Cablegate: Unhcr Highlights Displaced Persons in Urban Settings


DE RUEHGV #0014/01 0081331
R 081331Z JAN 10




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: UNHCR Highlights Displaced Persons in Urban Settings

1. (U) SUMMARY: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio
Guterres, convened "The High Commissioner's Dialogue on Persons of
Concerns (POCs) in Urban Setting" on December 9 and 10, 2009. A
variety of actors (including mayors, police, parliamentarians, host
government representatives, donors, international and local NGOs,
academics, and actual UNHCR beneficiaries) discussed the unique
challenges of addressing the needs of refugees, returnees,
internally displaced persons, and host populations in cities and
towns (rather than camps placed in rural areas). Challenges include
identifying persons of concern, assessing their vulnerabilities,
ensuring protection space in urban settings, promoting livelihoods
and self-reliance, and bolstering strained municipalities and local
authorities. At the end of the conference, High Commissioner
Guterres vowed to pursue an ambitious agenda of follow-up actions to
improve UNHCR's response to urban POCs in partnership with other
stakeholders. The USG urged UNHCR to focus on its core mandate,
refugees and stateless persons (rather than IDPs and urban
development) and issue operational guidance to its field staff on
how to implement its new urban refugee policy. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) USDel was led by PRM Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary
Margaret Pollack. It included U.S. Mission Geneva Refugee and
Migration Affairs (RMA) Counselor Peter Mulrean, RMA Attach Melissa
Pitotti, PRM/PRP Policy Officer Sarah Cross and RMA Program
Specialist Michelle Burdon.


3. (U) According to UNHCR's most recent statistics, almost half of
the world's 10.5 million refugees now reside in cities and towns,
compared to one third who live in camps. UNHCR's policy on urban
refugees, which was issued in September 2009, is based on the
principle that the rights of refugees and UNHCR's mandated
responsibilities towards them are not affected by their location.
UNHCR considers urban areas to be a legitimate place for refugees to
enjoy their rights, which they consider to include: the right not to
be arbitrarily detained; the right to family unity; the right to
adequate food, shelter, health and education; and the right to
livelihoods opportunities. During his opening session speech, the
High Commissioner said of the new policy: 1) it is not developed in
isolation from other urban poor; 2) it is focused on development as
well as humanitarian relief; and 3) it is inclusive (not focused on
UNHCR alone). He said the policy would be mainstreamed into UNHCR's
operations in 2011, but its implementation would be contingent upon
donor funding.


4. (U) A handful of selected UNHCR beneficiaries presented their
views during a special panel discussion. A Colombian IDP named
Senaida related her experience being displaced four times within her
own country. Ahmed, a humorous Somali refugee who lived through the
xenophobic attacks of 2008 in South Africa, explained how, when he
was a youth, a ship he had hired to go to Yemen dropped him off in
South Africa, instead. An Iraqi refugee woman in Amman named Maha
who serves as a community outreach volunteer for UNHCR described how
refugees came forward to register after they realized the benefits
of doing so (access to food, medical care, rental stipends, and
resettlement). A 19-year-old Congolese refugee described her
family's joy at being resettled in a town in Sweden. Sabri, a
Crimean Tartar who was stateless until attaining Ukrainian
citizenship in 1997, highlighted the hardships for those who lack
citizenship (the lack of mobility and inability to access education,
work, pensions and medical care).

5. (U) During the opening session, the mayor of Geneva, Remy Pagani,
called for greater support to local authorities to help them cope
with increased crime, trafficking, potential xenophobia, and
humanitarian assistance needs in way that is consistent across
regions. Host stte representatives regularly expressed concern
aout the burden posed by refugees in their cities ad towns. A
Sudanese representative drew attentio to the unfinished urban
registration exercise i his country, and called for more capacity
and asistance to finish the job. A representative from Hong Kong
complained about the delays in the Refugee Status Determination
process there, claiming it takes one year to get n interview in
Hong Kong and causes great psychosocial damage to asylum seekers,
who are not permtted to work. The Syrian Vice Foreign Minister
aisal Miqdad spoke about the direct negative conseuences Iraqi
refugees have had on the Syrian ecoomy and social infrastructure
(schools, hospital, etc.), and called for conference participants
t focus on supporting voluntary repatriation (a cal echoed by the
Iraqi and Jordanian representativs). The Armenian and Serbian
representatives emhasized the lack of affordable housing for the
uban displaced. NGOs pressed for alternatives to aritrary
detention, opportunities for self-relianc, a UNHCR policy on urban
IDPs, stronger involveent of community-based organizations, and
increased UNHCR legal, protection, and advocacy role. Germany
called for better educational opportunities for the urban displaced
to decrease their vulnerabilities.

6. (U) Conference participants divided into four working groups. A
group led by Walter Kaelin, the UN Secretary General's Special
Representative on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons
(IDPs), emphasized that IDPs remain in their country of origin and
are thus entitled to all rights available to the general population,
including the right to work. The group concluded that it is not
necessary (indeed, it is potentially harmful) to individually
register IDPs in urban settings. These populations can be generally
"profiled" instead. Family unity and non-displaced family members
are especially important sources of support for IDPs. Local
authorities and municipal structures need to be informed about the
rights of IDPs and supported so they can serve IDPs as well as the
host populations.

7. (U) The other groups focused on urban refugees. Their findings
converged on the following issues:
-- The centrality of local governments in ensuring protection.
Although both national and local governments may not be pleased
about the existence of urban refugees, the local governments
nonetheless are obliged to deal with the reality of their presence.
UNHCR, donor governments and NGOs need to reach out directly to
local governments to gain their acceptance of, and support for,
urban refugees, including the granting of legal status in their
-- The importance of comprehensive registration, which identifies
people with protection needs, provides them with important
documentation of their status, and helps local governments to better
plan services. The use of mobile registration teams was encouraged
in order to more effectively reach these dispersed and mobile
-- The effectiveness of outreach. In situations where urban
refugees prefer to remain "invisible," outreach through community
organizations, churches and NGOs can be effective in identifying
particularly vulnerable cases and in doing surveys to develop a good
profile of the urban refugee population and its needs.
-- The connection between local communities to the strategy and
solutions. Conducting public information and awareness campaigns
and providing services to the broader community (and not just to
refugees) will promote acceptance (or at least reduce xenophobia),
and reduce the need for refugees to "go underground." Examples
included community centers or sports facilities for this dual-use
approach, as well as creating "local trustees," made up of community
leaders, school directors, municipal officials, etc.
-- The role of refugee camps. UNHCR's Africa Bureau Director
suggested that it might prove impossible to revamp the approach
towards urban refugees without improving conditions in camps.
Introduction of protection services and assistance in the cities
could result in an exodus from the camps. Thus, there is a need to
make the camps and settlements themselves a place of safety and
rights, not of risk.
-- The need for development and livelihoods. There were many calls
for integrating urban refugee needs into development plans and for
working with local and international businesses to develop
livelihood opportunities for urban refugees. Some Dialogue
participants raised concerns that development actors were not
present at the Dialogue.
-- The complexity of mixed migratory flows. There was a call for
more thinking to be done on addressing the protection and assistance
needs of migratory populations that do not qualify for refugee
status. Some suggested there should be a referral system for those
not qualifying for refugee status from UNHCR, but in need of
protection nonetheless. If so, to whom would these migrants be
-- The importance of partnerships with NGOs, community
organizations, municipal authorities, development actors and the
private sector in providing assistance and transitioning from relief
to development programs.
-- The benefits of civic education. A representative from a
community receiving many asylum seekers in Canada underscored the
importance of educating the local population of the plight of these
persons and the responsibility they have as a community to support
and encourage them.
-- The value of transitional programs and exit strategies. One
group underlined the need for UNHCR to plan ahead to when its
programs would slow down, or transition, in a particular urban area.
Some also argued for the need to recognize that many refugees will
choose to remain in urban areas permanently, rather than return to
their rural places of origin when conditions permit.


8. (U) UNHCR will harness the momentum of this event with the
following activities: 1) slightly modifying UNHCR's urban refugee
policy to incorporate views expressed at the Dialogue; 2)
identifying five pilot cities for the urban policy roll-out in 2010
(perhaps Kigali, Nairobi, Cairo, Kuala Lumpur, and Cuenca); 3)
conducting regional workshops; 4) issuing guidance to UNHCR field
staff on how to work with mayors; 5) maintaining an international
network of mayors; and 6) carrying out evaluations to inform
planning for 2012. The USG urged UNHCR to expeditiously issue
operational guidance to its field staff to help them implement
UNHCR's new urban refugee policy; however, the High Commissioner
prefers to implement the policy in a phased approach based on
available resources. The USG urged UNHCR to focus on its core
mandate (refugees and stateless persons, rather than IDPs and urban
development); UNHCR subsequently withdrew from its list of follow-up
actions the creation of an urban IDP policy. For more information
on the Dialogue, see:


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