Earlier this spring, I was invited to participate in the launch of Pathways for Peace, an important study jointly developed by the UN and World Bank. Based on extensive research of what has ‘worked’ in different countries, the study sets out recommendations for how development processes can better interact with security, diplomacy, mediation, and other efforts to prevent conflicts from becoming violent. Addressing exclusion, including of women and youth, is central to these efforts.
But is it true? Not so.
In fact, the "17 year" statistic comes from a 2004 internal UNHCR report, and it was accompanied by many caveats which have been lost along the way. The statistic does not refer to camps, since the overwhelming majority of refugees live outside camps. It is limited to situations of five years or more, so it is an average duration of the longest situations, not of all situations. Most importantly, it refers to the duration of situations, not to the time people have stayed in exile.
Take the situation of Somali refugees in Kenya. Refugees started to arrive massively around 1993, about 23 years ago. Their number now stands at 418,000. But can we say that all 418,000 have been in exile for 23 years?
In fact, . As we see in Figure 1, numbers vary every year: they reflect political and military developments in the country of origin. In fact, a large part of the current total could not have arrived before 2008, i.e. about 6 or 7 years ago.
Figure 1 Number of Somali refugees in Kenya (UNHCR data)
Along these lines, and using data published by UNHCR as of end-2015, we re-calculated the earliest date at which various cohorts of refugees could have arrived in each situation (see working paper). We then aggregated all situations into a single "global refugee population" and calculated global averages and median durations.
So what are the results?
When we look at the "global refugee population" (See Figure 2), we can now distinguish several distinct episodes of displacement.
Figure 2 Number of refugees by year of exile
There is a large cohort of about 8.9 million "recent refugees," who arrived over the last four years. This includes about 4.8 million Syrians, as well as people fleeing from South Sudan (0.7 million), Afghanistan (0.3 million), Ukraine (0.3 million), the Central African Republic (0.3 million), and Pakistan (0.2 million).
Another large cohort, of about 2.2 million, has spent between 5 and 9 years in exile. It includes refugees from Afghanistan (0.5 million), the bulk of the current Somali refugees (0.4 million), and people fleeing from Colombia (0.3 million) and Myanmar (0.2 million).
About 2 million people have been in exile between 10 and 34 years. This includes years during which numbers are relatively low, and two episodes where they are higher, around 14 years ago, with the arrival of about 0.2 million Sudanese refugees, and around 24 and 25 years ago, with the arrival of about 0.1 million Somalis and 0.1 million Eritreans.
Lastly, a large group of refugees has been in exile for 35 to 37 years: these 2.2 million refugees include mainly Afghans, but also about 0.3 million ethnic Chinese who fled into China during the 1979 war with Vietnam. Finally, there are few very protracted situations, up to 55 years, including mainly Western Sahara.
We can now turn to average durations. As of end-2015, the median duration of exile stands at 4 years, i.e. half of the refugees worldwide have spent 4 years or less in exile. The median has fluctuated widely since the end of the Cold War, in 1991, between 4 and 14 years, and it is now at a historical low. By contrast, the mean duration stands at 10.3 years, and has been relatively stable since the late 1990s, between 10 and 15 years.
But this leads to another important finding: trends can be counter-intuitive. In fact, a decline in the average duration of exile is typically not an improvement, but rather the consequence of a degradation of the global situation. The averages increase in years when there are relatively few new refugees, and they drop when large numbers of people flow in, for example in 1993-1994 (with conflicts in Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda), in 1997-1999 (with conflicts in DRC and other parts of Africa), after 2003 (with conflict in Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan), and since 2013 (with the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic).
We also looked at the number of people who have spent more than five years in exile. As of end-2015, this number stands at 6.6 million, and it has been remarkably stable since 1991, at 5 to 7 million throughout most of the period. For this group, however, the average duration of exile increases over time – largely because of the unresolved situation of Afghan refugees which pushes averages up. It is now well over 20 years.
This short analysis of UNHCR data shows that . It is important to ensure that this debate is informed by evidence, which can help provide a more nuanced perspective of a complex issue.
- fragile and conflict affected states
- Research and Publications
- Sustainable Communities
- host communities
- Refugee Camps
- refugee crisis
- forced displacement
- Migration and Remittances
- South Asia
- Middle East and North Africa
- South Sudan
A visit to Obock town in Djibouti brought to fore another stark reality but this time at the regional level of the Horn of Africa (HOA). In 2015 nearly 100,000 people – nationals from the different HOA countries and inhabitants of refugee camps in the region – had traversed the harsh Djiboutian terrain, where deaths by dehydration is common, to reach Obock. The town is considered the gateway to Middle Eastern countries with Yemen being the first and closest destination.
Consultations with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), local government staff, local community members and migrants themselves, revealed to us that despite the conflict in Yemen and the reverse movement of people into Djibouti, there wasn’t a significant drop in the number of youth attempting the onward journey. The only thing that had changed was the time it took for these migrants to leave the Djiboutian shores for Yemen – the increased cost of the boat ride across the Bab el Mandeb Strait linking the Horn of Africa to the Arabian Peninsula – had resulted in migrants working odd jobs in Obock to put together this additional money.
A visit to IOM’s Migration Response Center brought us face to face with a number of migrants. Some were undergoing medical treatment for injuries sustained and/or diseases contracted either during the journey to Djibouti, or while in Yemen and caught in the conflict. Over 3,300 African migrants have died since 2006, through unsuccessful efforts at crossing into Yemen across treacherous waters. Others were awaiting the processing of their papers to be sent back to countries and communities of their origin. There was essentially an assemblage of battered bodies and broken spirits.
