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August 2016

Are progressive refugee laws sufficient to ensure self-reliance for refugees? Insights from Uganda

Varalakshmi Vemuru's picture
Uganda’s refugee laws are among the most progressive in the world. As the third largest host country in Africa with over 568,000 refugees, Uganda’s approach of giving refugees the right to work, freedom of movement and access to social services among others, has allowed refugees to positively contribute to their own and Uganda’s economic and social development. To understand better the economic impacts of these progressive policies, the World Bank along with UNHCR and Government of Uganda undertook a study on Uganda’s Progressive Approach to Refugee Management
 
We observed that over 78 percent of refugees in rural settlements, where they receive agricultural land, are engaged in agricultural activities compared to 5 percent in urban areas. Crop surpluses attract Ugandan traders to the refugee settlements, operating as a direct supply chain for sale of agriculture produce but also supply of agriculture inputs like fertilizers and seeds.
 
Refugee farmer in Nakivale settlement area, Uganda   (Photo: UNHCR)


However, about 66 percent of respondents reported that local traders use faulty scales when weighing produce, which shortchanges them. Seventy percent decried the extremely low prices offered by local traders for produce, with implications for the ability and timing of refugees to become self-reliant. This was made worse by the significant losses in quality and quantity of agriculture produce due to poor harvest handling techniques and inadequate storage facilities, and surpluses were sold immediately after harvest at the lowest point in the price cycle. This shows that while refugees have land to cultivate, they are unable to realize the potential due to lack of technical, infrastructural and marketing support, contributing to food insecurity and under nutrition among smallholder farming refugee families, especially during lean seasons.
 
Business enterprises such as bars, hair dressing, milling, transportation, money transfers, and retail are run by refugees. Twenty-eight percent of female refugees are involved in agriculture, trade, or are self-employed; their participation in the formal sector is low—only 9 percent. Initiatives such as Community Savings Groups and women savings and credit groups have provided female refugees with seed money to start businesses. There is reportedly some level of gender discrimination with respect to access to land, credit, employment, and self-employment opportunities.  
 
We observed that almost 43 percent of the refugees are actively engaged in the labor market of their host communities: 12 percent in the formal sector and 31 percent self-employed. However, refugees expressed constraints accessing formal employment both in urban areas and rural settlements, relating to unfamiliarity with the language, legal issues, poor interview skills, discrimination, and a lack of relevant documents. Refugees are mainly engaged in occupations that provide little income, social protection, or job security.
 
Refugee settlement areas have attracted the attention of Ugandan private enterprises, such as the Ugandan telecom companies, which launched several initiatives aimed at targeting refugee users of SMS banking and transfer services. For example, Orange Uganda Limited, a provider of telecommunication and Internet services in Uganda, invested in a large radio tower in the Nakivale settlement to promote its "Orange money" services. In Rwamwanja and Adjumani, a number of refugees operate as mobile money unit agents providing employment for them, while facilitating other refugees in accessing remittances from their relatives and friends within or outside the country. This mobile money is hugely helpful to refugees trying to meet expenses, including school fees for their children.
 
But in Uganda, and across the rest of the Horn of Africa, refugee camps and settlements are located in areas where the host communities are among the most underserved, with significant development deficits of their own. The majority of refugee settlements in Uganda are in the relatively stable north, though it has communities still in a state of latent conflict, driven by new and long-standing grievances, poverty, perception of marginalization, competition over national resources, and societal fracture as legacies of decades of violent conflict. The region also has high levels of poverty and youth unemployment which poses challenges to refugee efforts at self-reliance.
 
This got us thinking about a couple of important questions: "Are progressive refugee laws and policies sufficient to ensure self-reliance for refugees? What insights does this provide to the range of organizations including UNHCR and NGOs engaged in advocacy efforts aimed at more progressive refugee laws and policies?"
 
We believe that progressive refugee laws that guarantee freedom of movement and right to work and own property are critical for economic self-reliance of refugees, without which it would be an impossibility. However, the Ugandan experience also tells us that while refugees have engaged in economic activities and employment, they haven’t all achieved self-reliance and many remain aid dependent. For us an important learning is that only when progressive refugee laws are complemented by significant developmental investments in the host communities can refugees have a real shot at self-reliance, benefitting from the attendant reduction in poverty, increase in quality of basic services, better infrastructure and economic opportunities.
 
