Term Paper: Examine the Observation That Refugees of Today Are Essentially an Urban Phenomenon

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¶ … refugees of today are essentially an urban phenomenon critical examination of the observation that refugees of today are essentially an urban phenomenon

The problem and the phenomenon of refugees in the world have become increasingly related to urban areas and the urban environment. This is particularly problematic in regions such as Southern Africa where refugees tend to gravitate towards the urban area. In many cases, the urban management systems and cultural context cannot cope with the influx of refugees. This has resulted in a particular set of problems in Africa as well as in other regions of the world where refugees exist in the urban context. However, as will be discussed, these problems are not ubiquitous and different situations exist in developed countries and regions.

In the past, it has often been difficult to distinguish between rural and urban refugees, especially in terms of analytical and methodological research.. As Landau states, there has in the literature been an emphasis on rural refugees. "... In the broader refugee studies literature... literature... has, to date, been dominated by discussions of 'rural refugees'" (Landau). Landau also makes the important point that, " There is much work to be done comparing the similarities, differences, and interactions among forced migrants living in camps, rural settings, and urban environments" (Landau). This is also related to the urban refugees as an increasingly dominant mode and phenomena in the world today. Significantly, this study also refers to the fact that despite the long-standing presence of refugees in the urban centers and cities of the world, "...there are surprisingly few studies focusing exclusively on displaced persons' experiences in and effects on the urban environment" (Landau).

This paper will critically examine the observation that the contemporary refugee problem is mainly situated in urban areas. The paper will also address the concomitant problems that the urban refugee situation creates.

Overview and causative factors

Studies on this subject state that globalization and the mobilization of people for various political, ecological and other reasons has seen the increase of the phenomenon of refuges in urban areas. As Siemiatycki and Isin, (1997) emphsize, "There are compelling reasons to focus on the city when seeking answers to questions of immigration, ethnicity, race, politics and power. Foremost is the reality that both globally and domestically, immigrant settlement is overwhelmingly an urban phenomenon" (Siemiatycki & Isin, 1997).

This gravitation by refugees to the urban areas is clearly seen in countries like Canada. In 1996, more than eighty percent of immigrants and refugees in Canada lived in twenty-five census metropolitan areas. More recently, the figures show that refugees have overwhelmingly settled in the largest urban centers; for example, almost three-quarters of all newcomers since 1991 reside in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal (Siemiatycki & Isin, 1997). This has led to the conclusion that,."..Cities are now therefore the prime venue for assessing how well societies are responding to the challenge... Of migration" (Siemiatycki & Isin, 1997

The causes of the refugee problem in the world are varied and extensive. Valtonen (1999) sums up the refugee syndrome as follows: "...a phenomenon that is shaped by time and by place. As events and contexts become increasingly interlinked in the geopolitical agenda and the global arena, most nation states are drawn into donor and/or receiving roles" (Valtonen, 1999, p. 469). The urban reality of modern migration points to an array of problem of different degrees of severity. This refers mainly to the conflict that can occur with an influx of refugees that leads to ethnocentric diversity and various cultural and social problems. "In a way hitherto unprecedented, recent migration trends, and especially refugee flows bring new dimensions of ethnocultural diversity to the receiving countries" (Valtonen, 1999, p. 469).

Another aspect that is seen as a contemporary cause of the urban refugee problem is climate change. This aspect can affect population stability and result in the movement of large numbers of people to urban centers. The collapse of food resources and production in certain areas can also be seen as a contributing factor in the creation of the urban refugee situation. Brown (2003) sketches the following scenario

Unless the damaging trends that have been set in motion are reversed quickly, we could see vast numbers of environmental refugees abandoning areas scarred by depleted aquifers and exhausted soils, as well as fleeing advancing deserts and rising seas. In a world where civilization is being squeezed between expanding deserts from the interior continents and rising seas on the periphery, refugees are likely to number not in the millions, but in the tens of millions.

(Brown, 2003)

It also follows from the above scenario the movement of refuges would be to urban rather than rural areas, as the supply of food and work would be more accessible. While to belabor the causative aspects of the urban refugee situation would strictly be outside the parameters of this study, these factors also play an important part in assessing the observation those refugees of today are essentially an urban phenomenon. If one takes into consideration the unstable political situation in many countries, civil wars and famine in countries in Africa, then the particular urban nature of the movement of modern refugees become more apparent.

The urban refugee phenomenon

While there has been a reduction of the number and influx levels of refugees in many areas of the world over the last decade, in other areas there has been an increase in the number of urban refugees. (Schneider J.) good example of this is South Africa. After the end of the Apartheid era in that country, many thousands of African exiles returned to the country and particularly to the already densely populated urban areas. As a result, "...asylum-seekers and increasingly refugees became an urban phenomenon within the region..." (Schneider J.).

This urban phenomenon was to have a significant effect on South Africa, where the countries selective and largely restrictive immigration controls had extended to refugee movements prior to 1993 (Schneider J.).

The effect to this influx of refugees and asylum seekers is especially evident in the way that it has changed the social fabric to a certain extent. Central to this aspect is the concentration of refugees in already densely populated urban areas, which has led to a number of studies that indicate the negative effects of this congregation in the urban areas. As Schneider states, without assistance from international or national agencies, they are forced to compete for scarce jobs with nationals" (Schneider J.).

This situation is not limited to South Africa. Kenya and Tanzania are also areas that have attracted refugees on the continent. The Kenyan government has attempted to ameliorate the problem of the influx of refugees into densely populated urban areas by ordering all urban refugees to relocate to rural refugee camps in 1996. (Schneider J.). However, in reality is was found that many refugees disobeyed this order and moved clandestinely into the urban areas. The relocation of urban refugees to areas outside the urban areas also presents another set of problems. " in such situations refugees live on the margins of society and are largely incapable of either leading productive lives or contributing to their host societies in any meaningful way" (Schneider J.).

Central to the problems that are caused by the influx of urban refugees is xenophobia. In Africa, there has been a widespread and often violent reaction to the presence of urban refugees, who are often seen as a social, economic and cultural threat to the dominant population. This is evidenced by the mob killing of three Senegalese asylum-seekers in South Africa in 1998. (Sichone O.B.)

An important factor that should be considered is that Africa refugees no longer have the legitimacy of being seen as the victims of colonialist power and domination. Coupled with this is the increased poverty and the reduction of economic aid in the region - which has in turn exacerbated the plight of refugees looking for work in the urban centers.

Similar problems are also found in other regions of the world. This again adds credence to the assertion that refugees are more and more inclined to gravitate to the larger urban canters in search of work and food. In the Ukraine large number of refugees and migrants for African and the Middle Eastern areas began to arrive in the urban centers in the 1990s. (Popson & Ruble, 2001) This had the effect of, "....making the Ukrainian capital one more among the world's great cities in which urban social sustainability is being challenged" (Popson & Ruble, 2001). These refugees also tend to live on the fringes of the society and often outside of the law. Their numbers include, "....students and guest workers who decided to remain in Ukraine following the collapse of the Soviet Union; refugees from conflicts elsewhere in the former Soviet region; and "irregular migrants" who have remained in the country illegally" (Popson & Ruble, 2001).

The situation in Ukrainian cities like Kyiv has also resulted in a number of negative social and administrative implications.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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