Organization at the Site Level
26. The framework for the organization and coordinating
mechanisms at the site level are likely to reflect broadly those established
centrally. However, there is one fundamental difference between the site and
central levels: at the site level the refugees themselves should play a major
The organization of the refugee community must support and
enhance their own abilities to provide for themselves.
27. A clear understanding of the aims and objectives of the
emergency operation and proper coordination are even more important at the site
level than centrally, for it is here that failures and misunderstandings will
directly affect the refugees.
Of particular importance will be the adoption of common
standards when a number of organizations are providing similar assistance.
Regular meetings of those concerned are essential. There should
be an overall coordinating mechanism chaired by the government authority, UNHCR
Field Officer, and/or an operational partner, and this mechanism may be
complemented by sectoral committees.
28. Certain activities are interdependent or have a common
component and will need particularly close coordination at site level. For
example, environmental sanitation measures must be closely coordinated with
health services, and the home visiting component of health care with feeding
programmes and community services.
29. A rapid changeover of outside personnel can create major
problems for site level coordination, though some specialists may obviously be
required for short periods. The importance of continuity is proportional to the
closeness of contact with the refugees. Operational partners at the site should
have a standard orientation and briefing procedure to ensure continuity of
action and policy despite changes in personnel.
30. The importance of preserving and promoting a sense of
community is stressed in chapters 10 and 12 on community services and site
planning. The approach to thinking about and understanding site and community
organization should be from the smallest unit - the family - upwards, rather
than imposed from the largest unit downwards, which would be unlikely to reflect
natural or existing community structures and concerns.
31. The basic planning unit for site organization and management
is likely therefore to be the family, subject to traditional social patterns,
and distinctive features of the population (e.g. numbers of separated minors,
adolescent and women headed households). Larger units for organizational and
representational purposes will again follow the community structure. For
example, the next level up is likely to be community units of about 80 to 100
people, grouped according to living arrangements, followed by groups of
communities of about 1,000 people. Different settlement services are
decentralized to these different levels - e.g. water and latrines at household
level, and education and health facilities at community and larger levels. The
physical layout of the site will have a major influence on social organization.
Generally, the smaller the Settlement the better - the
overriding aim should be to avoid high density, large camps.
32. The refugees must be involved in planning measures to meet
their needs and in implementing those measures. The way the community is
organized can help ensure that the refugees' specific skills are made use of and
that the personnel for services at the site will come from the refugees.
33. There are three levels to the involvement of refugees. The
first is in the overall planning and organization, for example the determination
of what is the best and culturally most appropriate solution to a problem, given
the constraints of the situation. This level requires that the refugees have a
social organization within their community that is properly representative. As
the previous social structures may have been severely disrupted, this may take
time to redevelop but will be important to the success of the emergency
operation and for the future of the refugees. Meanwhile, urgent action to meet
evident needs must of course be taken.
34. The second level of involvement is in the practical use of
the refugees' skills and resources wherever possible for the implementation of
the operation. The refugees themselves should run their own community to the
extent possible. Where suitably qualified or experienced refugees exist, such
as nurses, teachers and traditional health workers, they must obviously be
used. Where they do not, outside assistance should ensure that refugees are
trained to take over from those who are temporarily filling the gap. Other
services include feeding programmes, sanitation, (maintenance and cleaning of
latrines, drainage, garbage disposal, vector control, etc.) construction
(shelters and communal buildings) education, tracing and general administration.
Note that women and adolescents often have the necessary skills but lack the
confidence or language skills to come forward - an outreach programme to
identify them might be necessary.
35. At the same time, other traditional skills - for example in
construction or well-digging -should be harnessed. While specific measures to
develop self-reliance will vary with each situation, their aim should always be
to avoid or reduce the refugees' dependence on outside assistance. The more
successful measures are generally those based on methods and practices familiar
to the refugees.
36. The third level is the education of the community on life in
their new situation, which may be markedly different from their previous
experience. Public health education in such matters as the importance of hygiene
in crowded conditions, mother and child care and the use of unfamiliar latrines
is an example. As another example, if unfamiliar foods or preparation methods
have to be used, immediate practical instruction is essential. Education and
guidance of this sort are best given by the refugees themselves (including women
and youth), with outside assistance.
37. Refugee settlements are not, typically, simple replicas of
former community life, and large numbers of refugees may be living temporarily
outside their traditional community leadership structures. However, in nearly
every emergency, some refugee leaders, spokespersons, or respected elders will
be present. It will be necessary to define with the community the method of
choosing leaders to ensure fair representation and proper participation in both
the planning and implementation of the emergency programme. The more the
settlement differs from former community life, the more important this action is
likely to be to the success of the programme.
However, be aware that some new power structures might
emerge, for example through force, and may exercise de facto control over the
population, but may not be representative.
38. The system of refugee representation should:
i. Be truly representative of the different
interests and sectors of the community, and of both men and women;
ii. Include various levels of representatives and
leaders to ensure adequate representation and access for individual
iii. Avoid unconscious bias, for example on the
basis of language. Bear in mind that there is no reason why a refugee should be
representative of the community simply because he or she has a common language
with those providing outside assistance;
iv. Be based on traditional leadership systems as
much as possible but provided these allow proper representation (for example, if
the traditional leadership system excludes women, there should nevertheless be
v. Be consistent with the physical divisions in the
layout of the