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close this bookNew Approaches to New Realities (University of Wisconsin, 1996, 508 p.)
close this folderTheme ONE: Identification and Planning of Emergency Settlement
View the documentTopic 1 - Introduction and Overview: Typology and Causes of Emergency Settlement
View the documentTopic 2 - Planning for Preparedness: Early Warning, Contingencies, and Operations
View the documentTopic 3 - Needs and Resources Assessment
View the documentTopic 4 - Information Management and Communications
View the documentTopic 5 - Interagency Coordination During Emergencies
View the documentTopic 6 - Systemwide Institutional Response to Emergencies

Topic 1 - Introduction and Overview: Typology and Causes of Emergency Settlement

This paper was prepared by Eva Jensen of InterWorks. In addition to the resources listed in the paper, the following people provided significant contributions:

Elizabeth Ferris - is Director of the Immigration and Refugee Program for Church World Service in New York.

Dr. Barbara Harrell-Bond - is Director of the Refugee Studies Programme at the University of Oxford.

Frank Verhagen - is with the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva, Switzerland.

This paper is a synthesis of the efforts of all of those cited above and as such does not express the viewpoint of any single resource, contributor or organization.


Emergency settlement is a major issue that affects an increasing proportion of the world’s population. Today more than forty-five million people are displaced by natural and human-made disasters. Most uprooted peoples are struggling to survive without adequate food, health care, shelter, information and services. Furthermore, the causes, categories and circumstances of emergency settlement populations have become increasingly complex. International humanitarian institutions and non-governmental organizations which seek to provide protection, assistance and long-term solutions are challenged by the vast numbers of refugees and displaced persons and the complexity of situations which are generating these movements.

This paper provides an overview of the current state of affairs regarding emergency settlement - the types of emergency settlement populations; causes, contexts, types and duration of emergency settlement; and potential long-term solutions. An awareness of the full range of populations, causes, situations and issues associated with emergency settlement is essential in order to respond to the challenges presented by the rapid and sometimes overlapping succession of uprooted populations who are in need of protection and assistance in the world today.

The Emergency Population

Today, the providers of humanitarian assistance and protection have moved beyond strict adherence to legal categories and principles when serving emergency populations. The following typologies include legally recognized categories of uprooted persons; others who are recognized and provided assistance, though no legal status has been ascribed to them; as well as those who fend for themselves, without the benefit of legal status, protection or assistance from international providers.

Internally Displaced Persons

People who, as a result of armed conflict, internal strife, systematic violations of human rights, natural or human-made disasters, or development projects, have been forced to flee their homes but remain within the territory of their own country are considered internally displaced persons. Increasingly, international institutions and organizations are called upon to protect and assist internally displaced persons; however, much less institutionalized support is available.

Externally Displaced Persons

People who, as a result of armed conflict, internal strife, systematic violations of human rights, natural or human-made disasters, or development projects, have been forced to flee their homes and have crossed an international border, but who are not legally recognized as refugees are externally displaced persons. Many people within this category are not included in the mandates of the UN and other providers of humanitarian assistance although they may be assisted by them.

De facto refugees are a sub-category of externally displaced persons. They are persons not recognized as refugees within the meaning of Article 1 of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and who for reasons recognized as valid (especially war and generalized violence), are not willing to return to their country of nationality or, if they have no nationality, to the country of their habitual residence. They are externally displaced persons who are generally treated as refugees but lack the formal designation.


Convention refugees, within the meaning of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, are people whom governments have determined that “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, are outside the country of [their] nationality and [are] unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail [themselves] of the protection of that country, or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of [their] former habitual residence, [are] unwilling to return to it.” Recognizing that many externally displaced persons are not covered by this definition, 42 African and 10 Latin American governments signed regional instruments which expand this definition.

Mandate refugees are people recognized by the High Commissioner for Refugees according to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees which specifies the following inclusion elements: well-founded fear; persecution; reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion; and outside the country of origin.

Refugees “Sur Place” are persons who were not refugees when they left their country, but who have become refugees due to developments in their country of origin or because of their actions outside of the country.

Asylum seekers

People who cross borders and appeal for refugee status on grounds of fear of persecution for political, ethnic or religious reasons or membership in a particular social group are asylum seekers. Decisions on asylum status are made by governments based on their interpretation of the refugee definition contained in the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol for those countries that have signed the protocol.


