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Gender and Social Inclusion

Urban Refugees “101”

Every day it seems we hear about a new crisis somewhere in the world. With the rise in natural disasters and conflicts over the last several years, it’s not hard to see why the number of displaced people continues to grow. There are now 10.5 million refugees, and over half of them live in cities. Just 10 years ago, the UN reported that only 13% of all refugees lived in urban areas.

To date, humanitarian efforts have focused primarily on camp-based refugees, leaving the situation of urban refugees barely understood. To find out more about the needs of displaced people living in urban settings, the Women’s Refugee Commission is conducting a one-year project to assess the urban displaced poor and will develop guidance to improve their lives and to help them thrive in the cities they now call home.

Did you know:

  • Refugees choose to live in cities rather than camps because they believe they will have more freedom and better access to services. However, they often do not have access to basic services like healthcare, education or financial credit.
  • Many refugees come to live in urban areas out of necessity—for example, they need specialized health services that don’t exist in the camps or because they have been targeted for abuse, harassment, and violence by other refugees in the camps.
  • In some cities, refugees don’t have the right to work legally, so they often resort to petty trade and daily casual labor to scrape together a living. Most have more than one incoming-generating activity, but even so, many cannot cover all of their basic expenses.
  • Without legal protection, urban refugees are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Women, especially, are targeted by police and suffer verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
  • Many refugee women try to decrease their risk by organizing themselves to walk or sell goods in groups to avoid sexual harassment.
  • Urban refugees face many challenges to achieving self-reliance; nevertheless, they are industrious and hard working. They want to stand on their own feet and support their families, educate their children and build a better future.

On May 3, we’ll be holding our annual Voices of Courage Luncheon, which helps us raise funds to continue working to improve the lives of refugee and internally displaced women, children and young people. This year our theme is urban refugees, and we will be honoring two incredible women who are urban refugees themselves and have become inspirational leaders in their communities.

Learn more about our work with urban refugees here and read our latest report, The Living Ain’t Easy, Urban Refugees in Kampala.

Gender and Social Inclusion