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Refugee Cities

Date: September 2015 – Present
Role: Project Developers, Promoters, and Governance Architects

The numbers of forcibly displaced people around the world are at an all-time high and growing, with many refugees living in countries unprepared to host them. Lebanon’s 1 million Syrian refugees amount to a quarter of its population. Jordan’s 600,000+ refugees are straining its housing market and water resources. 90% of refugees in these countries live below the poverty line and about half are under the age of 15. Meanwhile, migration to Europe is straining the fabric of the continent’s political union.

Current responses to these challenges are inadequate. Despite its best efforts, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) consistently falls short of its requirements to meet peoples’ basic needs, let alone to achieve any long-term development goals. Most displaced people avoid or even flee from refugee camps because of the limited work opportunities there. Instead they attempt to live and work illegally in the cities. In Jordan for instance, only 10% of Syrian refugees live in the camps, even though the camps are the most secure option and offer food, medical care, and other aid. The other 90% find work and housing informally in the cities.

Most refugees are capable of working and providing for themselves, but many host countries restrict their rights to work. The result is an inefficient, aid-based approach that wastes talent, drives people to the informal sector, and entrenches refugees in isolation and dependency.

This situation will likely grow more extreme over time. Over the coming decades, the World Bank and IMF estimate that worldwide displacement and migration will rise due to global inequality, labor shortages in low-skilled sectors in developed countries (combined with population growth in developing countries), increased mobility, and climate change.

To address these urgent challenges, we need a self-supporting, politically feasible solution that allows refugees to shape their own social and economic destinies.

That’s why Politas is working to implement refugee cities in countries with large refugee populations. A refugee city is a special-status community for displaced people. Utilizing best practices of special economic zones from around the world, a refugee city would be a special migrant community allowing displaced people to find legal employment and operate their own businesses. A refugee city would attract investment and residents through high-quality infrastructure, private-sector financing, and a streamlined administrative system. Its legal and institutional framework would optimize the city’s business environment, expand residents’ opportunities, and improve host countries’ economies. Simply put, a refugee city would unleash the potential of displaced people for the benefit of all.

Politas has joined in this effort by developing the legal, policy, and institutional framework for refugee cities. 



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