Posted by: trudecdgecs | July 28, 2009

Surviving the City: Urban Iraqi refugees and community outreach

Urban refugees are often scattered throughout a large metropolitan area.  They may become invisible, particularly the most vulnerable and least mobile among them.  They may be unable to work or go to school, may be forced to turn to informal labor markets, and women and girls are more vulnerable to SGBV.

UNHCR’s Policy Development and Evaluation Service (PDES) has just published a paper on Iraqi refugees in urban settings.  Reaching these urban refugees isn’t easy, but is essential to UNHCR’s mandate.

Some key ideas:

  • Community services cannot function alone, but rather in cooperation with protection and programmes. Neighborhood associations and youth groups organized as part of community services contribute to enhanced protection and better programming.
  • Multifunctional teams draw on staff members from all units, and help improve coordination of activities and avoid compartmentalization. Monitoring visits in the field enhance the effectiveness.
  • Contingency planning and emergency response should take into account the impact that Outreach Volunteers trained in psychosocial support in the earliest stages of an influx

Notable field practices from the paper:

  • Support groups in Syria were composed of qualified refugee volunteers. These groups gave volunteers the opportunity to use their skills to support their fellow refugees, empowering the volunteers while serving the larger community. 75 female outreach volunteers in Damascus were drawn from all segments of the refugee population and city, and trained and paid.  They provided counseling and mobilized refugee resources, and they provided information and referrals to UNHCR, facilitating the link between UNHCR and refugees scattered throughout the city.
  • Community Centers in Amman, Beirut and Damascus provide services, information and counseling to refugees as well as a space to socialize and participate in recreational activities. In Beirut, literacy, computer and music classes enhance the program.  In the future, a detailed analysis is needed regarding the value of the community centers, their accessibility to various groups within the refugee population, including women and the most vulnerable, and whether they should do more to encourage socializing between the refugees and their hosts.
  • Mass information campaigns are targeted to individual circumstances. In Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, most refugees have mobile phones, so UNHCR can communicate via SMS and refugees can call a hotline for information.
  • Because many Iraqi refugees listen to music programmes on radio and TV, rather than news, UNHCR has partnered with popular musicians to reach refugees.
  • In Amman, the organization has decentralized by using a Field Unit as an “extended arm” of the Branch office and by working with partners scattered throughout the city. They have established 20 centres in residential areas with large refugee populations, providing service and assistance locally so refugees do not have to travel long distances for support. In Syria, it was discovered that a number of refugees had moved out of Damascus to a far-off town with low-priced accomodation. In 2008 a field office was opened in this town.

The full paper is available here.

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