rather, they may be conceived only as short-term anti-chambers to integration in rural and urban areas. This, if we aim at solutions for refugees others than living a life of marginalization and exclusion. Integration in rural and urban areas is the best way forward, despite all difficulties and challenges, especially for the host population. However, new legal mechanisms have to be developed internationally to distribute responsibilities and burdens related to refugee crisis among various countries.
Faten Kikano
In reply to Kamel.
Dear Kamel,
Thank you for highlighting these two ideas.
Concerning humanitarian agencies, they play a crucial and essential role in assisting refugees, especially in the emergency phase. Their support to host countries is also undeniable. However, they often go along with the policy of the donor states (very few, like Médecins Sans Frontières, get private funding). For example, till 1997, refugees outside organized camps were not allowed to receive aid or protection. This is where the idea of camps as tools for “containment and control” by donor states through internationally funded NGOs comes from (Harrell-Bond, Agier, Vedriame). And yes, unfortunately, as the proverb says, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”, and a refugee population create indeed more jobs in the humanitarian field. However, our information concerning these issues being only second hand data, I suggest we hear what Jeff has to say about it. He is the real expert for having worked for years with the UNHCR. He could confirm, deny, or nuance such theories…
As for host countries, studies show that refugee settlement policies are often the consequence of political and economic interests. For instance, when Jordan hosted Iraqi refugees in urban areas, they were not “countable”, and Jordan was not able to get the expected funding for hosting them from the international community. Thus, the Jordanian government learned from this experience and their response for the Syrian refugee influx was to create camps, keeping the poorest refugees away from the job market on the one hand, and giving refugees the necessary visibility to get international funding on the other hand. In Lebanon, amongst other deplorable effects, the “policy of no policy” (open borders/non encampment for Syrian refugees) pushed, as you mentioned, a large part of the Lebanese population below the poverty line. However, there are analyses that demonstrate that this policy benefits for the wealthy Lebanese (capital and land owners, contractors, etc.) who profit from the cheap labor market that Syrian refugees represent. This could partly explain their survival and their unwillingness to return voluntarily after almost 6 years from the beginning of the conflict.
So yes, you can read between the lines: in some cases, policies adopted by host governments and NGOs regarding refugees are not always candidly based on humanitarian grounds.
Going back to your and Jeff’s comments, I happen to agree with both of you!
To support your idea of camps being a better solution in some contexts, I would like to give an example of few small and sustainable camps (with their own services, infrastructure, and market places) on private land in Lebanon, specifically in the Bekaa, where Syrian refugees live in better condition than those in urban settings. In this context, refugees are socially accepted as they do not compete with the local community on jobs, housing and services, and camps are seen as an economic opportunity for the surrounding villages that supply goods and commodities to the camps and to their market places.
I also support Jeff on the importance of regulating and organizing refugees’ integration in urban areas, especially that is most cases, refugees come in large numbers and settle in developing countries. Given the importance of hospitality and social acceptance in integration, I believe his reasoning could be taken one step further: informality and chaos ought to be replaced by an economic, social, urban, and institutional system, allowing refugees to become an added value and an asset rather than being a burden for the host population. This system should be “costume made” according to the contextual conditions in each refugee situation.
Finally, in an era of globalization and liquidity (Bauman), the world can no longer be cut in two (North vs. South, Good vs. Bad, Rich vs. Poor, Developed vs. Developing, etc.). Change can and must happen when the western world accepts this reality and start acting accordingly, when Conventions and Protocols on forced displaced displacement that were signed are actually implemented, and when the humanitarian and ethical responsibility of hosting refugees is fairly shared amongst states.
Rosemary Wangari Wachira
In reply to georgia cardosi.
The comments seem to suggest that the responsibility of refugees lies with the host country and Government. This has been the main weakness of the current refugees program where it assumes that once UNHCR has provided the basic necessities, the rest of the challenges will be taken care of by the host country. This is of course bearing in mind that these refugee camps are mainly located in developing countries which also have to contend with their own social and economic challenges. The issue of refugee is a complex one which has no simplistic solution and must be viewed as a global problem. Further dialogues are needed between all hosting Governments, the global organizations and representatives of the refugees to find a more lasting and sustainable solution.
georgia cardosi
In reply to Rosemary Wangari Wachira.
Dear Rosemary, thank you for your comment. I did not say and did not intend to suggest that the responsibility of refugee camp lies with the host country. I intended rather to underline that in my opinion camps should not be considered as a solution, especially in situation where repatriation is clearly hard if not impossible in the short and medium term, and dangerous even in the longer term, as it is in the case of Somalia (and maybe Syria?). It is my opinion that refugees should be accommodated according to more human standards because, if we look at the case of Dadaab, these people will be refugees forever without any possibility of rescue. However, as I emphasized at the very end of my comment, the condition sine qua non for the refugees integration in urban and rural areas is that responsibilities and burdens of refugee crisis MUST absolutely be shared among all countries at the international level, and not only by one country, that eventually has already high socio-political instability and problems to face. I called for the need to develop international legal, administrative and bureaucratic mechanisms for all of the country to share refugee crisis. The huge efforts made by Kenya have been internationally recognized as well as the costs paid through terrorist attacks. Yet, the same Peace and Security Council of African Union while reiterating the support to Kenya for the efforts done for refugees, Somalia, and Kenyan national security, recommends that no refugee camp should be permanent. And, unless we want to discuss it, Dadaab can be considered permanent (26 years old, and containing two generations of refugees). For a camp not to become permanent, either repatriation or integration in urban and rural areas should be considered and planned at the very beginning of its installation. Then, as you say, every context is specific and requires ad-hoc planning and considerations and solutions are always very hard to define and implement.
Jeff Crisp
This might be of interest to people who are following this debate:
georgia cardosi
Thank you Jeff. This document is very important to help us remind what a camp is, and not mislead from what inclusive policies for refugees should be.
georgia cardosi
I would like also to know which costs a country has to address to establish camps. Does anyone have documents related to this? thanks.
Mauro Cossu
In reply to georgia cardosi.
And not just the costs of establishing them but also their maintenance over time, expansion or adaptation, eventual decommissioning or conversion (when not planned as part of the initial project).
Finally, the real question should be: what are the social costs? Can we measure them ‘better’ than we do, and integrate them into policy formulation?
Thank you Georgia and thank you all for this opportunity.
Faten Kikano
In reply to Jeff Crisp.
Thanks Jeff. Read it as well as many of the enriching and informative articles you shared during the RSC Summer School. I now believe to have found the answer to the question I had at that time: do camps ever become real cities?
Faten Kikano
In reply to Mauro Cossu.
May be another question should also be asked, a question I always thought of but forgot along the way. I was reminded of it during Dr Lee Bosher’s presentation at the i-Rec conference: When will the international community start tackling the political and economic root causes of forced displacement instead of trying to find solutions for the phenomenon itself?
In reply to Faten Kikano.
Dear Faten Kikano,
3.5 million refugees live in Turkey. Just 350.000 live in camps. about 1.8 million are settled in Istanbul. Yes Turkey give a choice to settle. Refugees who are in upper or middle-income groups have several opportunities to set up their business as they do in Syria with providing ease of opening a business and tax reductions. But the main problem is the refugees who are in lower-income groups or who don’t have any professional abilities. They can’t find job easily. mostly work illegally or work in Jobs that require cheap labor. Not now but in the near future it will cause different social conflicts.
Faten Kikano
In reply to Faten Kikano.
Thank you very much dear Eenginoz for this clarification. The situation in camps is not very well documented… I hope we are able to discuss more on this after the debate.