These movements within and through Djibouti, regardless of whether it is considered forced displacement as the result of conflict and persecution, or migration have more commonalities than differences in terms of costs – the hardships faced by those attempting these movements; the vulnerability to physical, sexual and psychological exploitation; trauma, disease and death; and shattered dreams and broken spirits. The commonalities also extend to solutions – investments in countries and regions to enhance opportunities for social and economic well-being for local communities, especially the youth, and efforts to enhance skills and competencies to enable safer and facilitated migration to mitigate the vulnerability.
The specific case of Djibouti, that is one among many others, therefore exemplifies the crossing of and even the merging of forced displacement and migration paths over time. The motivation for the refugees and migrants to move, and routes used are similar, with refugees from Ali Addeh becoming economic migrants by moving out of Djibouti, their first country of asylum.
These realities from the ground demand a pause and reflection on what sustainable and durable solutions can be proposed, as we work to strengthen collaboration between development partners, humanitarian agencies, country governments and regional organizations.
In the previous blog, we wrote about some essential features of a development response to forced displacement, which is the first question that we confronted in preparing a project to support the Horn of Africa (HOA) region address the impacts of protracted refugee presence.
We are just starting work on this Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP) in the HOA, informed by our understanding documented in the joint World Bank-UNHCR Forced Displacement and Mixed Migration report. As we move forward, we are gaining useful insights on coordinating the humanitarian-development response.
. The refugees reside in 23 refugee camps located in the five National Regional States of Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambela, Tigrai, and Ethiopian Somali in 16 Woredas and 15 kebeles. The environmental impact of the refugee presence, stemming from fuelwood and construction timber needs, extends across 117 kebeles.
Project preparation took us to the Sherkole refugee camp in Benishangul-Gumuz and the Asaiyta refugee camp in Afar National Regional States. Through interactions with local host communities, refugees, woreda and kebele officials, Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA -- Government of Ethiopia’s refugee agency), and UNHCR field staff and local NGOs, we learned, for example, that both host and refugee communities wanted accessible secondary and high school education for their children; had to travel long distances, as much as 60 kilometers, if they needed a surgical intervention; and spent more time each day traveling to meet their fuel wood needs due to receding tree cover.
However, discussions also revealed that the planning processes for the multi-agency refugee response (often led by ARRA and UNHCR in Ethiopia) and the development planning led by national and local government entities were essentially two separate processes – the former focusing primarily on refugees, and the latter on host communities. Both were functioning under a budget and capacity constraint.
The reality was that refugee children in Asaiyta who did not have access to high school in the camp attended the high school run by the government, and refugee women sought medical care at the local government hospital when the primary health centre was ill-equipped to address the problem.
For Sherkole, UNCHR was planning to establish a high school which could potentially support both refugees and host communities, as the existing high school was oversubscribed. But the conversation had not happened yet on how best to complement an existing high school so that both host and refugee children would be able to save time currently spent on walking to school and avoid the discomfort of sitting in congested classrooms.
These realities led us to better focus on value for money of investments – efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability – and a potential tool for planning which could bring the government and UNHCR as well as NGOs that operate in these areas to exchange information and coordinate better their existing, ongoing and planned investments in service delivery.
Our experience in the Horn of Africa shows that area-based and inclusive planning has the following elements that would increase efficiency, effectiveness, and sustainability:
- Both hosts and refugees are participants in the planning process and enabled to share their priorities, challenges and proposals;
- Break the silos of planning and consider the needs of both host and refugee communities while planning an intervention irrespective of who was initiating the intervention;
- Given that government would be the long-term custodian of the infrastructure and services, it was critical that all facilities created in an administrative area are recorded on government books and budgetary provisions made by local governments for operations and maintenance with contributions also coming in from the UNHCR;
- Service delivery norms for basic social services are adhered to in terms of population served, irrespective of how many were local and refugees, in deciding the level of service provision (health clinic, primary health centre, or hospital) based on what was already available; and
- Ensuring parity in qualification and remuneration of staff to ensure both UNCHR and government facilities are staffed and functional.
Some may argue that area based and inclusive planning is not new and offers an opportunity for intersectoral planning focused upon spatial or locational investment decisions, and that this is key to designing solutions to address problems and achieve functional integration between sectors. However, translating this concept into practice on the ground is the challenge, which all stakeholders are likely to face in the displacement context given their individual mandates and narrow beneficiary focus.
The DRDIP preparation process has however convinced us of the commitment of all concerned to stay focused on the beneficiaries and their needs, ensuring value for money through optimum utilization of limited capacities and resources. Some of the regions e.g. Afar and Ethiopian Somali where the project will be implemented already have experience in an area based planning approach that has been developed and implemented under the World Bank financed Pastoral Community Development Project (PCDP). What is different is the context and the prevalent practice. A very encouraging beginning indeed and a long journey ahead.
- Forced displacement due to war, conflict, and persecution;
- Involuntary migration due to poverty, erosion of livelihoods, or climate change impacts that have destroyed and degraded life support systems; and/or even
- Voluntary migration of indomitable spirits unable to reconcile with the status quo and seeking better social and economic opportunities.
To better understand forced displacement, I led a joint World Bank-UNHCR team that brought out the Forced Displacement and Mixed Migration Report for the Horn of Africa (HOA) – a region with an estimated 242 million inhabitants that includes eight countries (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda), which collectively host more than 9.5 million displaced persons, including more than 6.5 million internally displaced persons and approximately 3 million refugees.