Impact Story

Exploring how to improve wellbeing for urban refugees and their hosts

Published on 6 August 2019

Huge numbers of people continue to flee the world’s most intractable conflicts. Many of these refugees are not destined for camps, but are increasingly channeled into urban informal settlements, chiefly in developing countries. With few signs of this abating, IDS has been working to improve understanding of urban refugees’ wellbeing.

‘Young Syrian refugees play at a water distribution point in the Fayda informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley.’ © Andrew McConnell/Panos Pictures

Three projects at IDS on refugees in urban situations are producing evidence for policymakers, informing practitioners and engaging the public. Their output contributes to Global Goal 16 (peaceful societies, inclusive and accountable institutions) and 11 (safe, secure and inclusive cities).

Most recent figures suggest that more than 68 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide. Refugees – those escaping conflict and persecution – account for 25.4 million of this total. Most refugees (58 per cent) end up in urban areas, often among the host country’s most impoverished populations.

Filling an evidence gap

How the host country receives refugees – through policies, programmes and implementation – could significantly influence their wellbeing and that of host communities. Yet little research has tested the impact of these ‘modalities of reception’ – a gap that IDS researchers sought to fill with the Wellbeing of Refugees project, on Syrians in Jordan and Lebanon.

Both these small states have taken in more than a million Syrian refugees each – a 20 to 23 per cent hike to their populations, which already include historic Palestinian refugees and other migrants.

By looking at housing, legal status and economic participation, IDS researchers and partners found clear and unequal wellbeing outcomes arising from how both countries treated refugees.

Their findings were shared at national policy workshops in Amman and Beirut with a wide range of policymakers, practitioners and stakeholders including government and UN-Habitat. The findings were also presented to audiences in Paris and London (at the Global Alliance for Urban Crises) and Oslo (at a symposium on Urban Displacement).

Multi-partner project for peaceful relations

Cascading from that work, the Public Authorities and Legitimacy-Making (PALM) project began in December 2018 to explore how diverse public authorities in Jordan and Lebanon have contributed (or not) to peaceful host–refugee relations.

Led by IDS, the PALM project aims to generate evidence-based advice for humanitarian and development practitioners and policymakers to advance peaceful relations, inclusive, legitimate governance, and strengthened human security in host countries.

Due to report in late 2019, this is a distinctly multi-partner initiative – funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research/WOTRO Science for Global Development; delivered with Impact Initiatives, ACTED, Occlude and the University of Sussex; and closely involving end-users UN-Habitat (Lebanon), World Vision (Jordan and Lebanon) and the Global Alliance for Urban Crises.

Reaching out to the public

A third IDS project looks further afield to study the means through which displaced people succeed or fail to become part of European and Indian cities – where refugee arrivals have drawn populist backlashes.

Displacement, Placemaking and Wellbeing in the City began in January 2019, taking a cross-disciplinary approach involving architects, urban designers and development specialists to absorb a wide range of knowledge and experiences. The aim is to offer policymakers in urban governance, development agencies and NGOs insights to support greater equity, reduced inequalities and wellbeing in cities; and to engage and better inform the general public.


About this opinion


Related content