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Who is secure? What does it mean to be safe if you are a refugee, migrant or poor?

September 26, 2015


One question that can always be asked when analyzing the nature and extent of security available to the poor and the destitute living in the slums of most large cities is, from whom are they to be secure; other residents, outsiders or those ostensibly entrusted with providing that security?

Perhaps even more fundamental is the issue of security from what; violence, hopelessness, sickness, fear or something else? In many, if not all cases, these questions are answered best, not by which physical security system the community adopts but rather its ability to grasp control of the means to secure its own protection.
In many urban areas, this high level of violence, drugs, and crime falls most heavily upon the poor. The overcrowding and social dislocation experienced in these impoverished communities are a catalyst for some of their most common difficulties. Problems, such as poor housing and infrastructure, improper waste removal and drainage systems, lack of clean water supply and abundant diseases, contribute to the plight of the residents, exacerbate hopelessness felt by them and contribute greatly to those communities susceptibility to the plague of crime and violence.

The United Nations Seventh Congress on Criminal Justice in a Changing World indicated that there is a statistical relationship between crime rates and migration of the poor into urban areas where the exigencies of survival in their current environment shred whatever sense of community they belonged to in the past

There are many proposed solutions to the lack of security experienced by members of the migrant refugee or poor settlements in existing urban communities. Most of them attempt to address high crime rates by focusing on helping individuals gain the resources to enable them to leave the slums with their endemic crime and poverty behind. For example, the Urban Neighbors of Hope (UNOH) primarily provides support to assist children in the hopes that through education some of them can rise above the despair and poverty, leave it behind and take their place in the wider world.

Some, however, believe that amelioration of the crime problem in these informal communities is a matter of more and better policing. Usually, the government and the existing police rely most heavily on this approach.

Others promote providing and enhancing infrastructure and health programs to the community. They believe that these programs could turn the tide of despair and violence.

No doubt each approach needs to be part of the whole. Nevertheless, without community building, including upgraded housing and community managed and designed public spaces, it seems clear that settlements of refugees, migrants and of the poor will remain breeding grounds for crime and the security for the residents deficient.

While there are a number of community building organizations at work in these neighborhoods in most cities, none seems to have crime suppression as a major or primary goal. Perhaps this is a function of the ubiquitous nature of the national police system in most countries. On the other hand, it also may be the endemic lack of the basic elements of a sense of community that stunts the growth of this essential indication of a vigorous self-assured and secure populace.

From → Commentary

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