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close this bookRefugee Emergencies. A Community-Based Approach (UNHCR, 1996, 142 p.)
close this folderPart One. Emergency Response
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe Role of Community Services
View the documentNeeds and Resources Assessment
View the documentPlanning Action
View the documentCommunity Building


Key points

· Community services methods aim at involving refugees in assessment of their needs, planning activities and services and in the implementation and evaluation of programmes.

· The goals of community services are: to restore the refugees' humanity and dignity, to enable them to take decisions, to restore a sense of security, to create a sense of belonging and to rebuild a self-generating community.

· Community services are part of a larger whole, supporting and complementing other activities such as protection, health services and education.

· The focus of Community services is on providing services to individuals through the family and the community.

· Emergency response calls for a phased approach: 1) assessment, planning, developing guidelines on policies and procedures; 2) laying the foundation of the programme; 3) building up community services.

· Needs and resources change over time. Use a variety of sources for cross-checking and validating information.

· Consider how problems would have been resolved by refugees in the country of origin.

· Refugees most in need are often the least likely to make their needs known. Use outreach services to make sure they are not overlooked.

· Identify constraints that will limit action.

· The plan of action should be based on the findings of the needs and resources assessments and revised in accordance the evolution of situation.

· Establish a framework of policies and priorities and build consensus among groups involved (including refugees) on problems to be addressed, action to be taken and by whom, and on a timetable for specific activities.

· Many social welfare needs can best be met by resources that exist within the refugee community.

· The degree of security and stability achieved through providing protection and material assistance is enhanced by community services activities that provide for the emotional and psychological welfare of the refugees.

· Family reunification should be a priority.

· While participation and refugee involvement may sometimes retard the process of assistance, because of the intervening learning that takes place, in the long term it will ensure a self-help approach which is the goal of all assistance. Taking time to train refugees is well worth the effort and time required.

The Role of Community Services


The basis for community services:

A belief in people, in their strength, in their ability to change, in their desire to help each other, and in their capacity to solve problems

In an emergency, one should not forget that refugees are persons. The focus of community services interventions should therefore be to assist refugees to re-establish social structures, coping mechanisms and normality in day-to-day living. Basic needs must be met in the context of the refugees' culture as much as possible.

The refugee community should be the reference point for determining felt needs and in identifying priority groups and individuals. The means for meeting these needs should be worked out with the community through continuing dialogue, evaluation and by involving the refugees in planning and in the implementation of programmes and service delivery.

A Problem Solving Process: Community services methods aim at involving refugees in assessment of their needs, planning activities and services and in the implementation and evaluation of programmes. Their involvement in decision-making is vital.

The Goals of Community Services:

Individual - To restore the refugees' sense of being human, to enable them to take decisions, and to start living again in a self-respecting way.

Community -To restore a sense of security, create a sense of belonging and to rebuild a self-generating community.

Integrated Approach: Community services are part of a larger whole, supporting and complementing other activities such as protection, health services and education.

Focus: Community services activities are directed towards assisting individual refugees within the larger community. Community services thus focus on:

· the individual refugee
· the family
· the community

In refugee situations there are no ready made answers. Solutions have to be tailored to needs. Consequently, there is a need to have a very flexible and creative approach to such work. Involving refugees in solving their own problems is the best way to ensure that the problem is solved in the most satisfactory manner.

Timing: In an emergency, the transition from a stable existence to one of instability and uncertainty takes place over an incredibly short time. The old patterns and ways of living, the support systems, habits and routines are thrown into disarray. However, over a period of time, new patterns replace the old (see pp. 10-11). Therefore, if the subsequent patterns are to be positive, constructive, and have the seeds of self-generation, it is essential that inputs are made while change is taking place and the situation is fluid and dynamic. Later may be too late. Community services inputs should be made at the earliest, in the context of establishing appropriate procedures and systems, and involve refugees as partners in the process.

Emergency Response - A Phased Approach:

1. Assessment, Action Plan, Guidelines (2 weeks)

Involving the refugees in assessing their needs and planning is vital. Organizing meetings with refugees, including women, to discuss problems and ways in which the refugees themselves can solve them is a good way to start. These meetings should be documented and feed-back provided to help the refugees organize themselves. At the same time relevant resources need to be identified: within the community, as well as services and facilities provided by NGOs and the government.

