Refugees can create jobs for locals in growing cities – if only they’re given the chance

Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Image: Getty.

The term “refugee” conjures up certain images; bedraggled, desperate people hauling themselves onto lifeboats in the Mediterranean; or a vast sea of white tents – complete with blue UN logo – on the moon-like surface of some remote, arid land. But these scenes don’t capture how the vast majority of refugees actually live – not in branded tents, but in cities. Figures from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) show that at the end of 2016, 60 per cent of refugees lived in urban areas.

The fact is, more and more people will be living in cities in the coming years, while forced displacement is at its highest level in decades. Refugees are drawn to cities, where they can seek sanctuary from conflict, persecution or the effects of climate change in their places of origin.

Refugees are also spending longer away from home: at the end of 2016, 11.6m refugees had been displaced for at least five years – 4.1m of these for more than 20 years. Yet the social, political and governance issues which arise when urbanisation takes place alongside displacement have only recently begun to be considered in earnest – especially in Lebanon and Jordan.

A child refugee in Dar es Salaam. Image: Aisling O'Loughlen/author provided.

In these places, thousands of Syrian refugees have moved into cities. Their arrival has changed the urban landscape considerably, put pressure on local services and stoked tensions between communities.

In sub-Saharan Africa, cities such as Kampala and Dar es Salaam also host thousands of refugees from the neighbouring countries of Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Kenya, the Eastleigh district of Nairobi has long been a centre for Somali refugees, who have developed robust businesses and become part of the fabric of the city.

Making migration work

The unexpected influx of people – who may have different ethnic or religious backgrounds to the existing population – is often met with hostility by the locals, and viewed as a headache by city authorities. Displaced groups are seen as an added burden on already insufficient infrastructure and basic services, particularly in developing countries. The shock of displacement can also have a short term negative impact on GDP.

There is no denying it can be a big challenge to give displaced people access to basic services and employment. But refugees also bring with them a wealth of experience, opportunity and an entrepreneurial spirit, which can actually benefit their new neighbours. When refugees are given a chance to succeed, they can bring employment opportunities for the host population.

In Uganda for example, 21 per cent of refugees own a business that employs more than one person – 40 per cent of whom are Ugandan nationals. Displaced groups also become a new customer base for host communities, as has occurred in Greece, and old neighbourhoods can benefit from a new lease of life granted by the arrival of young families who can revitalise towns in decline, such as in Riace, in southern Italy.

Growing success

All developed economies have high levels of urbanisation, but with declining birth rates in these countries, other sources of labour will be required to keep the economy ticking over. Refugees could fulfil this purpose, spurring population growth and economic development. But so far, urban governance and planning structures have failed to capitalise fully on their potential.

Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan. Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office/creative commons.

The reality for cities and their residents is this: as long as instability reigns both in the political sphere and the natural world, large groups of people will continue to be displaced. Refugee camps have provided necessary sanctuary, but for people looking to rebuild their lives, they appear less and less inviting. The bright lights of the city hold the promise of opportunity for refugees; and with the right leadership, their success can benefit locals, too.


There are some obvious and practical steps which cities can take to help refugees become a positive part of urban life. Easy access to language classes, housing, education and the opportunity to work are key. In practise, city authorities must be more open minded about adopting creative solutions to housing shortages. They must reduce the bureaucracy, which often hampers efforts to get refugees into work: a wide variety of projects have been developed, from craft companies in Germany to a Swedish fast-track system. Technology can also be harnessed to provide educational resources and build much needed housing.

The ConversationIntegrating new arrivals to a city is never an easy task – even when successful, it takes time. But developing a long-term plan to help refugees settle into the city will make it much easier to confront the inevitable challenges that will occur. Germany is a good example of this, where authorities are trying to learn from the mistakes which have led to the segregation of populations in the past, such as in the banlieues of Paris.

Such incremental and consistent improvements are neither exciting or divisive enough to garner much attention. But that does not make them any less valid. Refugees can indeed be of great benefit to cities and their residents - they just need to be given a chance.

Aisling O'Loghlen, Vice Chancellor's Research Fellow in Global Challenges, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Why exactly do Britain’s rail services to the cities of the South West keep getting cut off?

You see the problem? The line through Dawlish. Image: Geof Sheppard/Wikimedia Commons.

If you’ve ever looked at some picturesque photos of British railways, perhaps in a specialist railway magazine – we’re not judging – then you’ve probably seen images of the South West Railway sea wall, with trains running tantalisingly close to the sea, either framed by blue skies and blue water or being battered by dramatic waves, depending on the region’s notoriously changeable weather.

Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and open since the 1840s, the line was placed so close to the water to avoid the ruinous cost of tunnelling through the South Devon hills. From Dawlish Warren to Teignmouth the line is, with the odd interruption, exposed to the sea, affording the striking images so beloved of rail photographers. Its exposed placement also inevitably leads to speed limitations, closure and damage to the infrastructure. This would be a matter of purely local interest were it not for the fact that the sea wall is an unavoidable link in rail routes to the South West.

Main line trains run from London Waterloo and Paddington down to the Devon hub of Exeter St Davids, before continuing on to Plymouth, Truro and other destinations on the peninsula. Trains leaving St Davids reach the bottleneck very quickly, following the river Exe and its estuary, before dipping behind the sand dunes and emerging on to the sea wall.

What happens to the track at the small seaside towns of Dawlish Warren and Dawlish therefore has an impact on the whole region. South Devon and Cornwall are inaccessible by rail when the sea wall is temporarily closed or, as happened in January 2014, when storms breached the sea wall altogether, damaging it so severely it took weeks to repair.

While it’s easy to understand the economic logic of building the sea wall in the first place, unsurprisingly the economics of maintaining the damn thing have proven less compelling. The sea wall is considered to be, per mile, the most expensive stretch of Network Rail’s network to maintain. It’s also baffling to modern eyes why the main line rail services for a whole region would flow through such a vulnerable bottle neck.

The Devon rail network. Image: Travel Devon.

As with so many oddities of the British rail system, these perversities emerged from the rapid change that came in the mid 20th century through war, nationalisation and Dr Beeching.

The need for a Dawlish Avoiding Line was identified as early the 1930s. This would have diverted from the existing route at Exminster, and rejoined the line between Teignmouth and Newton Abbot, passing through Dawlish inland. Tweaks to the plan were made, but by 1939 construction was under way, only to be suspended when war broke out. Work on the project did not resume after the war, and when the Great Western Railway became part of the nationalised British Railways it was not a priority. The land for the Dawlish Avoiding Line was later sold by British Rail and has subsequently been built on, so that was that.

In the 1960s, Dr Beeching’s axe fell on rail routes across Devon, including the lines through North Devon that had provided an alternative rail route through the county. Those closed lines have also been extensively built on or converted to other uses, leaving a single main line through Devon, and rendering the sea wall unavoidable.

In recent years the condition of the sea wall has become increasingly precari


ous. That’s not only due to storm damage to the wall itself, but also due to the potential for erosion of cliffs overlooking the rail line, resulting in falling rocks. While this has been an ongoing issue since... well, since the sea wall was opened over 150 years ago, the storm of 4 February 2014 brought the matter to national attention. The visual of twisted rails hanging out into empty space illustrated the problem in a way pages of reports on the precarious nature of the line never could.

An army of Network Rail workers descended on Dawlish to get the line re-opened within two months. But repairing the damage hasn’t resolved the base problem, and climate change increases the likelihood of further major storm damage. In October 2018 the line was hastily closed for weekend repairs when storms resulted in a six foot hole appearing under the tracks near Teignmouth.

Supportive noises of varying intensity and occasional oblique funding commitments have come from government in the last five years, and investigations and consultations have been conducted by both Network Rail and the Peninsula Rail Task Force, a group set up by local councils in the wake of February 2014. Proposals currently on the table include Network Rail’s plan to extend a section of the sea wall further out to sea, away from the crumbling cliffs, and reopening the Okehampton line across Dartmoor to provide an alternative rail route between Exeter and Plymouth. 

But in spite of talk about investment and grand plans, no major work is underway or funded, with Network Rail continuing their work maintaining and repairing the existing line, and the situation seems unlikely to change soon.

Massive spending on rail infrastructure in the South West is a hard Westminster sell, especially in the Brexit-addled political climate of the last few years. And with the parliamentary map of the region dominated by blue there’s been little political will to challenge the vague commitments of government. One of the South West’s few Labour MPs, Exeter’s Ben Bradshaw, is particularly damning of the failure of Tory MPs to put pressure on the government, using a recent column for Devon Live to describe them as “feeble”.

But regardless of the political will to solve the problems of rail in the South West, barring a string of unusually gentle winters, the issue isn’t going away soon. If the South West is to be an accessible and successful part of the UK, then it needs stable rail infrastructure that can survive whatever the weather throws at it.