The refugee camp is now seen by international organizations and many governments as ineffective and even harmful to refugee populations. The institutional shift away from refugee camps has occurred in a context in which increasing numbers of refugees are located outside of camps and in urban areas. “Urban refugees” are the norm and not the exception. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was founded to assist refugees, defined by the 1951 UNHCR Convention, primarily displaced by war or persecution. But UNHCR, and other relief agencies, have been slow, and at times reluctant, to engage with and respond to the complexities of refugee protection in urban contexts. Refugees and the displaced, however, have been active in finding measures to address their unsettlement.
The transformation in the spatial strategies to attend to the needs of unsettled populations by governments and international organizations (and of course the unsettled population themselves) are under-examined. Unsettlement is a book project, with contributions from architects, social scientists and urbanists, that proposes to address this lacuna. The volume examines the broad range of “unsettled” sites through selected case studies. This exploration will be framed by two poles of social and physical taxonomy that respond to unsettlement. The first of these poles is the bounded and so-called zone of exception, the refugee camp. The second is the unsettled person finding refuge through individuated interventions into the urban fabric.
Unsettlement will concentrate on thematic issues including socio-political and economic life, infrastructure, the quality of the built environment and the temporality of these spatial responses to the condition of unsettlement. This examination will include an analytical investigation into refugee camps as both a zone of exception but also increasingly, as the global urban footprint has expanded, its integration into the city (Lebanon – Bourj Hammoud vis-à-vis Nahr El-Bared, Kenya – Dadaab). It will also look at institutional responses beyond the camp, including short term sites in host countries (Tempelhof) and more formalized “permanent” strategies (Swedish new towns and the Parisian banlieue). To what extent, we ask, is the new town or the banlieue different and distinct from a camp? Contributions focus on “user” developed situations and the invisible distributions of unsettled population into existing urban fabrics (i.e. in Beirut and Detroit).