Guidelines on policies and procedures will need to be worked out in order to ensure common aims and standards, and to avoid overlap and gaps in the provision of services/facilities.

2. Foundation of Community Services Programme

The following activities are carried out:

· setting up refugee committees (either including women, or separate women's committees)

· establish a regular meeting schedule with committees to develop a community service programme and to train people in community responsibility;

· identification/selection of implementing partners;

· training of UNHCR field staff

· revision of guidelines and action plan.

3. Building up Community Services

The third phase comprises the following:

· capacity building with implementing partner(s)

· identification and recruitment of refugee community workers

· training programme for community workers

· identification of vulnerable/special groups

· using registration information to build up a profile of population

· education programmes

· tracing

· special programmes.

Community Processes in Refugee Emergencies



Community Services Issues

· Choice of leaders (who, how, criteria for "good" leaders)
· Vulnerable groups - concept
· Women in community work
· Involvement of outside agencies (interference versus support)
· Capacity Building
· Idleness
· Causes of mental breakdown
· Community's perceptions of its own problems
· Education of women
· Power in community work
· Goals of community work


Process based on:

· maintaining self-respect,
· encouraging self-help,
· support,
· restraint
· capacity building


Community processes are disrupted/prevented leading to:

· frustration
· anti-social behaviour
· corruption for survival
· apathy
· idleness

Crisis and Leadership Patterns

Needs and Resources Assessment


Questions needing answers:

Who are the refugees?
What are their priorities?
What can they do for themselves?
What could they do for themselves with some help?

In order to respond to refugees' needs we must understand what they lack to live a full human life. Needs vary from the very basic ones of food, doming and shelter, to the less tangible, the needs of self-esteem, to belong, to be loved and to be able to grow. While basic physical requirements are easily identified in an emergency, the deeper human needs, which are not so easily perceived, often do not receive the same attention. However, it is essential that the whole range of human needs is understood from the beginning, in order that planning for long-term durable solutions can be set in place. It should be borne in mind, however, that needs will change and a reassessment will have to be made so that new plans and goals can be put in place to ensure that assistance is provided in the most appropriate way. The diagram on the next page illustrates this cycle.

A needs assessment can take hours, days, or weeks depending on the urgency of the situation, the range of needs, problems and resources examined, the size of the population, the methods used to collect information, the ease or difficulty with which information can be obtained, the personnel available, the process of analysis. Response to a true emergency should not be delayed pending completion of a detailed needs assessment. Tailor the process to the degree of urgency or stability of the situation.

Sources of Information: Three sources of information which may be used for assessing needs are existing data, expert opinion and the refugees themselves. Use information from all three, for cross-checking and validating information (see box on page 20). An area for particular attention is the gathering of information on how certain problems would have been resolved by refugees in their country of origin.

Comparing Needs and Resources: Problems result when the resources available to a population are inadequate to meet the needs of the entire population; are not appropriate to certain needs; are not accessible to all who need them; are not culturally acceptable to some or all of the population concerned.

There is sometimes a tendency to focus more on outstanding needs and problems than on the resources available. This can lead to faulty analysis and inappropriate programmes.

Give attention to the following "resources":

· Government, agency and UNHCR assistance provided for basic needs
· Existing social service projects
· The range of skills the refugees themselves possess
· Traditional "coping mechanisms" of the refugee population
· Tools, equipment and other items that the refugees already have
· Technical assistance available from:

- Government departments
- NGOs
- UNHCR Community Services and Education Officers
- Other UN bodies

· Potential funding for projects from UNHCR or other sources
· Local organizations and religious bodies

Solving the Social Problems of Refugees is a Cyclical Process:

Refugee needs and resources change over time. Assessments must be made periodically to determine whether priorities should be shifted.

Sources of Information

1. Existing Data

Before starting a survey, see what statistical information is already available. Sources include: registration forms, medical statistics on types of illnesses, causes of death, nutritional status, etc.

This information is relatively easy and inexpensive to obtain. Statistics can indicate which part of a refugee population is affected by a problem.

Find out how and when existing statistics were developed. They are of limited value if: they are out of date, they were not collected properly or do not cover all the areas to be assessed. Statistics based on services requested may under-estimate the extent of a problem. Often the most needy refugees are unable to get to the place where services are.

