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Brief: Urban Response Practitioner Workshop

Today, more than half of the world’s 59.5 million forcibly displaced people live in urban areas1 and their average length of displacement is over a decade.2 In Asia, the world’s fastest urbanizing continent, countries like Iran and Pakistan are among the top-10 major refugee-hosting countries in the world, while Afghanistan remains the second largest source of refugees globally behind Syria.3 In Southeast Asia, Thailand serves as the region’s primary destination for refugees and asylum seekers, with over half a million people of concern living in the country in 2015.

These trends have significant implications for cities within the region, including heightened challenges for providing basic services to the city’s existing inhabitants as well as new residents. They also impact the changing humanitarian landscape, where traditional humanitarian responses have been most often designed for camp or rural/remote contexts. 

In order to better understand these issues, to learn from challenges and successes, and to identify more appropriate ways of working, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) hosted an Urban Practitioner Workshop on Meeting Needs in a Context of Urban Displacement in Asia. 

The aim of the workshop was to bring together humanitarian, international development, community organizations, and local municipal actors called into action by various urban crises within the region. Based on the workshop’s discussions, the IRC developed the following three key recommendations to meeting needs in a context of urban displacement: 

1. Leverage the added value of humanitarian intervention 
2. Meaningfully engage urban communities 
3. Emphasize demand over supply and opportunities over challenges 

At the conclusion of the two-day workshop, attendees agreed that humanitarian organizations have a critical role to play in meeting the needs of urban displacement in the region. While the exact nature of this role depends on the context and nature of the crisis, it is clear that humanitarians should be generally a.) rethinking traditional programming models and b.) acting as a part of a larger network

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