Improving Information and Communication to Boost Inclusion and Self-reliance for Urban Refugees

Laura Buffoni and Gail Hopkins

Forced Migration Review, Issue 63, February 2020


A major obstacle to urban refugees’ self-reliance is that information and refugees do not easily ‘find’ each other. Refugees can become isolated and ‘lost’ in the urban environment, partly because they relocate frequently, making contact difficult to maintain, and partly because they join impoverished, forgotten local communities at the city’s margins. This causes barriers to inclusion and creates a ‘hard-to-reach’ population.

A community-led assessment of information and communication needs piloted by UNHCR in Eastleigh, Nairobi between January and April 2019 and co-designed with a small group of urban refugees revealed:

  • Refugees felt that they had few mechanisms to provide feedback to UNHCR and partners, and wanted a two-way information flow similar to what is more easily sustained in camps.
  • Refugees lacked information on available local services (how to access food, medical care, training, education and employment) and where to obtain help after an attack or harassment. This was often due to illiteracy, or posters in the wrong languages or in places not frequented by refugees.
  • Refugees requested local, centralized information points for information on the location and source of services.
  • Refugees suggested formalizing NGO-trained community counselors through paid employment and certification, which could facilitate a two-way information flow.
  • Refugees are not often able or permitted to use social centers or local resources designed for Kenyans.
  • Specific needs highlighted by the respondents included medical services, access to UNHCR, resettlement and employment.