2. Expert Opinion

The groups listed below may be able to give direct information on refugee problems or provide background on how these problems develop and how they can be solved.

· Staff who have been working directly with the refugees concerned. Government officials responsible for refugee matters.

· Refugee leaders.

· Teachers in local schools.

· Workers in local voluntary organizations.

· Social welfare experts from a local university, government welfare office or UN system.

This information can be gathered easily and quickly. First-hand experience can be particularly valuable. Case examples help clarify how problems develop. They also add a human dimension to statistics.

There is always the possibility that one person's view may be biased or inaccurate. Experience with a limited number of cases may not justify general assumptions about the actual extent of a problem.

3. General Refugee Population

When refugee problems are assessed, it is essential to get information from the people most directly concerned. Information can be obtained from refugees through specially-called meetings, a general survey, social case histories or informal contacts.

The obvious advantage of information from refugees is that they have first-hand experience of the problem.

Meetings may not represent the views of the population as a whole. Surveys are usually time-consuming and expensive and do not produce valid results unless they are properly done. Informal contacts present a limited and possibly biased view.


Analysing the Situation

The following questions suggest the kind of analysis that begins during the collection of information on needs, resources and problems. The answers will provide a framework for action.

Determining Severity and Extent:

How extreme are the problems?
What part of the population do they affect?

Identifying Root Causes:

What is the reason for the problem?
Why is a need not being met properly?

Understanding Inter-Relationships:

Does a particular problem result or lead to any others? Are the resources currently being used having the desired effect? If not, why?
Would a proposed solution be likely to have any side-effects? Would these be positive or negative?

Identifying Barriers:

What prevents the refugees from solving the problem on their own?

Researching Previous Efforts:

Have others tried to resolve the same problem elsewhere in the country? In other countries?
What worked and what did not?

Selecting Points of Intervention:

Should attention be given to the causes of a problem, barriers to a solution or the effects? Should each be addressed?


Check List

What is the demographic composition of the population? Percentage of men, women and children?

What are the ethnic, linguistic and cultural characteristics of the refugee population.

What is the average family size and the typical household arrangements?

What are their traditional and normal life-styles?

What resources have they brought with them?

Are they able to survive and support themselves, at least in the beginning?

Are cultural factors being respected or taken into account in the planning of assistance?

How are basic needs being met (by outside aid, local population, local government, NGOs) and how is this given?

Are basic needs being met?

What are the refugees doing to help themselves? Are traditional coping mechanisms reactivated? If not, for what reasons?

How can dependency be avoided? Are all opportunities for self-help being facilitated?

Is the condition of the refugees better or worse than that of the host population? What is different? Why? What can be done to avoid conflict?

What resources are on hand and en route from all sources?

What unmet needs exist?

What further problems/needs might be anticipated?

What are the priorities as seen by the refugees themselves?

Which are the priority target groups and how might the priority needs be met?

What criteria should be used for allocation and distribution of services and assistance? Are they flexible enough to allow the inclusion of late-comers immediately?

How long did the flight take?

Have arrangements for self-help groups been established?

Have community leaders, workers, health professionals, TBAs and teachers been identified and mobilized?


Planning Action


Based on the findings of a needs assessment, decisions are made about concrete action. Who should do what, when and how is decided by the people involved in the refugee situation, and the needs assessment findings provide the starting point for their decisions.

Who to Involve: Refugees must participate in decisions on how to respond to the problems identified.

Others involved include:

· government officials responsible for refugee matters
· UNHCR programming and social services staff
· staff of agencies involved in refugee assistance
· any technical experts needed.

Review and Clarify Policies: The first step is to decide what policies will guide a response to the needs identified. This defines the boundaries for developing specific plans. Key issues are likely to include:

· what durable solution(s) are possible in the foreseeable future

· what is the general timetable for assistance

· whether there are limitations on who can carry out services

· whether there will be a priority for maximum refugee participation and self-management of services

· whether the government, UNHCR or some other body will co-ordinate the activities of all groups assisting refugees.

