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forced displacement

What’s in a number? Unpacking the 65 million-forced displacement crisis

Xavier Devictor's picture
(c) Dorte Verner
Regia, from Somalia, greets her friends and customers in her shop on the main street in the Nakivale refugee settlement, South West Uganda © Dorte Verner


Today on World Refugee Day, we hear once again that the number of people forcibly displaced due to conflict and persecution has increased to 65.6 million by the end of 2016, according to UNHCR’s latest Global Trends report.

These numbers have served to galvanize attention to the severity of this crisis, providing momentum for the global community to take action. At the same time, these numbers have caused anxieties among many hosts, especially in OECD countries. Taking center stage in the political debate, it has raised questions over their ability to support all of those fleeing conflict, at times leading to fear and rising anti-refugee sentiments.

Have we really entered a “new world” where population movements are on a scale never experienced before, calling for extraordinary measures to stop the flow? To answer this question, it’s worth taking a closer look at the numbers.

“Papers please?”: The importance of refugees and other forcibly-displaced persons being able to prove identity

Bronwen Manby's picture
A refugee filling an application at the UNHCR registration center in Tripoli, Lebanon. © Mohamed Azakir / World Bank


If you were forced to run for your life, amidst falling bombs or as a hurricane approaches, what would you grab after your children and loved ones? You would be well advised to make your identity documents one of the first things to pack. Birth certificates, national ID cards, passports, residence permits, even a driver’s license—documents like these will be necessary to prove who you are to the authorities in the country to which you flee, and the authorities in your home country when it is safe to return.

Camp de réfugiés de Kakuma : un impact social nuancé sur les communautés d’accueil Turkana

Varalakshmi Vemuru's picture
Also available in: English


Le camp de réfugiés de Kakuma, dans le comté de Turkana, au nord-ouest du Kenya, abrite plus de 150 000 personnes, originaires pour la plupart du Soudan du Sud et de Somalie. Créé en 1992 dans l’une des régions les plus isolées du pays, c’est l’un des plus anciens camps de réfugiés au monde et ses résidents font désormais partie intégrante du tissu social, culturel et économique local.

Understanding the nuanced social impact of Kakuma refugees on their Turkana hosts

Varalakshmi Vemuru's picture
Also available in: Français


Kakuma refugee camp, in northwestern Kenya’s Turkana County, houses over 150,000 refugees. The majority are South Sudanese followed by Somalis. Established in 1992 in one of Kenya’s most remote areas, it is one of the longest-lasting refugee camps in the world, and refugees have become an integral part of the area’s social, cultural, and economic fabric.

Using socio-economic analysis to inform refugee programming in Turkana, Kenya

Raouf Mazou's picture
Kakuma Refugee Camp
Community leader Paul Gok (left), a refugee from South Sudan walks with young children in the 'Kakuma 4' area of Kakuma Refugee Camp, built to house new arrivals from South Sudan. © UNHCR/Will Swanson



In Kenya, and refugee-hosting countries in Africa, the camp-based protection and humanitarian assistance model has been the default response to the often-protracted forced displacement situations. The underlying assumption has been that it would be impossible or undesirable for refugees to be self-sufficient while waiting for peace to return to their countries of origin.

Therefore, it is not a surprise that refugees from South Sudan and other neighboring countries in north-western Kenya are being assisted in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, which has been hosting refugees since early 1990s. Several waves of refugees have come and gone over the past 25 years, the most recent influx from South Sudan having started in December 2013. The camp has grown into four sub-sections with a capacity of 125,000 persons but a current population of over 155,000. Like in the majority of protracted situations, the care and maintenance programs in Kakuma included providing them with access to shelter, food, water, health care and education.

Perspectives from the Horn of Africa: Improving livelihoods for communities hosting refugees

Varalakshmi Vemuru's picture
Communities hosting refugees, more often than not, inhabit marginal areas which are characterized as underdeveloped, underserved, and environmentally fragile. In these areas, basic social services and economic infrastructures are either absent altogether or poorly developed. The dependence for fuel wood, construction timber, grazing and water (for both humans and animals) on already degraded natural resources by a significant population, both hosts and refugees in protracted displacement, often contributes to rapid environmental degradation thereby worsening the situation. In addition, with many of these areas being fragile and vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, protracted displacement further exacerbates the situation. 

In preparing the Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP) in the Horn of Africa, which supports Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti, consultations with local representatives brought out the critical need to help host communities cope and build resilience. An important challenge posed was how to develop activities that improve the productivity of both traditional and non-traditional livelihoods, including through diversification and income generation in these difficult locales. 
Barren land around Dadaab refugee camps, Kenya (Photo: Benjamin Burckhart)
 

While the team explored options for support, we were confronted with some realities. These included: (i) a high dependence on traditional and low productivity livelihoods, including agriculture, agro-pastoralism, and pastoralism; (ii) degraded natural resources base due to greater susceptibility to climate related events especially flash floods and droughts; (iii) lack of or limited access to basic social services and economic infrastructure, including rural finance and market infrastructure; (iv) inadequate presence and/or  limited capacity of the public sector; and (v) near absence of and/or non-vibrant private sector. 

