Mon, Oct 22, 2012 - Page 9 News List

The urbanization of forced migration in the 21st century

More than 70 million people have been uprooted across the world, and an increasing number will never go home

By Mark Tran  /  The Guardian, London

“Perhaps the most crucial partners in the urban areas are the government authorities themselves,” the report said. “Without their support, there can be little progress — and little sustainability — to programs.”

The priorities in urban areas are housing, land and property, violence, legal aid and livelihoods. Integrating forcibly displaced people into the local economy is vital and, although there are successful examples, such as Eastleigh, a suburb of Nairobi, which is home to many Somali businesses, such cases are rare. In many cities, the lack of reliable livelihoods has driven people into acute poverty or made it impossible for them to overcome it.

The report expresses concern over the “hidden losers,” people forced to move because of infrastructure projects. It estimates that 15 million people are displaced each year by projects such as the construction of dams or urban renewal schemes that often involve clearing out a poor neighborhood.

The Metro Manila railway project in the Philippines has led to the eviction and resettlement of about 35,000 families. However, a relocation program implemented by the national housing authority has failed to prevent their impoverishment, Zetter said.

A concern for humanitarian groups is how to deal with long-term refugees or displaced people who are unlikely to return home — more than 20 million refugees are trapped in protracted exile. The report calls on governments to relax restrictions on the economic activities of refugees and help migrant and host populations to integrate quickly.

States could grant permanent residency to refugees who own businesses, hold academic qualifications or can fill job shortages. Although such a piecemeal approach makes some humanitarian groups uneasy, the alternative — no solution — is worse.

The report calls on humanitarian agencies to work more closely with governments — which are increasingly leading their own humanitarian operations — and to engage better with affected communities. It notes that improving responses to forced migration is made more urgent by climate change, which is expected to lead to more slow-onset disasters and indirectly to the movement of large numbers of people.

“The international system is gradually recalibrating itself for increasingly complex situations,” Zetter said.

“The UNHCR [UN Agency for Refugees] and IOM [International Organisation of Migration] worked well together in getting migrant workers out of Libya, for example, but clearly it is a major challenge preparing for situations with new characteristics,” he said.

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