Today, more than 60 percent of all refugees and 80 percent of all internally displaced persons are living in urban areas. While cities are periodically overwhelmed by sudden mass influxes of forced migrants, they are remarkably effective at absorbing populations on the move. With some exceptions, the international community — the UN Refugee Agency, in particular — has been slow to empower cities to assume a greater role in protecting, assisting and promoting durable solutions for refugees, asylum claimants and other groups of concern. New compacts on migration and refugees only tangentially address cities’ pivotal role in shaping the experience of forced migrants. Instead, cities are developing solutions on their own. This paper assesses the characteristics of the urban displacement crisis and identifies challenges and opportunities confronting cities, challenging myths associated with the “refugee burden” and offering preliminary recommendations for stepping up international, national and municipal cooperation.

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Research papers are policy documents commissioned by the World Refugee Council from world-renowned experts to help inform the work of the Council and its final recommendations. The measures and concepts in these documents do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Refugee Council.
  • Robert Muggah specializes in cities, security, migration, conflict and new technologies. He co-founded the Igarapé Institute, a think and do tank working on data-driven and technology-enabled safety and justice across Latin America and Africa. He also co-founded the SecDev Foundation and Group, organizations devoted to cyber security and stability in the Middle East and Eurasia and in South Asia regions.

  • Adriana Erthal Abdenur coordinates the peace and security program at the Igarapé Institute. She is also a collaborating researcher at the Brazilian Naval War College. Adriana is a consultant for the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and serves on the advisory board of the Department of Political Affairs’ internal reviews for field-based conflict prevention and resolution.