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Displaced People Living In Cities Face Mounting Crisis As Cost-of-living Surges Globally

In a new policy brief “The Cost of Living Crisis for Urban Displaced People in East Africa: The Role of Inclusive Social Protection”, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is sounding the alarm about the ways the surge in the cost of living seen globally is hitting displaced communities residing in major East African cities especially hard. Under the status quo, most measures meant to ease the cost of living burdens fail to reach non-citizens and other marginalized communities.

The policy brief details the ways these already-vulnerable communities are being pushed over the brink by the surge in the cost of essentials. The brief calls for both an immediate response and structural reforms to this challenge.

Factors including the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine are currently causing the prices of essentials to skyrocket around the world. In East Africa, soaring inflation has been compounded by a historic drought in the region, with both crises causing the price of food to spike and the incidence of food insecurity to reach alarming new levels. While these trends have burdened large numbers of people from many walks of life, displaced communities living in major East African cities like Nairobi and Kampala often find themselves especially vulnerable in crises like the current surge in the cost of living. This creates a humanitarian crisis for these communities with the potential to ripple out into wider calamity if left unaddressed.

Because such communities are often not included in social protection as provided by the government, nor in humanitarian assistance largely confined to refugee camps, reaching them in the present crisis will require new approaches from the humanitarian sector and its partners in government and civil society. These new approaches should be focused on building social protection infrastructure that is explicitly inclusive of displaced communities in cities. The IRC outlines several urgently needed steps to meet this crisis effectively:

  • Humanitarian agencies must increase funding specifically intended to reach displaced communities living in urban areas with urgent cash assistance;
  • Development donors should coordinate with national and municipal governments to facilitate precise and impactful last-mile delivery of inclusive social protection services within cities;
  • When necessary, host governments should adjust registration criteria so that displaced people are eligible to register for social protection programs;
  • Partnerships between government agencies and the private sector should facilitate access for displaced communities to financial and digital services.

“As policymakers and other key stakeholders respond to the surging cost of living around the world, it is crucial that they ensure displaced communities are not left behind,” said Priscilla Dembetembe, Project Director of the Re: Build program at the IRC. “The global cost of living crisis is widely felt but displaced people living in cities are particularly hard hit. We are calling for the strengthening of policies to be more inclusive and ensure that entire societies recover from this crisis.” 

To research this brief, the IRC and its partners interviewed clients enrolled in the Refugees in East Africa: Boosting Urban Innovations for Livelihoods Development (Re: Build) program. Re: Build is a partnership between the IRC and the IKEA Foundation focused on supporting 20,000 urban refugees and their host communities in Nairobi and Kampala. In speaking with these clients, IRC staff developed a clearer understanding of the challenges they face and the barriers making it even harder for them to weather the cost-of-living crisis.

Earlier this year, the IRC published an analysis and evaluation of refugee-related policies and legislation in Kenya and Uganda. This analysis was also informed by and centred on the perspectives of clients in the Re: Build program.

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