A solution to a problem may lie in changing policies that affect refugees. These may be embodied in government laws or regulations and guidelines for assistance. Refugees may also be able to solve their own problems if certain restrictions are removed. This may involve international protection rather than assistance. Changes in assistance policies may also help.

Establish Priorities: Limited resources, personnel and time make it essential to set clear priorities for action. If the refugees' own priorities have not become clear through the needs assessment (e.g. survey results), further refugee participation is needed at this point.

When deciding which problems or needs are most urgent, also consider whether an effective response is possible. If a problem appears so stubborn or overwhelming that it will absorb all the resources available with only marginal results, it may be better to focus on situations where progress seems more likely.

When priorities are set establish a reasonable balance between rural and urban areas. It is easy to concentrate on urban areas simply because urban refugees are generally in a better position to press for assistance. Providing more assistance in urban than in rural areas may leave serious rural problems unattended and encourage refugees to migrate to urban centres.

Once the framework of policies and priorities has been established, working groups can focus on specific problems. Consider the following when deciding how to solve the priority problems. Many working in social services assume that the solution to a social problem will require the development or expansion of a social services project. This may or may not be the best answer. Look at alternatives. Consider ways in which the problem can be prevented or the cause addressed directly. This is preferable to helping people cope with the consequences of a problem.

Relate the problem and possible action to the local non-refugee population. If both experience the same problem (e.g. a need for medical care), perhaps a joint project can be developed. This might also improve local acceptance of the refugee population. Consider also that disproportionate assistance to refugees can cause resentment by the local population. Consider whether there are constraints that will limit action. These may include local laws or regulations, limited resources, environmental factors.


Minimizing the gap in priorities between the two builds trust, credibility, efficiency and accuracy of outputs.

Developing a plan of action includes building a consensus among the groups involved. Seek agreement that:

· certain problems exist
· something must be done, at least in priority areas
· what this action should be
· what the timetable should be for specific activities.

Integrating Services: Before working group plans are implemented, review them all together to:

· avoid duplication
· ensure that action planned is in keeping with policies and priorities
· identify areas where co-ordination is needed among sectors.

Deciding on Roles: Once action has been agreed upon, the groups involved must decide on who will do what.

If it is agreed that a new project should be established, clear understanding is needed about who will:

· develop the proposal (project submission)
· provide funding
· implement the project
· provide technical assistance
· monitor the project
· evaluate the project.

The Principles of Assistance:

· Assistance is a service not a right.

· It should be sufficient for subsistence.

· Assistance is time bound.

· It is an interim measure pending durable solutions.

· Assistance is provided in accordance with assessed needs.

· It is community based.

· The credibility of assistance measures depends on uniformity, impartiality, transparency and clear procedures.

· The inherent dignity and worth of the recipient should in no way be undermined by the manner in which assistance is disbursed.


Check List

Have policies, standards and guidelines been established and agreed upon?

Have problems been identified (with participation of refugees) and priorities established?

What can refugees contribute to the planning process?

What are the immediate and long-term objectives?

How is the expected outcome to be evaluated/measured?

What is the timetable for the proposed action?

What will be the impact on the local population of proposed action?

Have constraints that will limit action been identified (laws, policies, resources, environmental factors, etc.)?

How are activities of various organizations/groups involved being coordinated?


Community Building


The skill of working with communities is very much a state of mind, a constant sense of enquiry, imagination, and an ability to continue learning -from even the most humble source or fleeting thought: an alertness to dreams and to the minute details of reality.

One of the most important actions that can be taken to help reduce the shock and stress for the community as a whole is to provide security and stability as quickly as possible. This can be done materially (by providing food, water, shelter, clothing, basic household items, preventive and curative health care), by ensuring protection, by keeping the refugees informed and by involving them from the beginning in the organization of all aspects of their new lives.

Community-based Approach: Experience suggests that even in an emergency many social welfare needs can best be met by resources that exist within the community. A social welfare programme should thus be designed to mobilize these resources through the establishment of community-based services.

Every community has its own mechanisms (regulated by the its beliefs, social values, customs, traditions and preferences) which determine how problems are solved. Thus a social welfare programme should also seek to enhance and improve the existing "coping mechanisms" which may include: family relationships, mutual assistance among neighbours, local social and economic organizations, community leaders, religious institutions/practices/leaders, traditional ceremonies and festivals, traditional healers.

