Dr Peter Mackie Discusses ‘Urban Refugees’ with Queen Anne’s Girls

Thursday 3rd October 2019

On Friday 27 September, our Lower Sixth Students, as well as our GCSE and A Level geography students, had the pleasure of welcoming Dr Peter Mackie to the School.


Dr Peter Mackie is a Senior Lecturer at Cardiff University in the School of Geography and Planning. His research mainly focuses on two themes: housing and homelessness in a developed world context, and urban livelihoods and the informal economy. With these two themes in mind, which are of such relevance in today’s global climate, Dr Mackie chose to share with our students a lecture about his research into urban refugees in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.



Dr Mackie opened his lecture by addressing the audience, and asking the question “What do you imagine when asked to describe a refugee?”

Some of our girls’ thoughts were things such as:

  • Forced to flee their country
  • Scared
  • Sleeping bags
  • Refugee camps
  • Surrounded by conflict
  • Separated from families
  • Poor living conditions


The next question Dr Mackie asked was “Where did you get these ideas from?” The answer was unanimous: from the media. The media has a high influence on the general public’s knowledge of refugees and what is known as the ‘refugee crisis’.


Dr Mackie also revealed that the number of refugees in the world at the end of 2018 was 25.4 million people! To give an idea of scale, Wales has a population of approximately 3 million people.


Although many of our students understood that the countries that most refugees are fleeing from are places such as Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan, not one person had expected the top three countries that take in the most refugees to be Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon.
Of the 25 million refugees in the world, around 2.9 million have been taken in by Turkey. Many of the audience expected western European countries to be the ones hosting the most refugees, as that is often what is portrayed through the media.


Another idea presented by the media that Dr Mackie revealed to be false, was the idea that most refugees live in camps. In fact, over 60% of the world’s refugees live in urban environments, such as cities.


As this fact is of particular interest to Dr Mackie and his research, he spoke about a study he led on urban refugees in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. There are an estimated 31,000 refugees in Addis Ababa. These refugees represent 21 nationalities and have differing levels of health, education and experience of the urban environment.



Ethiopia has one of the largest refugee populations in sub-Saharan Africa. The country has an open-door policy toward refugees. However, there are no specific provisions in Ethiopian law for refugee integration and there are considerable restrictions on refugee freedom of movement. Many refugees who enter the country are held in urban camps, and refugees are treated very differently depending on where they are originally from. There are high levels of unemployment and budget and resource constraints. These constraints make it incredibly hard for refugees to find work, and most who are employed are employed informally or illegally.



Image credit: Kate Dickenson



Dr Mackie gave an interesting example of how refugees in Ethiopia are treated incredibly unfairly, even when they bring great success to the country.
One of the most famous Ethiopian athletes of current times is Muktar Edris, who is widely known for beating Mo Farah in the men’s 5000 metres in 2017. His pacemaker, a man who runs even faster than Edris himself, was a refugee. When Muktar Edris’ fame increased, the fact that his pacemaker was a refugee reached the Ethiopian authorities, and he lost his job, and any future job opportunities.




Our students found this very unfair, as the pacemaker had a lot to offer the country. This initiated an insightful discussion of the benefits of refugees for their hosting countries.
Refuges can bring new skills and cultures into a country, can work jobs that many citizens do not want to work, and can bring more professional expertise into a country, for example, as doctors and teachers.


However, once again Dr Mackie reminded the audience of the influence of the media, and how it is affecting society’s perceptions of refugees. Our students themselves could think of examples of negative news stories they have heard about refugees, with crime, drugs and pressure on the NHS as a few examples.


Our girls left Dr Peter Mackie’s lecture with a more open mind, not just about refugees, but also about the diverse routes that studying geography can lead to. We’d like to give a huge thank you to Dr Mackie for giving such an insightful lecture to our students.


Queen Anne’s Current Affairs society will also be discussing the topic of ‘welcoming refugees’ over the next few weeks, as part of the issues presented on the Youth Parliament Ballot.


If you would like to read more about Dr Mackie’s study of urban refugees in Addis Ababa, you can do so here.



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