Our campaign #NoMoreCamps just kick started. It calls for governments and donors to respond to the current refugee crisis by supporting urban programs in neighboring countries that offer alternatives to ongoing refugee encampment: http://urban-refugees.org/no-more-camps-en/

Why are refugee camps a problem?

According to UNHCR estimates, refugees spend an average of 17 years in exile. Far from being temporary, in reality camps remain for years, sometimes decades.

Camps are obviously not a long term response to people fleeing conflict and persecution. Imagine living in a tent with your family, your children, in difficult weather conditions (refugee camps are often positioned in the least habitable places) and being completely dependent, every day of your life, on humanitarian aid to eat and have access to healthcare and water. You can easily understand the desperation of the refugees who are confined to these camps for years.

These camps also do not offer proper security conditions to refugees: rape, trafficking of all kinds, and even forced recruitment of child soldiers occurs, despite the presence of international NGOs on site.

Tales of the city

People in exile tend to actively avoid those camps and most move to urban areas that offer better prospects for people looking to rebuild their lives. Today, 60% of the world’s refugees live in urban areas, primarily in developing countries. More than 80% of Syrian refugees live outside the camps. Those urban refugees prefer to find refuge in urban areas, even if it often means living illegally, and without support of the host state.

This has created new challenges for NGOs who are accustomed to providing services to refugees in camps: How do we identify these people, since they are disbursed and may be undocumented and therefore keep a low profile in the cities? How do we support them there? How do we ensure that their presence does not create additional problems for the local population, who are already in difficult situations?

Because extremelly limited support is available in cities, refugees are left to fend for themselves. Entire families fall into begging. Children are exploited and forced to work. Women are forced into prostitution. In Jordan, 86% of Syrian urban refugees live below the national poverty line.

We need to do more, and better

In these circumstances it is not surprising that some refugees continue on their exodus towards Europe, despite the risk and cost of such a journey, or even start going back to their home country where their life is at risk. If there’s one thing we cannot doubt, it is that a mother would never take the risk of her children dying at sea if she was not forced by circumstances to attempt such a dangerous crossing.

To prevent these human tragedies, it is imperative to focus the efforts towards the development of programs for urban refugees that offer an alternative to ongoing encampment.

In July 2014, the UNHCR proposed a set of alternatives to camps that followed this course, calling for a transformation of existing camps into sustainable settlements in host countries.

However, most camps around the world are maintained without exit strategies in place, despite the fact that international assistance tends to decrease over time, leaving entire populations in camps at risk of malnutrition or without access to basic health care.

There are alternatives to camps

Yet there are alternatives to camps! In countries like Lebanon, NGOs support refugees in cities while at the same time working on urban development, which benefits both the host community and refugees.

So we are launching this petition to ask for what clearly makes the most sense: use international assistance to develop programs that offer durable alternatives to camps and that support refugees where the majority are — in cities!

These aid programs must enable host countries and their populations to benefit from the presence of refugees and not systematize the creation and maintenance of camps, which are temporary and expensive solutions that only delay the development and implementation of viable solutions.

Join the movement: http://urban-refugees.org/no-more-camps-en/