Archive for the 'UNHCR' Category

Refugees, 2013: Changing faces, changing places, changing policies

This week’s Economist has a fine summary of how refugees have grown in number and diversity, and the international community’s response to these changes. Among things to note is the continuing trend observed a few years ago in a JAMA commentary (and critiqued by a skeptic or two… oops) of urban resettlement, which UNHCR now says it prefers to people resettling in refugee camps. UNHCR is also more explicit about its policy encouraging local political integration and even economic development as solutions in long-term refugee crises. These efforts are mirrored by changes in policies of countries who receive the most refugees (overwhelmingly in the developing world).

David Apollo Kazungu, Uganda’s Commissioner for Refugees, says it no longer makes sense to treat refugees as a humanitarian issue. “Those who stay for years throw up developmental problems for us, such as how to find enough land, water and jobs for everyone,” he argues. Uganda has already tried to improve the lot for the nearly 200,000 refugees it hosts by placing them in settlements rather than camps, and by giving them land to farm.

Within this discussion is the acknowledgement that forced migration and voluntary (or economic) migration are not entirely separate phenomena. Read the entire article here.

The HESPER: WHO’s measurement answer to the problem of identifying needs within displaced populations

The World Health Organization recently released the Humanitarian Emergency Settings Perceived Needs Scale (HESPER), a measure that they hope will operationalize the IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings and encourage rapid assessment of perceived needs in disaster settings. Longtime disaster mental health and psychosocial researcher Mark van Ommeren was the lead on the project, which means that it was developed with the highest level of rigor given the needs, which include some flexibility. A large advisory group that reads (with a few exceptions) like a who’s who of international disaster mental health and psychosocial intervention provided regular input, and the HESPER was tested in sites as various as Sudan, the UK, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, Haiti and Nepal. Overall the psychometrics reported look good, particularly given the diversity of locations. There are sections on individual needs and community-level needs on a surprising number of domains, a welcome relief from the unidimensional individual-level norms.

What may be the best thing about the HESPER guide is the presentation. Van Ommeren and company have provided not only the measure and the methods used for development of the measure, but also sections on training local administrators, appropriate sampling, a mock interview transcript that reads true, and even a section on how to present HESPER findings to organizations. Too often I have seen an disaster relief NGO get a measure that may be valid or may not, administer it haphazardly, and then be unsure of how to meaningfully present findings. In addition, there’s an “Other things to consider” section which includes the things that you don’t usually think about but are blatantly obvious on the ground — the dilemma of raised expectations that often come about just by asking about problems, for instance.

And then there’s this:


The HESPER Scale may be used by anybody in its current form for non-commercial purposes. Should you wish to make any modifications to the scale, or translate the scale into another language, you will need to get permission from WHO Press (for contact details, see inside cover page). Currently the HESPER Scale (i.e. Appendix 1 only) is available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Nepali, and French / Haitian Creole. Word files of the different HESPER Scale language versions are available upon request.

The WHO provides their measures for free and welcomes further development of these types of rapid assessments.

37 year-old refugee crisis comes to an end

Where do refugees go after the crises that made them refugees leaves the headlines? The options are: go home, get resettled to a wealthier country, stay in the camps.

The UN estimates that at the end of 2008 (the last year there are reliable numbers for at the moment) there were 15.2 million refugees in the world (a refugee here is a person who has fled across a border because of political violence). Eighty percent of these refugees, or about 12.2 million, lived in camps or urban areas in neighboring countries in the developing world (e.g., the 1.8 million Afghans in Pakistan).

Some refugees go home. How many? In 2008, 600,000 refugees went home; 600,000 / 15.2 million = 4%. This was the lowest number since 2004, suggesting that going home is less and less an option.

What about all the refugees resettled in wealthy Western nations? In 2008, 121,000 were proposed for resettlement to wealthier nations (US, Canada, and Western Europe, primarily), or 0.8% of all refugees at the time.  Only 67,000 of these were actually resettled, about 0.4%.

So, most refugees remain in camps and foreign cities for very long periods of time as refugees. Surely there must be some other plan. Well, recently UNHCR has been proposing a policy of “local integration.” Local integration means what it sounds like  — making refugees part of the local economy and society of the region in which they live, with full citizenship rights and privileges, and no more refugee aid. The involves getting local governments to accept that refugees they have played host to for years are there to stay, and getting the refugees themselves to accept that they cannot receive aid forever. This long-term solution is usually pretty long-term. In Chad, the UNHCR started encouraging local integration for refugees from the Central African Republic who had been there for 1o years.

One of the oldest refugee populations are Burundians in Tanzania. Burundi is now infamous for ethnic conflict in 1994 (similar to neighboring Rwanda’s), but many Burundians in Tanzania are there because they fled from massacres in 1972. In other words, these Burundians have been sitting in camps for 37 years. This week, Refugees International reported that last month Tanzania gave citizenship to 162,000 of these Burundians. This is a welcome and generous move by Tanzania, a country that has been host to several large refugee populations — the price of being a peaceful place in a dangerous neighborhood.

(162,000: That’s 1% fewer refugees, for those of you counting.)

April 2017
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