Forced displacement is increasingly an urban crisis that needs an integrated humanitarian and development approach in towns and cities hosting displaced populations to better serve all residents and ensure sustainable urban growth, says a new World Bank report released today at the World Urban Forum.
Forced displacement is among the most pressing challenges in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. The number of people forcibly displaced worldwide continues to increase, particularly in MENA, where waves of unrest and conflict have driven a huge increase in displacement.
In 2016, there were an estimated 65.6 million people forcibly displaced around the world, of which about one-quarter were living in countries across the MENA region. For each refugee displaced in MENA, there are almost five internally displaced people (IDPs).
According to the new, “Cities of Refuge in the Middle East: Bringing an Urban Lens to the Forced Displacement Challenge” report, contrary to common belief, most of the forcibly displaced live outside of camps. Today, most of the displaced are in towns and cities. This pattern is particularly evident in the already highly urbanized MENA region, where an estimated 80-90 percent of displaced live in towns and cities – significantly above the global average of 60 percent, and underscoring the need to bring in longer-term urban development approaches to address protracted forced displacement situations.
Such a sudden and rapid influx of large populations compounds difficulties that cities already face in the highly urbanized Middle East region, leading to overcrowding of informal settlements and increasing demand for urban services, land, jobs, and housing.
“The reality in the Middle East is that the forcibly displaced are actually urban residents in cities that are struggling to meet the needs of the poor and vulnerable,” stressed Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, Senior Director of the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice. “With the forcibly displaced no longer residing in segregated areas in camps, but, in fact, blending into existing urban populations, traditional programs targeting individuals based on their IDP or refugee status are no longer sufficient.”
Ijjasz-Vasquez emphasized that “In a constantly evolving urban and social fabric, where the location and needs of host and displaced communities are increasingly hard to distinguish, targeted assistance to the displaced should be complemented with place-based development approaches that build on existing governance structures and service delivery mechanisms to promote the welfare of all residents, regardless of origin.”
With the majority of displaced people no longer living in camps and blending into existing urban populations, the international community needs to think differently and apply an urban lens. Assistance targeting individuals based on their refugee or IDP status can be complemented with development approaches that aim to improve the urban environment for all, building on existing national and local governance structures and service delivery mechanisms.
For greater impact, humanitarian and development partners need to work in complementary ways, depending on conditions in host cities, including size, magnitude of displacement, existing infrastructure, as well as services and financial and administrative capacity.
“Although addressing forced displacement in cities is a relatively new challenge, there is much that we can learn from proven urban development approaches, adapted to each situation. Investing in urban services, promoting social cohesion, and building resilient communities and institutions are critical to respond to protracted crises effectively,” said Sameh Wahba, Director for Urban Development, Territorial Development, and Disaster Risk Management, World Bank.
As the refugee crisis in the Middle East wears on, the report calls for a concerted effort from communities, local authorities, national government, and the international community to apply an urban development framework in thinking about forced displacement from an urban angle.
The scale and nature of the challenge also requires governments and the international community to mobilize additional resources. The World Bank has been addressing the unprecedented burden of forced displacement on middle-income countries by supporting countries such as Lebanon and Jordan to access financing on concessional terms through the Global Concessional Financing Facility (GCFF) for development projects that benefit refugees and the communities that host them. The GCFF has unlocked $1.4 billion since its launch in April 2016 with the United Nations and Islamic Development Bank.
“A development approach to urban forced displacement expands the focus from reducing the vulnerabilities of the displaced to mitigating impacts on host communities. Supporting the community as a whole in this way can help to shape the overall policy dialogue,” said Axel Baeumler, Senior Infrastructure Economist, World Bank, co-author of the report.
Financial support for this policy note was provided by the Global Program on Forced Displacement, German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, The Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation.