Jesuit Refugee Service, one of the few organizations to assist refugees in urban settings worldwide, has long recognized the severe state of neglect of urban refugees, and has tried to address these needs. Through advocacy to UNHCR and local authorities, direct assistance with food, housing and medical expenses, education, livelihood projects, and counseling and referral services, JRS addresses the broad spectrum of needs of urban refugees.
In many countries hosting large displaced populations, refugees are tolerated only if they consent to live in camps designated by the government. These may be open camps, which refugees can come and go more or less freely, or closed camps, where refugees are confined by physical or legal barriers.
Camp life can be harsh, characterized by poor standards of housing, sanitation, lack of adequate food, water, and medical facilities, a lack of security and, perhaps worst of all, enforced idleness and dependency. Refugees who chose not to live in camps or who fear to do so may be treated like escaped prisoners: subject to arrest, detention, forced return or even deportation. Even under more lenient regimes, refugees who do not live in camps are usually at best ignored, and are subject to neglect and exploitation. In those refugee hosting countries that have not established refugee camps, refugees typically subsist on the margins of society: tolerated, perhaps, as a source of cheap labor, but lacking access to legal status, legal employment, medical care, education and social services.