In recent work with the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement (UN-HLP), JIPS together with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and UN-Habitat highlighted the specific challenges and opportunities that characterise urban displacement and the need to rethink our response (Nunez-Ferrera et al., 2020). Their work reiterated the call for a paradigm shift in addressing urban response and displacement, put forward by global policy debates – from the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit to initiatives such as the Localisation Agenda of the Grand Bargain, the New Way of Working, the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus, and most recently echoed by the UN-HLP (UN-HLP, 2021, p.13, 28). They converge around global-level priorities, that are pointed out as being specifically relevant in urban settings: i) the centrality of local governments in responding to urban displacement; ii) the need for more integrated emergency and development interventions that support urban systems; and iii) the importance of investing in durable solutions for internally displaced, while considering the social cohesion of local communities (UN-Habitat et al., 2021; UN-HLP, 2021).
Effectively addressing displacement in urban areas requires a shared understanding of the systems, forces and actors shaping the complex urban environment. It also necessitates an analysis of the vulnerabilities and socioeconomic conditions of displacement-affected and host populations, their intentions and the factors shaping their integration. This is key “to arrive at a more evidence-based, strategic and contextualized humanitarian and development response to crisis” that can both address acute needs and accelerate recovery, while taking long-term impact into account (GAUC, 2019, p.7).
Urban profiling is being highlighted as a particularly well-suited approach for analysing displacement in a holistic way within the context of systems that organise a city (GAUC, 2019, p.5) and is thus expected to effectively deliver on the above-mentioned global-level priorities. Nevertheless, as stressed by the Global Alliance for Urban Crisis and JIPS, there is currently a critical knowledge gap on how urban profiling is used by stakeholders and what impact it can have. A clearer picture of both can contribute to its wider use and improved implementation (GAUC, 2019; Loose & Maguire, 2020).
To address this gap, and in line with its strategic efforts to link field practice with global policy, JIPS conducted research on the use of urban profiling, and on the pathways that link it to global priorities for urban displacement response. Building on the work that fed directly into the UN-HLP’s final report, the analysis draws on profiling exercises that JIPS has supported in Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq (2015-2016), Mogadishu, Somalia (2015-2016), 21 cities in Syria (2018-2019), 7 cities in Yemen (2018-2019), and in Luhansk Oblast, Ukraine (2019-2020). A desk review was combined with semi-structured key informant interviews to put the views of local authority representatives and development practitioners front and centre. While its limited scope does not allow for broad generalisations, the research findings can shape a more impactful design and implementation of urban profiling, and enhance the practice of local and international actors working on analysis of displacement and response in cities.