The Syrian refugee crisis is predominantly urban, but what do urban displacement, self-settlement and indeed being an “urban refugee” entail ? Reflective of the urban dimension of the crisis and the “urban turn” in refugee studies, this presentation examines the causes and consequences of refugee self-settlement in two Beirut tenement buildings and discusses the connection between urban displacement and the built environment for an understanding of emergency urbanism in Middle East host cities. Micro-studies of tenement buildings in two Beirut neighborhoods reveal differences in both settlement processes and outcomes, as well as housing and rental dynamics between (slum-)landlords and impoverished tenants. The run-down tenement buildings’ history, contested ownership, and location are essential examples of the urban dimension of the current displacement crises and offer a glimpse into the self-settlement of Syrian refugees in middle-class (Hamra) and poverty-stricken (Sabra) areas. The transformation of neighborhoods and multi-story buildings represents an informalization of refuge, whereby displaced people seek refuge in cities and transform neighborhoods and shelters not only as city dwellers but as city makers. The buildings can hence be “read” as vertical migration histories and spatial archives providing a genealogy of displacement and emplacement that can inform the study of emergency and refugee urbanism and point to solutions in cities for “urban refugees” lacking access to affordable housing.

Seminar at Institut Convergences Migrations (ICM) (ICM), Paris