Family Reunion: The family is the basic social unit in almost all societies. It plays a key role in meeting basic needs and solving me problems of individuals. Strengthening families will improve the ability of refugees to take care of themselves. Activities to facilitate family reunification therefore should be a priority.


The ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) which has both experience and expertise in this area should be asked to advise on tracing. (See Tracing Form Parts A & B, annex no. 1).

The possibilities for ensuring communication between those separated/and for tracing and reunion, will vary greatly with each emergency. Individual tracing may take a long time and will only really be possible once the emergency is stabilized and the refugees are registered; it may involve the country of origin. However, immediate action is often possible, for example to reunite members of an extended family or village who fled at different times or by different means, and are thus in different locations in the country of asylum.

Procedures for the reunion of refugees separated within the country of asylum should be agreed with the authorities and implemented as soon as practicable. For example, lists of names with photographs posted on the community notice boards in the different locations may provide a simple and effective tracing mechanism. The tracing arrangements must be widely promulgated; a central contact point in each site is likely to be needed. Tracing is a delicate task, and has to be organized by people who have the necessary experience and skills. It of course requires the involvement of refugees themselves, who will play a key role in any tracing service.

Preventing Family Separation

Where large numbers of refugees are involved, efforts must be made to keep families intact and to reduce the pressures mat cause them to separate (see next page).

Re-establishing Cultural Patterns: Refugees should be encouraged to re-establish cultural patterns that will help them to adjust to their new situation. Outside assistance with this should only be in response to what the refugees, themselves, see as important. Appropriate action will vary widely among refugee groups. The following have proved useful in certain situations:

· helping refugees establish cultural or religious centres
· organizing refugee self-help committees
· promoting cooperation between traditional healers and outside health staff
· establishing a team of refugee community workers
· supporting literacy programmes in the first language of the refugees.

Re-establishing religious and other institutions that maintain cultural norms may help prevent anti-social behaviour and resulting security problems among refugees.

Information: Uncertain about their present and future well-being, refugees need information to guide them. They are, for example, often unaware of services available to them. Information is the responsibility of UNHCR and its implementing partners.

Issues of concern will vary in importance according to the situation and will changer over time. In an emergency these may include:

· assistance and services available
· government policies and regulations concerning refugees
· opportunities for employment, services, education.

When facts are not available from official sources, rumours fill the void. This can lead refugees into inappropriate action or inaction. A lack of information can, in the longer term, lead to severe stress, resulting in anxiety and depression, conflicts within families, abuse of alcohol/drugs, or other self-destructive or anti-social behaviour.

Refugees most in need are often those least likely to use available services. While other reasons, such as difficulty of access or cultural barriers, may be responsible, refugees may fail to use services because they are not aware they exist, do not know how to use them or have inaccurate information about them. Information can be passed on to refugees through:

· group orientation sessions
· community outreach services
· distributing material written in the language(s) of the refugees
· using refugee community workers
· providing information through a refugee committee or refugee leaders
· films, slides or other audio-visual media.

Some Causes of Family Separation

1. Organized movements of large numbers of refugees

Preventive action:

· Enlist refugee leaders to help with preparations for the movement,
· Announce the movement as far in advance as possible,
· Encourage family members to group together on vehicles.

2. Undermining of role of males and lack of opportunities for selfsupport leading men to leave families in search of income

Preventive action:

· Early attention to providing economic opportunities or other productive activities can reduce the number of men who leave their families.

3. Undermining of the role of mothers (through chronic ill health, malnourishment, physical or mental disability)

Preventive action:

· Special attention to protecting the health of mothers especially when resources are limited.

4. Highly visible residential centres for unaccompanied refugees (children, the elderly or disabled) can encourage some people to leave their families, expecting to receive better or specialized assistance

Preventive action:

· Providing care through families instead of centres avoids this problem.

5. Inability of families headed by a single parent (especially when the parent Is male) to cope

Preventive action:

· Providing special support to such families.

Refugee Participation: Community services providers can strengthen a programme of assistance by organizing constructive refugee participation. Refugees can be involved in needs and resources assessment, planning and implementing assistance measures and evaluating the results. The degree of participation will depend on the situation. Limiting factors may include:

· refugee limitations (technical skills, management experience, motivation, limited resources, restrictive policies, socio-cultural practices)

· reluctance of agency staff to give up control

· government concern about refugees controlling activities.