We see a huge opportunity in Uganda with the recent government-led efforts to address the development challenges of settlements that are home to locals and refugees with the inclusion of the Settlement Transformative Agenda (STA) as part of National Development Plan II (NDP II 2015/16–2019/20). The STA aims to promote social and economic development in the refugee hosting areas for both locals and refugee communities in partnership with the UN agencies in Uganda, the World Bank and other stakeholders. The World Bank is supporting this effort through the Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP) in Uganda, which will help improve access to basic social services, expand economic opportunities, and enhance environmental management for communities hosting refugees in Adjumani, Arua, Isingiro and Kyriandongo districts.
 

Experience from the Horn of Africa: Using area-based and inclusive planning to coordinate the humanitarian-development response to forced displacement

Varalakshmi Vemuru's picture

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.
 
Among the countries of the HOA, which have been hosting refugees for a long time now, Ethiopia hosts the largest number of refugees. 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.

Classroom in Nakivale, Uganda (Photo: UNHCR)

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: What can the development community contribute to supporting displaced persons and host communities?

Varalakshmi Vemuru's picture
Also available in: Español
Every day we are confronted with new images of people making a desperate bid to escape their living conditions and countries against treacherous and unforgiving odds. Globally, there is a number of situations that are contributing to this unprecedented movement of people, including:
  • 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.

Time to think differently: How to help the internally displaced in Georgia

Ewa Sobczynska's picture
In the early 1990s and 2008, secessionist conflicts led to the internal displacement of 6 percent of Georgia’s population, making it one of the countries with highest incidences of internal displacement.
 
We tend to think that the displaced will be able to go home soon, but in reality, they remain displaced for years. A total of 246,974 men, women and children from the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are still unable to return, now living in the capital city of Tbilisi and in smaller urban and rural areas close to their regions of origin.
 
Mother and baby
Mother and baby in Tbilisi. (Photo: World Bank)

After more than 25 years since the first wave of displacement, Georgia’s internally displaced are a diverse group. Some live in independent private housing, are employed and have managed to provide good education to their children. Others continue to live in collective centers, are spatially and socially isolated from the rest of the population, and have been chronically poor and unemployed since they became displaced.

While meeting the immediate needs of the displaced is important at the outset, such changes over time suggest that we need to think differently about how better to support them in the long term.
 
One example is the monthly benefit of 45 Lari (approximately 20 USD) provided to all internally displaced citizens by the Georgian government, regardless of their levels of poverty or employment. Some of the country’s poor, who have not been displaced, have begun to question this benefit.
 
After all, why should someone who is not poor, receive such support?
 
In 2014, the Government of Georgia asked the World Bank to study this question. Should the benefit for the internally displaced be adjusted, and what are the implications, including social and poverty impacts? Here are some of the main observations from the report, Transitioning from Status to Needs Based Assistance for IDPs: A Poverty and Social Impact Analysis, which our team prepared: 
  • Georgia’s displaced and non-displaced are equally likely to be poor. However, the displaced tend to rely on social transfers, remittances, and informal jobs, and are more likely to be unemployed for long periods of time. Those in rural area have significantly less information, opportunities for employment, or access to good quality education and services.
  • Those who still live in non-renovated, public collective centers experience inadequate living conditions. These households are often socially isolated, separated from friends and family and unable to form ties in uncertain housing conditions. Regardless of income, these households remain extremely vulnerable.
  • The displacement "status," – i.e., formal recognition of having been displaced from a conflict area – has a strong symbolic and political value among the entire Georgian population. To the displaced it signifies hope of returning to their homeland. To others it signals the state’s commitment to reintegrating the two occupied territories. For many – rich or poor – holding this status is a matter of dignity.
Research confirms the diverse economic and social situations of the displaced. It also recognizes the political difficulties of removing such a symbolically important benefit, or targeting it exclusively to the poor.
 
But given fiscal constraints in Georgia, providing benefits to those that do not necessarily need them is problematic in the long term. In this regard, the report supports the eventual phasing out of the benefit, already initiated by the Georgian government, while taking steps to help those in need, with the following recommendations: 
  • Livelihoods support is essential especially for households at risk of falling into poverty, with activities that are tailored to the diverse needs of this population, their skills and  location. Access to land for those in rural areas with agricultural skills, and access to finance and training for those who are entrepreneurial, are two activities that could work well with these groups.
  • Addressing housing conditions and supporting access to private housing is important. Currently, 80 percent of government assistance for the internally displaced goes for housing. These resources could gradually be reallocated towards livelihood assistance for the poorest. 
  • The poorest households, eligible for social assistance, should be encouraged to apply to the Targeted Social Assistance program – the regular social assistance program for vulnerable Georgians.

It is perhaps most important to ensure that the population, both displaced and not, understands why these reforms are necessary. The time has come for an adjusted approach, so that scarce resources can be used more effectively to benefit those in need, especially the poor and vulnerable.