The Urban World is experiencing a significant acceleration in several dimensions of society, ecology, and technology (McPhearson et al., 2021). Urbanization needs to conceptualize beyond the city boundaries by exploring complex and interconnected interdependencies in regional key driving factors that can have telecoupling effects during sudden shocks. Spatial dynamics and population increase are the two significant indications of urbanization (e.g., Li et al., 2020; Pham et al., 2019). Refugee migration and their settlement increase both populations and a spatial dimension. Urbanization has both positive and negative impacts depending on the scale of urbanization (e.g., Li et al., 2020; Martínez et al., 2020; Pham et al., 2019). However, how do pocket-based (camps) settlement and their numbers impact urbanization and vice-versa?
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) reported that “every minute in 2018, 25 people were forced to flee” (UNHRC, 2018), and 90% of refugees are hosted in low- and middle-income countries (World Bank, 2018), experiencing economic, environmental, social and development difficulties (Leiterer et al., 2018; Thulstrup & Henry, 2015). Therefore, it is urgent to share the burden and responsibility for hosting countries and supporting the growing number of refugees equitably (UNHCR, 2019). However, the resettlement scheme adopted by UNHRC only for those refugees who are highly at risk in terms of life, liberty, safety, health, and fundamental human rights, and resettle to third countries (UNHRC, 2019). As a result, less than 1% of 20.7 million refugees worldwide are under UNHCR's recognition for resettlement (UNHCR, 2021).
Rohingya is a minority ethnic group living in the Rakhine State (named Arakan before 1990) in the Union of Myanmar (changed from Union of Burma in 1989) (Grundy-Warr & Wong, 1997; Islam, et al., 2021a). Currently (by 2021), Bangladesh holds more than one million Rohingya refugees who are not eligible for UNHCR's resettlement scheme. They are living in 36 camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in an inhuman condition. However, they share some common spaces, e.g., the marketplace and natural resources, e.g., land and forest products, with the host communities in Bangladesh.
Since the 8th and 9th centuries, Islam began to spread at the eastern bank of the Meghna River to Rakhine (currently in Myanmar). Culturally, the Rohingya are Muslims. There was 500 000 Muslim population registered in Myanmar out of 13 million in 1921 (Grundy-Warr & Wong, 1997). However, due to the geopolitical importance, Muslim migration from India, conversion to Islam, and Muslim birthrates the concentration of Rohingya in Rakhine increased. After independence from the British Empire on 4th January 1948, with the development of the military regime in 1962 inter- and intra-community hatred increased (Grundy-Warr & Wong, 1997). Since the late 1970s, the Rohingya population has been forced to cross the Myanmar-Bangladesh border with the intention of ethnic cleansing, brutal military, and civilian actions (Grundy-Warr & Wong, 1997), similar to Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s (Black, 2002), and what is an opposite direction (economic opportunity as pull factor) of migration scenarios in USA (Rodríguez-Pose & von Berlepsch, 2020). As the proximity to the potential shelter, they migrate mainly to Cox’s Bazar coast in Bangladesh (Fig. 1). There were 3 500 Rohingya in 1975, and 222 000 in 1978 emigrated to Cox’s Bazar, and a more sporadic Rohingya population continued to cross the border due to civic conflict-related insecurity (Grundy-Warr & Wong, 1997). Some of them have returned to Myanmar due to intergovernmental negotiation between Bangladesh and Myanmar, push-back action, and misconduct in refugee camps in Bangladesh (Grundy-Warr & Wong, 1997). Many of them mingled with the host community and migrated to third countries. In Bangladesh, nearly half a million Rohingya population registered in refugee camps till 2016, but a massive migration of 742 000 people happened in September-November 2017 (Islam et al. 2021a). More than one million Rohingya refugees live in 36 camps in Bangladesh.
Much literature can be found on Rohingya refugees, and their multiple challenges to the impoverished host communities. Some significant studies discuss refugee camp’s dependency on forest resources, Teknaf Wildlife Sanctuary, Himchari Nation Park and land-use change (Alam et al., 2015; Hassan et al., 2018; Imtiaz, 2018; Moslehuddin et al., 2017; Sakamoto & Tani, 2013), conversion and degradation, and socio-economic impacts(Khan et al., 2012; Rahman et al., 2014; Uddin & Khan, 2007) in this area. However, almost no literature can be found that has investigated the effect on urbanization. In contrast, more than one million refugees, their settlements, and socio-economic activities should significantly impact spatial dimensions on a local and regional scale.
