BEIRUT: The 15th edition of the American University of Beirut’s City Debates conference concluded Wednesday, with participants discussing refugee settlement as a potential force for urbanization.
“Displacement is not always a burden. ... Embedded in displacement are people’s energies and dreams and imaginations, and displacement can be an agent of urbanization,” said Howayda al-Harithy, professor of architecture and urban design at AUB, which organized the three-day event.
This year’s edition of the conference centered around the theme “Urban recovery at the intersection of displacement and reconstruction.” Scholars were invited to explore methods of urban reconstruction with regard to the displaced and challenge current notions of displaced communities.
Loren Landau from the University of Witwatersrand’s African Center for Migration and Society used his work on migrant communities in countries including South Africa, Mozambique and Kenya to argue that what might be thought of as a solution for the displaced, such as solidarity and integration, might actually be at odds with what it takes to survive in a city. “Marginalization, alienation and ongoing mobility can also be viewed as a sign of agency ... remaining invisible so that they can negotiate a system that would be hostile toward them,” Landau said.
He added that “the ways we tend to organize refugees and displaced people is to organize them as a displaced community rather than to think about the multiple solidarities that they might form or the need to remain invisible and try to engage in multiple processes outside the realm of state views.”
According to U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, conflict displaced a record number of 3 million in 2017 with the total number worldwide reaching 68.5 million by the end of that year.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 04, 2019, on page 3.