When Sonia Ben Ali, URBAN REFUGEES Co-Founder, began working with displaced people, their stories of uprooting reminded her of the stories she heard from her father, who left his home in Tunisia and never returned. She knew then that she wanted to dedicate herself to working with forcibly displaced people. After witnessing the dire conditions in refugee camps in the Middle East, Sonia visited a refugee detention center in Lebanon. It was a dark, underground parking garage with men and women in crowded cells who hadn’t seen daylight in months. Their only crime was fleeing conflict at home, and choosing to avoid the bleak reality of refugee camps. During that visit, Sonia realized that no one knew these people were in detention except their community members. In a humanitarian system that focuses on camps, urban refugees are invisible. In that moment, Sonia decided to devote her work to supporting urban refugees.
David Delvallé is a creative, and had spent his professional life working as a designer for creative agencies; his job was to find solutions to a spectrum of challenges. David had long been moved by the plight of refugees, and when he met Sonia, they soon realized their shared passion. The realities of urban refugees are unique–and largely invisible to a humanitarian system that relies on camps to access those in need. With Sonia and David’s mutual inspiration to make a difference for this growing community of refugees around the world, URBAN REFUGEES was born.
Today, the organization is an international NGO, with branches in Paris and New York City, a growing network of over 80 organizations from over 40 countries around the world, and a series of successful projects supported by a dedicated global staff. Our approach is simple: we believe no one can see the path beyond a crisis better than those at the heart of it. We work directly with refugee leaders to enhance their capacity to serve their communities and achieve long-term sustainability.
The pilot project for the URBAN REFUGEES Incubator, the centerpiece of our work with refugee communities, was successfully launched and completed in 2017, followed by two additional collaborations with refugee communities in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Today, our team is gearing up for a series of partnerships with refugee communities in Uganda.
By advocating for increased international focus on urban refugees and reinforcing the support structure on the ground, our team operates from the truth that sustainable solutions to the global crisis are possible—and the seeds of these solutions are finding root in refugee communities around the world.
Solutions are possible. We work with refugees to realize them.
“Surviving the journey of exile requires incredible resilience, and I feel grateful every day to be creating change with such inspiring people.”
— Sonia Ben Ali