Increasing numbers of the world’s rural population are moving to urban areas, and refugees, internally displaced people and humanitarian populations are amongst the recently urbanized. UNHCR estimates that almost half of the world’s 10.5 million refugees now reside in urban areas.
In seeking to develop effective programmatic interventions, it is useful for humanitarian agencies to understand whether displaced people in urban areas are worse off than the urban poor and other migrants amongst whom they live. There is controversy around this issue. A widely held belief is that refugees and IDPs are worse off in urban settings, because they have lost their assets and social networks, and lack secure housing, land and property rights, and the cultural knowledge required to survive in a city. Others have argued that refugees are not necessarily more vulnerable than other migrants, and these differences are eroded over time. In particular, some research suggests that international migrants, including refugees, are often better equipped to deal with cities than newly urbanized citizens of the host country. Whether refugees and IDPs are more economically vulnerable and at greater risk is one of the questions we explore in this research.
One problem confronting humanitarian agencies is the difficulty of distinguishing refugees and IDPs from the urban poor amongst whom they live. In the towns and cities of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, refugees live in low-income areas, experiencing the same problems of poverty, poor services, crime and lack of employment, and often even sharing housing with the urban poor. This mixing of humanitarian and local populations creates a range of difficulties for aid agencies. While the government and/or UNHCR can register refugees who present themselves to the relevant office, many refugees, including some of the most vulnerable, are often not reached or even known about by agencies. Some of these ‘hidden’ refugees deliberately choose to avoid contact with aid agencies; others may not know about or be afraid to access agencies that could potentially assist them. This creates difficulties for humanitarian agencies wishing to assist refugees or estimate their numbers.
Finding ways to locate refugees, distinguish them from other migrants and the urban poor, and determine whether and how they are more vulnerable than other groups, thus become important programming issues. A profiling approach can help provide information about these issues. In this set of reports and case studies, we have developed a methodology to obtain profiling information about the population of refugees in an urban setting and how their experience compres to other groups amongst whom they live.
In low-income areas, where most refugees tend to live, it is important to determine whether and in what ways refugees are worse off than their neighbors, the local host population. In countries of first asylum, the urban poor face significant health, crime and poverty problems. Humanitarian programs can be seen as discriminatory when they target refugees whose neighbors may be equally badly off. Agencies need to justify – to host governments, to local people, and to donors – why they use resources to support one group and not others. If agencies can demonstrate that the target group is more vulnerable, or has special needs not faced by the larger population, targeting of resources can be more easily justified. Special needs can include for example, family tracing, trauma counseling, provision of documentation, and other problems arising from displacement which are less likely to be experienced by stable (non-displaced) populations.
Profiling studies can address the following programming issues identified above:
- Distinguishing refugees from other types of migrants
A profiling study provides a clear definition of who the agency includes and does not include in the refugee group in a particular setting, and how refugees are defined differently from other migrant groups.
- Mapping where and how refugees are distributed in the urban setting
Profiling data reveal where refugees (or the target population) are located, whether they are living interspersed throughout the city or concentrated in a specific neighborhood, and whether they live near hazardous areas (like industrial areas or garbage dumps).
- Determining locally specific factors that influence the vulnerability of poor households (i.e. their ability to respond to economic shocks, disasters, etc), and how refugees differ from other urban groups in these factors
A profiling approach identifies a range of information about refugees vis-à-vis other migrant groups and local residents living in the same districts. Such information can be simple demographics (age, sex, ethnicity) that point to potential vulnerability differences. A profiling study can also identify contextually-specific factors that increase vulnerability. Determining what type of data to gather can be a useful exercise for the agency or researchers to think through the factors that may increase vulnerability in the relevant context. Profiling can also reveal (relative) strengths, i.e. skills and other livelihood assets possessed by refugees and whether and how these differ from their neighbors.
Knowing the whereabouts, strengths and weaknesses of the target population can provide entry points for programming. Profiling can be used for political/advocacy purposes, as it is a relatively technical exercise that produces straightforward and verifiable data. Both the profiling exercise and the data can be used to engage with host governments to promote the rights of refugees. Faced with data that are rigorously and objectively collected, governments are less likely to deny the problems facing refugees, and the study can open a path to negotiating programming or rights. Profiling data can even potentially be used to show that refugees contribute to the economy, for example by showing that refugee entrepreneurs employ members of the local host community and support local markets.
The value of using a profiling approach to increase information about displaced populations has been recognized for several years. The approach was conceived and initiated by IDMC in the late 1990s, and has since been developed and implemented by a joint UN group, JIPS, with the support of UNHCR and other UN agencies and NGOs.
The research built on earlier studies by the principal investigator (Karen Jacobsen) and our partners, and sought to make the mixed methodology easily utilizable by operational agencies.
The study’s outcomes include our final report, three stand-alone case studies, and a profiling toolkit, each accessed through this site.
Our final report is presented in the following sections:
Introduction – the need for profiling in urban setting
We describe why profiling is important for refugee (or other humanitarian groups such as IDPs) programming.
We outline the theory underpinning our profiling approach. We explain how we distinguish refugees from other migrants and residents, the link between livelihood security and vulnerability, and the constructs and key indicators we used to measure different kinds of livelihood security. We propose a model that explains the causes of livelihood security.
Summary of findings and recommendations
We summarize our research findings and include two types of recommendations: good profiling practices (for use by donors when reviewing proposals), and programming recommendations that could be acted upon by implementing agencies.
We describe our survey methodology, qualitative methods and mapping tools, and how they evolved and were revised over the course of our study.
Separate from this final report are the three case studies we conducted – in Aden, Yemen; Mae Sot, Thailand; and Polokwane, South Africa. In each case study site we collaborated with the following local partners:
- Aden, Yemen – INTERSOS
- Polokwane, South Africa – African Center for Migration Studies, Univ. of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
- Mae Sot, Thailand – International Rescue Committee
Each case describes how we adapted the methodology to make it contextually relevant, presents our findings, and provides specific programming recommendations. The survey questionnaire utilized for each site (including translation) is included as an annex to each case. The datasets for each of the three cities are available for use by other researchers upon request.
Finally, our toolkit includes our revised profiling tools and training module, all designed to be easily utilizable by field organizations. The profiling tools include:
- the revised survey questionnaire*,
- survey data entry template,
- survey sampling strategies,
- urban mapping instructions,
- qualitative interview schedules,
- the outline of a two-day training workshop.
* We revised the questionnaire following analysis of our case study data, and tested it during a short field trip to Nairobi, Kenya in September 2011. We worked with IRC-Kenya’s urban field office to pilot the new instrument and ensure it was easily adapted and utilizable.
Requests for either data or tools should be directed to Karen.Jacobsen@tufts.edu.
Download the case study for Polokwane, South Africa(PDF, 1.86MB)