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Sanctuary in the city? Urban displacement and vulnerability in Kabul

Research reports

Written by Victoria Metcalfe-Hough

While a number of studies in recent years have sought to analyse urban livelihoods and governance, little is known about how displaced people negotiate their way in the urban environment, their relationships with host communities and governance institutions and their specific vulnerabilities as compared with other urban poor. Likewise, the role of humanitarian and development actors in supporting these populations, and the strategies and approaches best suited to address the assistance and protection needs of urban IDPs, are poorly understood.

This study explores the phenomenon of displacement in the urban environment and the implications and challenges it poses for humanitarian action in Kabul, Afghanistan.

This study is part of a series of studies on urban displacement, which so far has included case studies on Nairobi, Yei (South Sudan), Damascus, and Amman, Jordan. On the basis of a review of the literature and consultations with a wide range of stakeholders, this study sought to test a number of hypotheses:

  1. In addition to the structural problems that all urban poor face, displaced populations in urban areas face threats specifically related to their situation, which place them in a more vulnerable position than their counterparts living in camps or the wider urban poor.
  2. Displaced populations in urban areas are often beyond the reach of humanitarian agencies and outside formal assistance structures. Displacement in urban areas represents a growing humanitarian problem and current humanitarian approaches and responses are not geared to addressing this complex issue.
  3. Displaced people place significant stress on limited local resources and increase poverty levels among host communities. Displacement is therefore seen as a proxy for investigating vulnerabilities and risks for the community as a whole.

The findings of this study indicate that the vast majority of Kabul’s urban poor have been displaced at one time or another during their lifetime. The findings of this study also indicate that the drivers of vulnerability amongst Kabul’s urban poor, including displaced populations, are complex and relate to a wide range of social, political, ethnic, cultural and other factors.

Victoria Metcalfe and Simone Haysom, with Ellen Martin