FY 11: Economic and Protection Strategies to Assist Urban Refugees (Women's Refugee Commission)

Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
April 20, 2012

For the full report, go to: http://www.womensrefugeecommission.org/resources/cat_view/68-reports/80-livelihoods


The Women’s Refugee Commission recently completed a PRM-funded research project to examine urban refugees’ economic context and identify economic strategies and protection approaches to help them achieve self-reliance. Researchers conducted field assessments in three locations: Kampala, Uganda; New Delhi, India; and Johannesburg, South Africa. These assessments included focus groups discussions, in-depth household interviews and stakeholder interviews, and involved interviews with over 800 refugees. Some key findings include:

  • Urban refugees experience differing levels of vulnerability by nationality and skill set, requiring different types of assistance.
  • Highly educated refugees frequently are excluded from the market because of their restricted access to formal markets.
  • Social networks are essential for survival. Urban refugees use them to find jobs and apartments, access information, and borrow money during emergencies.
  • Urban refugees frequently use negative economic coping strategies such as transactional sex, child labor, reducing the number of meals eaten per day, and pulling children out of school.
  • Advocacy with host governments is essential, but often absent.

Based on these findings, the Women’s Refugee Commission developed operational guidance for supporting the livelihoods of urban refugees with interventions that are market-driven, protective, leverage the existing skills of refugee households, and forge linkages with development actors. This guidance will inform implementation of UNHCR’s urban refugee policy, design of NGO programs assisting refugees in urban areas, and engagement with national and local governments hosting urban refugees.


The Women’s Refugee Commission used the above research and findings to develop recommendations for humanitarian organizations and PRM to improve programming for urban refugees:

  • Map existing services and assess their strengths and potential for extending services to refugees. Introduce new services only to fill gaps in existing services.
  • Link refugees to existing micro-finance institutions for credit, savings, and micro-insurance.
  • Capacitate and support refugee-led organizations.
  • Increase advocacy for refugees’ right to work, permits, and professional certification.
  • Develop a graduated approach, addressing social protection and immediate needs for the poorest refugees, and asset building and expansion for the struggling and better off refugees.

The Women’s Refugee Commission study also offers recommendations to organizations for requesting funding and reviewing proposals. Proposals seeking to address urban refugee livelihoods should:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of local markets, economic barriers, and opportunities for refugee livelihoods.
  • Recognize the diverse needs and vulnerabilities of the refugee population.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the host government’s policy environment, such as whether refugees have the right to work in the host country and whether there are other policy barriers to refugees’ economic well-being. Proposals should also discuss existing services and local partners.
  • Build on refugees’ existing skills and economic coping strategies and link them to existing services and the job market.
  • Measure program impact based on household well-being and child protection outcomes.
  • Determine who is and is not being reached by the proposed program.
  • Ensure that the program does not expose refugees to additional risks.