International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Crisis Watch: Urban Refugees

Lanier Lovely, 18, pictured with her son Lovinsky in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Photo: Andrew McConnell

Today, almost half the world's refugees live in cities. Refugees and displaced people move to the city in the hope of finding a sense of community, safety and economic independence. However, in reality, what many actually find are harsh living conditions, lack of security and poverty.

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Among the IRC's programs on behalf of urban refugees:
 
  • We provide emergency assistance to Syrians who have fled a brutal civil war and are living a precarious existence as refugees in towns and cities in neighboring Jordan and Lebanon. This support includes cash assistance, counseling for survivors of violence, and free health care and prescriptions.
  • We help Somalis and other urban refugees in Kenya navigate a unique set of challenges, from unsafe housing to police harassment. They often have difficulty obtaining necessary documentation to apply properly for jobs. We also advocate for government and other authorities to protect this vulnerable population.
     
  • The IRC provides housing, job placement and employment skills, clothing, medical attention, education, English-language classes, community orientation and other support for resettled refugees during their pivotal first months in the United States.
  • We draw attention to the plight of urban refugees through the touring exhibition and website Hidden Lives: The Untold Story of Urban Refugees, and such reports as In Search of Survival and Sanctuary in the City, and Hidden and Exposed: Urban Refugees in Nairobi, Kenya.
July 17, 2014 | Blog
The humanitarian crisis continues in Iraq, where an estimated 650,000 people fled escalating violence in June. More than one million people have been uprooted since the beginning of this year, adding to the 1 million Iraqis still displaced by the outbreak of violence in 2006.

Hidden LiveS: URBAN REFUGEEs

Hidden Lives: The making of from panos pictures on Vimeo.

Over half the world’s refugees now live in large towns and cities where they are confronted by a unique set of challenges. The traditional image of life in tented, sprawling camps no longer tells the full refugee story. As urbanization reshapes much of the world, refugees too are increasingly moving to large towns and cities.

In addition, urban areas are rapidly expanding, making them increasingly vulnerable to man-made and natural disasters. With this explosive growth come new types of risks, vulnerabilities and potential humanitarian crises.
 
The classic picture of a refugee in a camp is changing. Refugees and displaced people move to the city in the hope of finding a sense of community, safety and economic independence. However, in reality, what many actually find are harsh living conditions, lack of security and poverty.
 
Working with the International Rescue Committee and the European Commission’s humanitarian aid and civil protection department ECHO, Panos Pictures photographer Andrew McConnell has spent many months documenting this new reality in eight cities across four continents. Through images, refugee testimonies, and video, the resulting body of work presents a unique insight into the lives of urban refugees today and challenges the commonly held stereotypes. From Somali refugees in Nairobi to Syrian refugees in north Jordan, and from Burmese refugees in Kuala Lumpur to Afghan refugees in New York, the story of where people flee when all is lost is changing.