Possible Forms of Participation:

Self-help activities and mutual support groups. Self-help activities and mutual support groups often develop naturally or as a result of conscious refugee initiatives. Community workers seek to identify and support these as needed. Where they do not exist but could be useful, community workers, together with any technical specialists required, can help organize such activities.

These may include:

· Setting up of a refugee committee (selected by refugees) to provide a two-way information link between refugees and UNHCR/implementing partners.

· Established refugees assisting new arrivals with information, support and practical assistance with housing and other matters.

· Production of items for use in camps.

· Construction of community facilities.

· Care of needy individuals.

Refugee leadership

By accepted refugee leaders:

· representing the interests of the refugee community when dealing with government administrators and aid organizations.

· carrying out or supervising such basic tasks as distributing aid, assigning housing and settling disputes.

Requirements for Effective Refugee Participation:

1. Organization

Although there are exceptions, effective refugee participation usually requires some outside help in the initial stages of planning and organization. The role of the non-refugee organizer includes helping refugees to:

· identify their needs, resources and goals
· mobilize their own resources
· make use of available outside resources
· develop their own systems of leadership and operation

The organizer's role is quite different from that of a leader. The organizer's place is in the background, guiding and assisting only when necessary.

2. Official support

Before refugees are asked to participate in decision-making, make sure that the government authorities and administrators are willing to accept the results. If there are limits to what they will accept, these must be made clear to the refugees.

3. Realistic approach

In an emergency the desire for refugee participation must be weighed against the need to get things done quickly. Consequently broad refugee participation in planning during the emergency phase may not be worth the time. Large-scale community participation is difficult to sustain over time. A practical approach is to:

· involve the general refugee community in setting priorities and making key decisions

· arrange for representatives selected by the community to be responsible for implementation

· provide opportunities for continuing participation of those who are interested (e.g. open meetings).

4. Realistic Objectives

The objectives to be achieved through participation must be realistic in terms of the background and skills of the refugees, the resources available and environmental or policy limitations.

5. Maintaining Momentum

Effective participation does not just happen. It requires careful planning and continuing effort to maintain it.

6. Background Knowledge

An organizer must be familiar with the cultural, social, political and economic dynamics within the refugee group to be organized.

7. Decentralization

If participation is to have meaning, authority for making decisions and using resources must be given to participants. Refugees are unlikely to be interested in simply providing advice, particularly when it can be easily disregarded.

Community Building/Development Process


Community development is an integrated development process aimed at improving the overall economic, social and cultural conditions of a community.


Old Chinese Verse by Lao Tse

Go in search of your people:
Love them;
Learn from them;
Plan with them;
Serve them;
Begin with what they have;
Build on what they know.
But of the best leaders when their task is
accomplished, their work is done, the people
all remark:

"We have done it ourselves."


Refugee participation in an assistance programme has costs to be recognised as well as benefits. In a specific situation, and especially in emergencies, these factors must be weighed against each other to decide what level and type of participation is justified.

Some potential benefits and costs of refugee participation

More realistic information for planning.
Services are more likely to address real needs.
The broader the scope of participation, the more likely project benefits will be distributed fairly.
More favourable community opinion of a project.
Additional labour, skills and other resources are made available.
Higher levels of commitment to achieving the goals agreed upon.
Effects are likely to be more long lasting.
Increased project effectiveness due to all the above.
Increased sense among participants of self-worth and of having control over their lives.
More time required to allow for involvement in planning and for training.
Additional costs due to increased staff time.
May have to consider different needs from those administrators see as priorities.
Loss of short-term efficiency when refugees are expected to perform unfamiliar tasks.
Lowering of professional standards when refugees assume technical roles with limited training.
May run a higher risk of failure if a project is directed by participants away from its original objectives, or if their technical performance is not adequate.
Loss of time spent directly on economic activities when time is required for planning and decision-making.


While participation and refugee involvement may sometimes retard the process of assistance, because of the intervening learning that takes place, in the long term it will ensure a self-help approach which is the goal of all assistance. Taking time to train refugees is well worth the effort and time required.


