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Refugee camps are the "cities of tomorrow", says aid expert
"Governments should stop thinking about refugee camps as temporary places, says Kilian Kleinschmidt, one of the world's leading authorities on humanitarian aid (+ interview).

"These are the cities of tomorrow," said Kleinschmidt of Europe's rapidly expanding refugee camps. "The average stay today in a camp is 17 years. That's a generation."

"In the Middle East, we were building camps: storage facilities for people. But the refugees were building a city," he told Dezeen.

Kleinschmidt said a lack of willingness to recognise that camps had become a permanent fixture around the world and a failure to provide proper infrastructure was leading to unnecessarily poor conditions and leaving residents vulnerable to "crooks".

"I think we have reached the dead end almost where the humanitarian agencies cannot cope with the crisis," he said. "We're doing humanitarian aid as we did 70 years ago after the second world war. Nothing has changed."

Kleinschmidt, 53, worked for 25 years for the United Nations and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in various camps and operations worldwide. He was most recently stationed in Zaatari in Jordan, the world's second largest refugee camp – before leaving to start his own aid consultancy, Switxboard.

He believes that migrants coming into Europe could help repopulate parts of Spain and Italy that have been abandoned as people gravitate increasingly towards major cities.

"Many places in Europe are totally deserted because the people have moved to other places," he said. "You could put in a new population, set up opportunities to develop and trade and work. You could see them as special development zones which are actually used as a trigger for an otherwise impoverished neglected area."

Refugees could also stimulate the economy in Germany, which has 600,000 job vacancies and requires tens of thousands of new apartments to house workers, he said.

"Germany is very interesting, because it is actually seeing this as the beginning of a big economic boost," he explained. "Building 300,000 affordable apartments a year: the building industry is dreaming of this!"

"It creates tons of jobs, even for those who are coming in now. Germany will come out of this crisis."

Kleinschmidt told Dezeen that aid organisations and governments needed to accept that new technologies like 3D printing could enable refugees and migrants to become more self-sufficient.

"With a Fab Lab people could produce anything they need – a house, a car, a bicycle, generating their own energy, whatever," he said.

His own attempts to set up a Zaatari Fab Lab – a workshop providing access to digital fabrication tools – have been met with opposition.

"That whole concept that you can connect a poor person with something that belongs to the 21st century is very alien to even most aid agencies," he said. "Intelligence services and so on from government think 'my god, these are just refugees, so why should they be able to do 3D-printing? Why should they be working on robotics?' The idea is that if you're poor, it's all only about survival."

"We have to get away from the concept that, because you have that status – migrant, refugee, martian, alien, whatever – you're not allowed to be like everybody else."

Read the edited transcript from our interview with Kilian Kleinschmidt:

Talia Radford: Why did you leave the UN?

Kilian Kleinschmidt: I left the the UN to be as disruptive as possible, as provocative as possible, because within the UN of course there is certain discipline. I mean I was always the rebel.

Talia Radford: What is there to rebel about?

Kilian Kleinschmidt: I think we have reached the dead end almost where the humanitarian agencies cannot cope with the crisis. We're doing humanitarian aid as we did 70 years ago after the second world war. Nothing has changed.

In the Middle East, we were building camps: storage facilities for people. But the refugees were building a city.

These are the cities of tomorrow. The average stay today in a camp is 17 years. That's a generation. Let's look at these places as cities.

Talia Radford: Why aren't refugee camps flourishing into existing cities?

Kilian Kleinschmidt: It's down to the stupidity of the aid organisations, who prefer to waste money and work in a non-sustainable way rather than investing in making them sustainable.

Talia Radford: Why are people coming to Europe?

Kilian Kleinschmidt: Everybody who is coming here right now is an economic migrant. They are not refugees. They were refugees in Jordan, but they are coming to Europe to study, to work, to have a perspective for their families. In the pure definition, it's a migration issue.

Right now everybody is going to Germany because in Germany they have 600,000 job vacancies. So of course there is an attraction, and there is space. Once the space is filled, nobody will go there anymore. They will go somewhere else.

Talia Radford: How do refugees – or economic migrants – know where to go? Via the media?

Kilian Kleinschmidt: No, it's all done through Whatsapp!

Talia Radford: What is the relationship between migration and technology?

Kilian Kleinschmidt: Every Syrian refugee in the Zaatari camp has been watching Google self-driving cars moving around, so [they] don't believe the information only belongs to the rich people anymore.

