More than five million Syrian refugees live in fragile Middle East states. The majority do not live in camps, but in cities and towns, most often in neighborhoods and districts that are potential poverty traps. Although most refugees settle in cities, there are no effective aid strategies for urban refugees. In many cases, they do not return to their home country, which places increased strain on local communities and host countries. In cities and towns, the refugees can rent cheap housing, find casual work and use local school and health services, but at the same time, both local infrastructure and public services are weak, underfinanced, and overburdened. This leads to increased conflict between refugees and host communities which likewise subsist below the poverty line. This is not only an important development challenge but also an opportunity: cities have greater scope for social integration and economic development than the traditional camp-based solutions. To solve protracted refugee crises, it is, therefore, necessary to move from rights-based relief to area-based assistance that strengthens infrastructure and services for all living there. Today, we know a lot about when, where, and why refugees leave their homes, but little about what determines their choice after crossing international borders.
In this project, we investigate who settles in towns and cities, why they are settling there, how they cope, and what can be done to assist them where they live. To study this, we are now analyzing survey data collected in 2019-20, from six cities and towns in four Middle East countries that host large numbers of Syrian refugees. Together with three regional institutes and a multidisciplinary team of researchers, we are now analyzing the data on housing, living conditions, and migration patterns that will be an important part of the project's information database. Using these data in combination with, interviews and field visits, it is possible to generate new knowledge about urban refugees that can be used to design more effective relief strategies for refugees and residents alike, in the first instance as a book manuscript (Berghahn, 2021).
A new article (Public Anthropologist, 2019) details the living conditions of Syrian refugees in run-down buildings in Sabra, a disadvantaged area (slum) of Beirut, and the many problems they face in the housing and labor markets. This is also documented with film footage in Beirut and Amman (2019), a new information video (2020), and plans for a short film based on this material in 2021-22. Fieldwork in Lebanon and Jordan (February 2020) has been used to produce presentations, briefs, and chapters for a forthcoming anthology (Berghahn, "Forced Migration Series") now under completion. A summary article on "displacement" has been published in an anthology (Brill, 2020).
In 2022, the last two surveys were completed in Jordan (Irbid, June '22) and Iraq (Duhok, June '22). This means that all eight surveys have been completed and will form the basis for an summary article in 2023. A new project brief summarizes the main findings from Istanbul (CMI 2022:1), Turkey's most important "arrival city" for Syrian refugees. A project seminar in Cyprus (April, '22) provided important input for book chapters and articles under preparation in dialogue with local researchers, commentators, and experts. In November 2022, a book manuscript was submitted to the publisher (Berghahn, cat 2. publ., 14 chapters), after a book proposal was approved in July. The introductory chapter provides a broad overview of the urban refugee literature and summarizes the research frontier in this field. The many book chapters highlight the problems refugees face in cities, in particular the lack of affordable housing and unemployment, further the situation for urban refugees in the main transit countries, and finally international processes and the work of organizations, with new agreements aimed at refugees and migrants (UN "compacts" ), and UN organizations' experiences with adapting their humanitarian response to the needs of urban refugees (UNHCR, UN-Habitat). In the longer term, this is intended to strengthen local and national authorities' ability to assist urban refugees and manage mass displacement ("refugee crises"). A panel at an international Middle East conference (NSMES, Reykjavik. Sept. '22) made it possible to discuss these issues with the participants and as preparation for finalizing article drafts in academic journals. The project has also supported a micro-credit initiative to employ refugees (Beirut) and a photo project documenting the lives of several hundred refugees and migrants living in a derelict building in Sabra, one of Beirut's largest slums. The pictures will be displayed at an exhibition and seminar in Bergen in spring 2023.
The Middle East has one of the worlds’ highest urbanization levels, the greatest socio-economic inequality and is a premier displacement region. This proposal studies refugees and IDPs in fragile Middle East host states to provide a comprehensive information base essential for designing humanitarian and development policies that can serve both the displaced and host communities. Refugees and IDPs typically settle in cities and towns among urban poor in inner-city slums and impoverished neighbourhoods, areas that can become potential poverty-traps. While cities offer economic opportunities, employment and services, displacement crises often turn protracted and strain local infrastructure, service provision and host communities. These features also apply to the Syrian refugee population. Aiding large number of urban displaced is therefore a major challenge to humanitarian policy. Unable to the address the root causes of displacement, the international community is searching for better polices to address displacement in fragile host countries as this is not only a key development challenge, but also an opportunity: towns and cities offer better prospects for medium-term integration and self-reliance than do traditional rural and camp-based responses. To this end, there has been a transition from person-centric (rights-based) towards site-centric (place-based) approaches integrated in a comprehensive developmental approach to urban displacement. This project seeks to add to these efforts by investigating the key elements needed for instituting an area-based urban response for Middle East refugees and IDPs. Better data of this kind is essential for formulating targeted and hence effective aid strategies, and a pre-condition for well-coordinated policies at different levels. In particular, the data will make it possible to formulate area-based policy measures at different levels that can support settlement in cities and towns and reduce vulnerabilities.