Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan is gradually evolving into a permanent settlement. (Photo: United Nations/

Urban Displacement, Development and Donor Policies in the Middle East (URBAN3DP)

Are John Knudsen

Research Professor

Sarah A Tobin

Research Professor

Kjersti G. Berg

Post-doctoral fellow

Robert Forster

PhD candidate

Tine Gade

Senior research fellow

Kamel Doraï

Researcher, ifpo & CRNS

Rebecca Bryant

Professor, Utrecht University

The Middle East has one of the world's highest urbanization levels, the greatest socio-economic inequality and is a premier displacement region. In this project, we study refugees and IDPs in fragile Middle East host states to provide a comprehensive information base essential for designing humanitarian and development policies that can serve both the displaced and host communities.

Refugees and IDPs typically settle in cities and towns among urban poor in inner-city slums and impoverished neighbourhoods, areas that can become potential poverty-traps.

While cities offer economic opportunities, employment and services, displacement crises often turn protracted and strain local infrastructure, service provision and host communities. These features also apply to the Syrian refugee population. Aiding large number of urban displaced is therefore a major challenge to humanitarian policy.

Unable to the address the root causes of displacement, the international community is searching for better polices to address displacement in fragile host countries. 

Better policies are not only a key development challenge, but also an opportunity: towns and cities offer better prospects for medium-term integration and self-reliance than do traditional rural and camp-based responses.

To this end, there has been a transition from person-centric (rights-based) towards site-centric (place-based) approaches integrated in a comprehensive developmental approach to urban displacement. This project seeks to add to these efforts by investigating the key elements needed for instituting an area-based urban response for Middle East refugees and IDPs. Better data of this kind is essential for formulating targeted and hence effective aid strategies, and a pre-condition for well-coordinated policies at different levels. In particular, the data will make it possible to formulate are-based policy measures at different levels that can support settlement in cities and towns and reduce vulnerabilities.

The advisory board for this project is made up of Astri Shurke (CMI), Nasser Yassin (AUB4Refugees, American University Beirut), Synne Bergby (UN-Habitat), Jeff Crisp (Chatham House) and Dawn Chatty (Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford).

Cities as solutions

The vast majority of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan live in urban slum areas where the infrastructure is poor, and access to schools and health services are precarious. High unemployment rates, inflation and the COVID-19 pandemic have made the situation even worse for refugees in this region. This short video, filmed on location in Sabra (Beirut) and Mafraq (Jordan) directs the attention towards some of the challenges urban refugees face, and deals with the main question in our research project URBAN 3DP (funded by the Research Council of Norway) : How can cities be part of the solution for urban refugees living in host communities where possibilities are limited?