Community Participation in Environmental Activities


The arrival of a refugee influx greatly intensifies existing environmental problems in an area and their impact on the environment is quickly felt by the refugees themselves, particularly in harmful effects on the health of women, children and vulnerable groups.

Refugee and host community participation in environmental activities is a cornerstone of UNHCR's reformulated policy. Unless refugees are aware of their responsibility to conserve the local environment, preventive measures are unlikely to succeed. Participation in decision-making helps to create that awareness.

Fostering participation is the most cost-effective environmental measures which can be introduced in the emergency phase. With very little investment in money terms, the success of many technical measures can be greatly enhanced.

It is likely that encouraging refugee and host community participation in environmental decision-making will bring to the surface tensions and conflicts, in the short term. However, by opening up communication between refugees, host communities, host government authorities, local and international NGOs and UNHCR, on a range of environmental issues, the long-term escalation into violence of resource-management conflicts can be avoided or minimized. Similarly, political pressures faced by UNHCR over inappropriate environmental management can be defused if genuine sharing of responsibility occurs.


The fundamental question to answer here is: who participates in whose activities? We should not simply invite refugees to contribute to their labour to UNHCR or implementing partner "projects", imposed upon them by foreign "experts". Refugee and local communities must be engaged in decision-making about local resource management. The crucial issue is ownership of and responsibility for the process of change.

If refugees and local people are enabled to join UNHCR as partners in decisions about the assessment of needs, the setting of environmental programme and activity objectives, the planning of activities, the allocation of resources, the process of implementation, monitoring and evaluation, then that participation will be meaningful and not token.

Genuine mutual respect must be fostered for the traditional environmental knowledge and coping mechanisms of both refugee and host communities and for the benefits of modern science. In managing the environment of refugee-affected areas, both are vital.

Local land tenure arrangements, including usufruct rights to common lands must be considered in consultations over the environment.

Incentives to participation must be handled with consistency and sensitivity.

Environmental issues must be placed high on whatever participatory mechanisms begin to emerge during the first days of the influx. If a committee structure develops, it may be possible to encourage the establishment of a local environmental task force, including representatives of refugee and local host communities, local government officials, local and international NGOs and UNHCR. Clearly it is necessary that such a task force be as representative of the full range of refugee and local community interests as possible. The environmental task force will be vital in helping create a consensus among all concerned over the objectives, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of environmental activities.


After consultation with refugee and local community leaders and other sectoral specialists, the environmental specialist on the emergency team may recommend a combination of the following measures, among others, during the emergency phase, depending upon local geographic, climatic and economic conditions:

· tree marking

· tree planting, to prevent erosion and possibly later for fuelwood harvesting

· organized fuelwood distribution

· alternative energy sources (e.g. kerosene, solar, crop residues)

· promotion of environmentally friendly cooking practices, e.g. pre-soaking hard, dry foods, milling grains, cutting food into small portions, limiting the extent of the fire to family, communal and institutional cooking arrangements

· fuel efficient cooking devices, such as improved stoves, solar cookers

· sound waste disposal, e.g. recycling of wastes for compost, mulch and fertiliser

· water conservation measures

· sound sanitation practices

· sustainable shelter practices, e.g. minimizing pole requirements, improving mortar ix

· environmental awareness campaigns to increase acceptance and understanding of all the above measures.

Check List

Are refugees' efforts to re-establish community social structures and institutions being supported? Are there places where they can gather informally to hold meetings, etc.?

Do refugees have a means of communicating with family members from whom they have been separated?

Has a tracing service been set up? Have the refugees been informed about the service?

Have policies and procedures for reunion been agreed with the authorities?

Are refugees informed about: assistance and services available, government policies and regulations that affect them, opportunities for employment, education and other services?

Have community leaders, health professionals, TBAs, teachers, traditional healers, been identified/mobilized?

What are refugees doing to help themselves?

Have refugees been able to participate in planning and implementation of assistance?

Are traditional coping mechanisms reactivated?. If not, why not?

Have mutual and/or self-support groups been organized?

Is there a refugee committee? If not, can one be set up?

Have potential refugee community workers been identified, recruited, trained?

What action is being taken to prevent family separation?

What is the cultural, social, political and economic profile of the refugee community?