The Syrian conflict has reached the grim milestone of becoming the largest displacement crisis since World War II, with over half of the country’s pre-war population having left their homes since 2011—a particularly sobering statistic as we observe International Migrants Day on December 18, 2017 today.
For many of us, the Syrian crisis brings to mind images of refugee families blocked at European borders and sprawling humanitarian camps. Yet the majority of those fleeing the violence have remained in cities inside Syria and in neighboring countries, in the hopes of reaching safety, and accessing better services and jobs.
—and it is not confined to Syria, but a reality across many countries affected by conflict in the Middle East and beyond.
Following milestones such as the World Humanitarian Summit, the momentum is strong for humanitarian and development communities to work together in complementary ways—not in sequence—to bridge the humanitarian-development divide. Development institutions are engaging much earlier than in the past, emphasizing the need to focus more on prevention and building resilience where they can play an active role.
Thanks to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), we now have new ways of bridging the divide and integrating these two efforts. First, ICT platforms can bring development partners together to analyze, design, and track progress in a more unified and efficient way. They also offer an integrated system where multiple communication channels can operate at the same time. As a result, the notion of “continuous” development, whereby development experts pick up the work where humanitarian agencies left off, is progressively giving way to “contiguous” development, which offers humanitarian and development teams a chance to work more closely together.
If you have been to the West Bank, you might know that refugees there no longer live in tents. You could even walk through a refugee camp without ever noticing, except for the many posters of those lost in the conflict. In the two refugee camps in Bethlehem, Aida and Dheisheh, there is no physical division left between city and camp, but an invisible divide remains.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You shall leave everything you love most; this is the arrow that the bow of exile shoots first,” wrote Dante in The Divine Comedy.
For most of the estimated 65 million displaced people around the world, every day is a struggle. Having survived a tumultuous journey in the hope of beginning anew, how does a displaced person begin to heal and plant roots in a strange new land?