Based on experience with supporting traditional livelihoods and livelihood diversification in a range of settings, including fragile and conflict affected contexts, the team and partners in Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti arrived at the following key considerations to promote livelihoods: 
  • Ensuring a focus on women and youth for livelihoods support given they are among the most vulnerable both among host and refugee communities.
  • Putting in place an inclusive and participatory planning process for livelihoods promotion and diversification is necessary to ensure community ownership.  
  • Establishing and/or strengthening community institutions focused on livelihoods is critical not only for training, capacity building, and livelihoods development; but also for promoting social cohesion and peace building between host and refugee communities thus creating an enabling environment for livelihoods promotion. 
  • Appreciating and mobilizing individual and community talents, skills and assets could serve to be a good starting point for supporting livelihoods in target communities, although designing livelihood programs and promoting livelihoods diversification requires careful assessment.
  • Understanding existing streams of livelihoods and livelihood diversification options is essential to better explore (i) existing traditional forms of livelihoods - stabilizing, expanding, and making them productive and sustainable; (ii) alternative forms of livelihoods (livelihoods diversification), including self-employment - micro-enterprise development, targeting micro-entrepreneurs; (iii) skilled wage employment - opportunities for youth and women in growing sectors of the economy; and (iv) technical, behavioral, and market-performance assessment for determining viable options. 
  • Access to finance should look at savings and credit groups and their saving mobilization and internal lending activities alongside the formal and non-formal financial institutions within and outside the target communities. 
  • Collectives of producers would need to be built on small scale livelihoods undertaken by individuals, community groups or institutions. The aggregation and/or upscaling will require access to larger markets, infrastructure for storage, transport facilities and appropriate technology for value addition and value chains; and importantly partnerships with the private sector.
  • Leveraging on initiatives that are existing, innovative and working in target communities and then adding value, including scaling up is more helpful. Given the challenging circumstances, transplanting models from more stable and developed environments may have limited chances of taking root.
  • Capacities and strengths of implementing agencies, local governments and communities should determine the scope and scale of livelihood activities while also paying attention to addressing the skills deficit and building sustainable capacity for planning, implementation and management of livelihood programs at all levels.
  • Phasing and sequencing of livelihood interventions will help manage the trade-off of a short-term versus a long-term planning horizon innovatively. Piloting and scaling up based on experience is a useful strategy to pursue.
  • Linkages and partnerships for greater impact need to be actively explored and established. Regular coordination meetings help encourage collaboration and partnerships, and provide feedback on implementation, share key learning and discuss challenges. 
Irrigation scheme in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia  (Photo: Benjamin Burckhart)


Promoting livelihoods is a challenging proposition in most contexts, much more so in displacement situations with their unique circumstances.  We are happy to share our perspectives as we work to help the people living in the Horn of Africa and look forward to hearing your views. 

How many years do refugees stay in exile?

Xavier Devictor's picture
"The average length of time that refugees spend in camps is 17 years." This cruel statistic has been quoted many times, influencing our perception of refugee crises as never-ending events which are spinning out of control. It has significant implications when deciding the type of aid that is needed, the combination of humanitarian and development support, and the possible responses to the crisis.

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, forced displacement situations are inherently dynamic. 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 available refugee data can be used to clarify some important parts of the policy debate. It is important to ensure that this debate is informed by evidence, which can help provide a more nuanced perspective of a complex issue.

Djibouti: Where forced displacement and migration meet

Varalakshmi Vemuru's picture
Also available in: Español
In the context of the upcoming UN High Level Meeting on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, this blog offers a field-level perspective from Djibouti on refugee and migrant movements. To prepare the Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project, I visited the Ali Addeh refugee camp in Ali Sabieh region, which has been hosting predominantly Somali refugees for over two decades now, and Obock town, which is hosting Yemeni refugees in Merkazi refugee camp following the 2015 crisis, and Horn of Africa migrants in town.  
 
At Ali Addeh, we were confronted with two startling realities. The first was that consequent droughts had led to a depletion in the livestock ownership of local host pastoralist populations. This left them more vulnerable and impoverished than the refugees in the camps. A refugee woman, fetching fuel wood, emphasized that local host communities needed urgent development support and interventions.
The port of Obock, where the journey begins. (Photo: Benjamin Burckhart)
The second reality was the near absence of the age group of 16-30 year olds, both boys/men and girls/women, in both the refugee camp and among host communities. Discussions revealed that this group saw limited economic opportunities in the local environment and had moved to the capital city pursuing low skilled informal jobs with low remuneration. When we tracked these youth, we found that many were stranded in "Balbala," a shanty town adjoining Djiboutiville, the capital city. Poor skills and lack of resources had left them more vulnerable than before. Some of course had made an onward journey to Obock to explore a journey to the Middle East and Europe.

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
IOM Migration Response Center in Obock. (Photo: Benjamin Burckhart)
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.
 
For us, the situation brought into sharp focus the debate at the global, regional and national levels on delineating the causes and consequences of forced displacement versus voluntary and involuntary migration for the HOA. In Djibouti, there are various patterns of movement. Internal displacement of Djiboutians moving from rural to urban areas is attributed to droughts. Youth, both refugees and locals, are moving from underdeveloped regions of Djibouti to cities in search of better lives and economic opportunities. Movement of people especially youth from Djibouti and other HOA countries to the Middle East via Obock and Yemen is motivated by again, the search for a better life.

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.

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.

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