We did studies in the Zaatari camp on communication. Everybody had a cellphone and 60 per cent had a smartphone. The first thing people were doing when they came across the border was calling back home to Syria and saying "hey we made it". So the big, big thing was to distribute Jordanian sim cards.

Once we had gotten over the riots over water and lots of other things that politicised the camp, the next big issue was internet connectivity.

Talia Radford: What are the infrastructure requirements of a mass influx of refugees?

Kilian Kleinschmidt: The first is the logistics of accommodation: that's the survival bit. Everyone is struggling with this now, in reception centres, camps – every country in the world is dealing with this. Eighty-five to 90 per cent of any people on the move will be melting into the population so the real issue is how you deal with a sudden higher demand for accommodation.

Germany says that they suddenly need 300 to 400,000 affordable housing units more per year. It's about dealing with the structural issues, dealing with the increased population, and absorbing them into existing infrastructure.

Talia Radford: How do you see the refugee situation in Europe now?

Kilian Kleinschmidt: The discussion in Germany is quite interesting, because they currently have 600,000 jobs to fill, but they are all in places where there is no housing. It's all in urban centres where they have forgotten to build apartments.

Half of east Germany is empty. Half of southern Italy is empty. Spain is empty. Many places in Europe are totally deserted.

You could redevelop some of these empty cities into free-trade zones where you would put in a new population and actually set up opportunities to develop and trade and work. You could see them as special development zones, which are actually used as a trigger for an otherwise impoverished, neglected area.

Germany is very interesting, because it is actually seeing this as the beginning of a big economic boost. Building 300,000 apartments a year: the building industry is dreaming of this! It creates tons of jobs, even for those who are coming in now. Germany will come out of this crisis.

In Pakistan, in Jordan, they say "Oh no! These people are all going back in five minutes so we're not building any apartments for them! Put them in tents, put them in short-lived solutions." What they are losing is actually a real opportunity for progress, for change. They are losing an opportunity for additional resources, capacities, know-how.

Talia Radford: What other technologies have you dealt with in relation to refugees and migration?

Kilian Kleinschmidt: Energy is the big one. Things are finally moving because of the energy storage, which we suddenly have with the Tesla batteries for instance. Decentralised production of energy is the way forward. Thirty per cent of the world's population does not have regular access to energy. We could see a mega, mega revolution. With little investment we can set up a solar-power plant that not only provides power to the entire camp, but can also be sold to the surrounding settlements.

And water. In the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Danish groundwater pump supplier Grundfos partnered with a water company and you now have a smart-water terminal in the slum, where with smart cards you can buy clean drinking water.

You buy your water from a safe location for a fraction of what the crooks of the water business in Nairobi would sell the water for. So suddenly it becomes affordable, it becomes safe, and you can manage the quantities yourself.

A lot of change is facilitated by mobile phones. No poor person has a bank account any more in Kenya. Everybody has an M-Pesa account on their mobile phone. All transactions are done with their mobile phone. They don't need banks. They pay their staff now with your mobile phone. You charge their M-Pesa account.

Talia Radford: Are any of these services being set up at refugee camps?

Kilian Kleinschmidt: At Zaatari, the UNHCR never planned to provide electricity for the households. So people took it themselves from the power lines running through the camp. Electricity means safety, it means social life, it means business. Big business! People were charging €30 per connection and more.

With a $3 million investment in pre-paid meters, you could have ensured every household would get a certain subsidised quantity of energy. The UNHCR didn't think it would have $3 million to invest in the equipment, and so it is spending a million dollars a month of taxpayers' money on an unmanaged electricity bill.

Talia Radford: You helped set up a Fab Lab… [more]
immigration  cities  humanitarianaid  urban  urbanism  kiliankleinschmidt  unhcr  zaatari  jordan  refugees  refugeecamps  switxboard  europe  germany  economics  españa  spain  italy  italia  fabricationtaliaradford  interviews  migration  employment  jobs  work  fablabs  safety  infrastructure  kenya  nairobi  kibera  grundfos  energy  decentralization  solarpower  solar  batteries  technology  pakistan  housing  homes  politics  policy  syria 
november 2015 by robertogreco
The Other Refugee Crisis - The New York Times
"Dadaab may be the world’s largest, but there are many other examples of these temporary-but-permanent cities. In Pakistan, along the border with Afghanistan, the camps founded in 1979 for Afghan refugees are now a string of 79 permanent slums run by the United Nations and home to nearly a million people. Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Darfur have been living in a collection of 12 camps across the border in Chad since 2004, with no end in sight. Similar numbers and situations exist in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Thailand, Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere, where people are living, and reproducing, in limbo. The numbers are growing not only because of a world in turmoil, but also because whole generations are growing up in camps.

