Syrian refugee Ayman in front his tent with his child

Building the self-reliance of refugees and host communities

Reflections from the UNHCR Global Refugee Forum

By Richard Rumsey

As a father of four children, I find it hard to imagine what it would feel like to not be able to provide financially for my children, and be displaced from our home where the children have stability, food, shelter and importantly education.

These thoughts went through my mind as I attended the world’s first ever Global Refugee Forum hosted by UNHCR in Geneva, and was struck by the significant commitments from governments around the world to find lasting solutions for the multitude of refugees globally – 52% of whom are children. 

Enhancing the self-reliance of refugees is the second priority in the Global Compact for Refugees approved by the nations of the world on 17 December 2018. At its heart, the compact is all about helping families to thrive and integrate, and not just survive for years on end living on handouts from the humanitarian system. Working for a child-focussed organisation highlights the need for self-reliance even more when considering the sheer numbers of vulnerable displaced children who are in acute need of parents or carers who can provide for them financially and emotionally.

Partnership is vital

One thing that became very clear to me whilst listening to policymakers debating who was responsible for refugees and the associated costs, was that solutions need to be found through multi-stakeholder partnerships between government, private sector and civil society. All of us must work together towards lasting solutions for refugee children and families. Never has there been a greater need for us to join forces towards a common aim.

Secondly, it became clear that we have to find solutions to bridge the “artificial gap” between humanitarian relief, long-term development, and protection of vulnerable children and adults. This is being commonly referred to as the “triple nexus”. Everyone recognises that there remains a very evident and often acute need to provide refugee children, especially, with lifesaving relief assistance to provide a food, cash, and shelter safety net to meet their families’ basic needs. Conversely, it is also clear that relief assistance alone is not sufficient given the average time that displaced people are forced to remain refugees can now range between five to ten years, in many cases more. This is causing us to all look at longer-term economic solutions that build self-reliance – effectively applying a development lens into a humanitarian context. Last, but not least, is the need to provide social protection for those especially vulnerable groups to ensure that children and vulnerable adults are not being exploited or abused and ensuring children have access to education other public services.

Help refugees contribute

The third point I would like to make is regarding the burden of responsibility to care for and accommodate refugees in host countries or communities. We know from experience that host communities often feel that refugees are getting better services and more opportunities, and are, in fact, stretching resources more thinly for the host country and their people. This can and does lead to further conflict and social dislocation for both the host community and the refugee population.  Solutions need to be found that address the real challenges faced by host communities. It was deeply encouraging to hear the leadership of the Ugandan and Ethiopian governments on their policies to integrate refugees into host communities by offering access to land, work and social services. The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, poignantly noted that the generosity of refugee hosting countries is frequently not commensurate with the wealth of those countries when it comes to opening their doors to refugees.    


How World Vision is driving solutions for refugee self-reliance

In response to the challenges outlined above, World Vision is working with the Refugee Poverty Alleviation Coalition, a multi-stakeholder partnership between UNHCR, The World Bank Partnership for Economic Inclusion (PEI) and 13 other non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The coalition has a bold vision of increasing self-reliance, economic and social inclusion of 500,000 refugees and host community households by sustainably increasing income-earning opportunities across 35 in the coming five years. The coalition is using the Graduation Approach, which has been proven to sustainably increase income-earning potential of poor vulnerable households with lasting social and economic benefits.

At the Global Refugee Forum, the Coalition pledged to implement programmes using the Graduation Approach with 160,000 households in 26 countries by 2023. Partial funding has been secured and further funding is being sought to implement the pledge. This includes pledges to provide technical assistance and conduct research into the Graduation Approach and refugee poverty alleviation.

World Vision invites donors, policymakers and the wider international community to align polices and allocate resources towards programmes that promote self-reliance through multi-stakeholder partnerships addressing the bridge between the humanitarian, development, protection nexus for refugees. World Vision’s longer term aim is to support 138,000 refugees and host community households across nine countries at a cost of USD $161 million. World Vision will be scaling up programmes to support the self-reliance of refugee communities in partnership with other Coalition members in the following countries: Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Bangladesh. 

We encourage others to join us on this journey to bring lasting benefits for millions of displaced children.


Richard is World Vision's Global Sector Lead for Livelihoods - follow Richard on Twitter @Rumsey_WVision