Refugees’ Cities

Posted by Flux on 

7 February 2018

What’s trending now?

Creating cities specifically aimed at providing sustainable living for refugees.

Researchers, architects and governments are engaging with various concepts and ideas to deal with the rise of human displacement. The refugee system was first set up after World War II. The aim was to provide temporary living space until refugees’ countries were stable enough for them to return home. The concept, however, has failed within the 21st century. The United Nation reports that more than half the total number of refugees have been exiled for more than five years. Currently, an estimated 65 million people are on the move. On average refugees spend 12 years in refugee camps which mean that generations are born into an era of displacement. With an estimated 152 million people in need of humanitarian aid, the United Nations High Commissioners for Refugees haS moved on from promoting refugee camps as long term solutions and are focusing on integrating refugees into local populations.

Oxford professors, Paul Collier and Alexander Betts, propose the creation of special economic zones (SEZ) for refugees. SEZ are areas designed within a hosting country’s national border which operates with its own business and trade laws. This allows for countries to pilot ideas to assist refugees without changes seeping into the rest of the country. A 2016 Humanitarian Experts report is in agreement with the concept of special economic zones, citing that the existing aid strategies are not helping refugees and most people avoid the camps due to the lack of opportunities. Special economic zones proposed by various parties are said to allow refugees the opportunity to own property, have jobs, and create laws that could change transient and dangerous camps into economic hubs.

Why is it important?

Globally, 80% of refugees are found in developing countries, as seen with the largest refugee camp in Dabaad , Kenya, which has since grown into Kenya’s third largest city. However, people are living in challenging situations with no legal right to work, inadequate access to electricity and other basic needs. Such examples have been used as a template to consider the utopian approach of self-governing units called Refugia . Proposed by Nicholas van Hear, the academic uses the success of Camp Domiza refugee camp in Northern Iraq, which has been deemed as the ‘Refugee republic’.

The success of SEZ hopes to mirror the city Shenzhen created in China, 1980. The economic growth of this model has led to the Chinese government announcing an effort to transform a small farmland into a technology innovation hub.

The aim of rebranding refugee camps sees the creation of organisations dedicated to catering to the refugees. US-based NGO Refugee cities founded by Michael Castle Millar plans to place cities in unused buildings near refugee settlements, which will be used as incubators with the goal of the incubators becoming urban areas. The aim is to provide a model in which the host country and refugees benefit financially.

What the butterfly effect?

Hosting countries are working with the private sector to test out technology to better the lives of refugees within the camps. The use of digital banking or skills development can be noted as a gradual progression into creating sustainable alternatives for refugees within hosting nations. The Finnish immigration service have given asylum seekers who don’t have bank accounts prepaid Master cards . The cards are linked to a block chain, MONI card functions allowing for people to purchase goods, pay bills, and receive direct deposits from employers,

Jordan refugee camps are currently the ones to watch with regards to technology advancements and bubbling utopian concept of refugee cities. In 2017, an agreement titled the Jordan Compact was reached between the European Union and Jordan. The agreement grants after-trade business in exchange for work opportunities for refugees. Within the next 10 years the government will apply for 52 product groups that will manufacture in the special economic zones, with the condition that producers employ more Syrian refugees. This is in conjunction with the creation of Jordan’s first job centre for Syrian refugees in the Zaatari camp. The centre will facilitate access to formal job opportunities across Jordan and a specific data base programmed by UNHCR will record the permits and facilitate the movement of workers in and out the camp.

The use of biometrics and block chain are leading in financial development in Jordan. In May 2017, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) successfully conducted a trial using ethereum blockchain. Syrian refugees were given cryptocurrency vouchers to purchase goods. In Jordan’s Azraq camp, Syrian refugees use iris recognition devices to purchase goods. While in Za’atari camp the use of iris and finger print allows for people to withdraw money from ATMs.

African migrants fleeing to Europe has led to horrific headlines. Dutch architect Theo Deutinger aims to create a man-made island for refugees named Europe in Africa on the Tunisian Plateau – a thin strip of sea beat that sits between Tunisia and Italy in the Mediterranean.

Pioneers and global hotspots

Finding resolutions to the global refugee crisis is led by many hosting countries such as Finland. Private corporations are also moving into creating alternatives for refugees.

In 2016, Ikea opened a production centre near the Amman camp, Jordan. Titled ReBoot Kamp, the initiative provides IT training to Syrian refugees.

We have also seen collaborations such as Master Card and Western Union who conducted research on the conditions of refugee camps. The results were based on findings from the Kalobeyi and Kakuma camps in Kenya. The lack of access to basic services resulted in the partner’s concept of creating smart communities within these camps. The brief is to create a blueprint on how humanitarian assistance could happen in the future. The pilot is working to develop a digital infrastructure model focused on equipping refugee camps with mobile card based payment solutions.

Refugee Republic – Introduction from Submarine Channel on Vimeo.

By Khumo Theko

Image credit: Ramco68
Video credit: Submarine Channel

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