Instability, violence, and lack of hope drives many refugees out of camps and into cities, like these children living in Nairobi (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)

Nairobi, 20 June 2010 — On 20 June, World Refugee Day, Jesuit Refugee Service/Eastern Africa urges the governments of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia to tap into the potential of refugees and other forced migrants in urban areas. This not only promotes their self-sufficiency, it also contributes to well-being in their host countries.

"There is a tendency to look at urban refugees as a burden. However, time and again, we see that when refugees are given a chance to develop their potential, they bring many benefits to their host communities," says Fr Frido Pflueger SJ, JRS Eastern Africa Director.

Instead of relying on hand-outs in camps, the vast majority of forced migrants now choose to go to urban areas. The reasons for this are varied: global urbanisation, harsh and insecure living conditions in camps, a lack of medical facilities and adequate education, as well as the hope of finding a sense of community, safety and economic independence in urban areas. According to estimates, more than 430,000 refugees and asylum seekers live in the three major east Africa capitals: Nairobi, Kampala and Addis Ababa. With little or no support, they face a myriad of obstacles.

Frequently denied access to the formal labour market, forced migrants in urban areas regularly survive on poorly paid, insecure and precarious casual employment. Even when they are provided with legal documentation, this is often ignored by the police or other government agents. Many forced migrants avoid the authorities as such contact may lead to their detention and summary deportation. For those entitled to education, health and other social services, the cost may become an insurmountable obstacle.

"Refugees in a city who have no access to the formal labour market are condemned to poverty. But if allowed access to employment, if given sufficient support and the necessary legal documentation, they can start their own business and not only become self-sufficient but also contribute to the local economy," says Fr Pflueger. "Take Joseph, a Congolese refugee who came to Nairobi in 2007. He now runs a barber shop and trains six young Kenyans and six refugees, thus contributing to the development in Kenya."

There are many more positive examples among the more than 200 refugees JRS currently trains and supports in the three capitals. The JRS-run Mikono shop in Nairobi provides a market outlet for handicrafts produced by another 60 refugees.

"Refugees often loose everything when forced to flee their homes. Giving them the right and freedom to sustain themselves is the least governments and host communities can do to not also deprive them of their future," says Fr Pflueger.

Countries Related to this Region
Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda

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