Gaza is perhaps the best example of this. The eight original refugee camps have morphed into towns that, together, are now one of the most densely populated areas in the world, home to 1.7 million people. Separate from the U.N.H.C.R. and with a different mandate, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East was founded in 1949 for around 750,000 Arab Palestinians forced to flee their homes in 1948. But with no peace deal or return in sight, the agency looks after their five million descendants at a cost to the international community of over $1 billion a year. The agency was supposed to be an exception, but Gaza now looks like the rule. In Dadaab, the United Nations resettles around 2,000 refugees annually to Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States. But the birthrate in the camp of 1,000 a month will always outstrip that effort.

As refugee populations spiral higher, host nations usually move toward ever stricter encampment policies. Kenya is one of the strictest; last year the police rounded up thousands of refugees found outside designated camps and incarcerated them in the national stadium. Pakistan has threatened several times not to renew refugee status for Afghan refugees, and periodically attempts to force people back to Afghanistan. In Jordan, refugees have the right to move and work in theory, but authorities have reportedly issued no new work permits since 2014 and have begun coercive administrative measures to keep them in the camps.

To leave Dadaab, residents require a “movement pass,” just like under apartheid. Acquiring one usually involves a bribe. Thus, members of the third generation that is now beginning life in Dadaab may well spend their whole life in the camp. If they win one of the fiercely contested slots at secondary school, they could gain diplomas and degrees online or through the mail, but when there’s no viable path to a free future elsewhere, education in the closed camp is a cruel trick: There are no jobs except volunteer positions with the aid agencies that run the hospitals, schools and social programs, and these pay a fraction of what Kenyan staff members receive for doing the same job.

One might expect that in such circumstances, talent would curdle into bitterness, but the most striking thing about Dadaab is that the miserable conditions do not seem to have engendered radicalization. People are frustrated, but until now, the isolation of the camp and the United Nations mantras on rights and gender balance have fostered a subdued but tolerant society in which women are more emancipated than their sisters back in Somalia.

This is the ultimate contradiction of camp life: how to locate hope for the future in a desperate situation that appears permanent. People are trying. Life in Dadaab and all the other camps is a daily exercise in manufacturing hope. But for many, the fiction of temporariness no longer holds. And we are seeing the results of that realization washing up on Europe’s beaches.

Separate enclaves are beginning to appear in the rich world, too: slums such as “the Jungle” in Calais, where refugees and migrants wait to try to enter Britain illegally, or the detention centers that are now common in Europe, Australia and the United States where people must wait sometimes for years while their status is determined. In a world centered on nation-states, the full range of human rights is increasingly unavailable to those without citizenship. A whole gray population of second-class citizens has emerged, and their numbers are growing.

The proper and legal response should be to allow refugees and asylum seekers freedom of movement within their host nations and all the rights accorded to other citizens, including the right to travel abroad and seek work legally. But the tide of public opinion in most countries is moving in the opposite direction.

Of course rich nations should take more. But even if Europe and the United States stepped up and admitted much larger numbers than the paltry offers that have been suggested in recent weeks, it would still make only a small dent in the global refugee population.

Until our current wars die down, the world needs to adjust to the new reality of permanent refugee cities in legal limbo. Even if host nations wish to deny citizenship to long-staying refugees, it would make sense to allow the United Nations and refugees themselves to invest in infrastructure to reduce disease, provide employment and make these ramshackle slums more habitable. They could perhaps become autonomous open cities or international zones where those with United Nations documents were permitted to move and trade within the normal international visa regime. If camps were economically viable they might at least offer some pull to remain there. As one man told me as I was nearing the end of my time in Dadaab: “I belong nowhere. My country is the Republic of Refugee.”"
dabaad  kenya  somalia  citizenship  refugees  limbo  2015  geopolitics  impermanence  permanence  hope  hopelessness  calais  afghanistan  benrawlence  pakistan  darfur  un  unitednations  africa  unhcr  migration  palestine  refugeecamps  future  futures 
october 2015 by robertogreco

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