This study aims to explore the spatial extent of urbanization in a regional level transition context, focusing on the newly built refugee camp in the eastern part of Bangladesh. The scope of the research is to (i) quantify the changes of the built-up area from 1985 to 2021, (ii) identify the population density over the study period using freely available open-source data sets, and (iii) qualify socio-economic impact, particularly in the housing sector, local business and other social indicators. Even though access to migration-related big data for robust research is challenging (Franklinos et al., 2020), an attempt to explore the relationship between refugee migration and urbanization is initiated.
Refugees’ settlement and urbanization
Refugees are immigrants forcefully entering a state/country without an official visa (Fábos & Kibreab, 2007). In developing countries, refugees are welcomed as temporary guests with almost no social support (as recommended in international refugee conventions) until the conditions of the home country become relaxed and they are expected to return home regardless of the duration of exile (Akar & Erdoğdu, 2019; Fábos & Kibreab, 2007). It is equally expected that refugees in many developed countries should return to their homes, particularly for the Bosnian refugees in European countries (Black, 2002). In developing countries, refugees often go to urban areas/cities and settle after finding essential living support and economic opportunities. It was the case in the African refugees in Sudan for better income and to hide their identity to avoid discrimination (Fábos & Kibreab, 2007). However, the states typically see this as competition with the host communities, e.g., for employment, healthcare, education, sanitation, and other services, which pose the restriction to the refugees not to go outside the predefined camps area without permission nor allowing ownership of properties. This is typically done by claiming security reasons and the control of criminal offenses (Fábos & Kibreab, 2007).
The Government of Bangladesh (GoB) adopted similar measures for the case of Rohingya. They are neither allowed to go outside the camp area nor have the right to be property owners and cannot marry the citizens in the host county (BBC, 2018). However, it would benefit both the refugees and the host country if they were trained and allowed to work in the host country with some regulation (Akar & Erdoğdu, 2019; Fábos & Kibreab, 2007); This is found in some developed countries (Fábos & Kibreab, 2007). The lead author visited several Syrian refugee camps in Sweden during 2015–2017, who migrated since 2011 following the Arab Spring and conducted a reconnaissance survey and an open-ended discussion. Three-, four-star hotels, summer resort housing were converted to camps where Syrian refugees lived at the beginning of their stay. They have been educated and trained and entered the job market. Simultaneously, the central government distributed the refugees among different municipalities with an expectation of integration. The local authorities made a massive investment in the housing sector to accommodate them with strategies of proportional mixing with the host communities for social integration (e.g., Bevelander & Luik, 2020; Bucken-Knapp et al., 2019). This leads to a considerable expansion of urbanization. Similar processes occurred in other developed nations, e.g., European countries, the USA, Canada (Bevelander & Luik, 2020; Bucken-Knapp et al., 2019).
On the other hand, ⁓95% out of 3.6 million Syrian refugees live in unprotected shelters in urban and peri-urban areas in Turkey with limited access to essential services (Akar & Erdoğdu, 2019). This puts pressure on the housing and health sector, and therefore house rental prices have increased greatly. Refugees’ settlement or camps development poses a regional urbanization process, grows population movement locally, regionally, and even globally, and develops the transnational space (Fábos & Kibreab, 2007). This is experienced in particularly developing host countries, e.g., Turkey, Bangladesh. UN agencies and more than 130 local, national and international NGOs are working and supporting the GoB to provide essential support for the survival of about one million Rohingya refugees (OCHA, 2020). Their dwellings are the part of the urban landscape.
It is also seen that some refugees never make return or have an opportunity for repatriation. Such phenomena are observed for Afghan refugees in Pakistan after escaping the Soviet Union invasion and impacting urbanization (Kronenfeld, 2008). Due to similar religious and cultural practices, refugees can easily escape the camps, mingle with the host community, and marry and settle there. It is also found in Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh since the 1970s; many mingle with the host community.
On the other hand, the Palestine refugees in Shu'fat in Northeast Jerusalem and the Kufr Aqab/Qalandia area between Jerusalem and Ramallah exhibit a complex power struggle between formal and informal states, freedom and colliding between them. However, it still plays a focal point in expanding urbanization in these areas and surroundings (Alkhalili, 2019). In fact, the refugees’ settlement or camps in developed and developing countries impact ongoing urbanization, both in spatial and socio-economic dimensions.