Refugees and displaced persons who return to their homelands or communities of origin are returnees. Their return may be voluntary or involuntary.

Disaster Survivors

Disaster survivors are those who have lost their homes due to a disaster, live in temporary shelter, and expect to return to their community. They may be internally or externally displaced. The distinction between a displaced person and disaster survivor is based principally on the close proximity of the survivor’s temporary housing to his/her original home and/or on the disaster survivor’s expectations of returning to his/her own community. Nevertheless, some disaster survivors whose homes were wiped out by a landslide or volcanic eruption will never be able to return to their home site. Disaster survivors may require emergency humanitarian assistance; however, they are not regarded as persons imperiled by political oppression or civil conflict.


Non-combatants are civilians trapped in their habitual location or place of residence by war or civil conflict and who have lost access to the elements essential to survival, such as security, food, water, land, shelter, or health care. Sometimes the distinction between combatants and non-combatants is not clear. In many conflicts (Cambodia, Mozambique and Sudan), young boys are forced into military service or resistance movements by conscription or desperation as a way of protecting themselves or providing for their families. In other situations community members are forced to participate in violence against others by the militia who move through an area.

There is danger in classifying uprooted populations, because it tends to establish presumptions regarding the scope of need or a hierarchy of entitlement, with convention refugees at the top. There are established international structures to assist certain categories of emergency populations. Assistance providers, however, fail to reach the majority of uprooted populations, many of whom are in desperate need of protection and/or assistance. Though internally displaced persons currently outnumber refugees, much less institutional support is available to these people. The causes and consequences of their displacement may be identical and the differential treatment in humanitarian assistance provided may be unjustifiable. Recognition of such differentiation in assistance may warrant a re-evaluation of the system of response and assistance. Perhaps the major difficulty in reaching international agreement about assistance to the internally displaced is the issue of national sovereignty. If a government does not recognize the needs of the displaced or does not want an international presence in a combat zone, it is difficult for the United Nations or for NGOs to provide assistance.

The typology specified above is generally based on the perspective of governments and intergovernmental institutions and organizations. The complex and interrelated causes of displacement are not evident, nor are the needs of those involved apparent. The categories may be helpful in order to identify some of the different issues that uprooted persons face and the support that they need. However, the contextual differences and complexities involved must be analyzed in order to evaluate comparative need, prioritize and plan assistance responses, and implement durable solutions.

Social Attributes of Emergency Settlement Populations

Though uprooted persons may be categorized by one of the above typologies, they have particular personal and social characteristics which affect their status and experience as part of an emergency population. All people have social roles and relationships in their communities and their assistance and protection needs vary depending on that role and the circumstances of their displacement, as well as changes in social structures and relations that the emergency may have created.

The social and economic characteristics of an emergency settlement population should be assessed in order to identify their needs and resources. Households are often selected as units of analysis in order to make such determinations. In such examinations it is essential to recognize gender and generational roles within households as well as the power relations within and between households. Household characteristics that are important to consider are: family type, household size, age and sex composition, skills, education and class.

Gender and age differentially affect household members and one cannot assume that households are socioeconomic units whose members strive for a common end (Geisler, 1993), equitably sharing their resources and incomes. The social relations of gender and age and the concomitant inequalities in access to land, production and income must be recognized. Humanitarian assistance programs must be designed to integrate women and acknowledge the differences between men’s and women’s economic and social roles in ways that support the development of everyone’s capacities if humanitarian protection and assistance is to benefit all members of an emergency population.

In an emergency population, the vulnerable are those who are more exposed to violence and exploitation, as well as those who are unable to cope with risk, shocks and stress of disaster. Some people are more vulnerable than others and may require additional assistance. Often they are the same people who would be considered vulnerable under normal circumstances - women, children and the elderly; those who are sick, injured, or physically or mentally challenged; and those who are socially disadvantaged or excluded from the wider community of which they are a part. For those people who have been exposed to atrocities and widespread violence, the trauma and grief experienced may be incapacitating or lead to a breakdown in social norms. In every uprooted community, vulnerable groups and their particular needs must be identified if they are to be included in the provision of protection and humanitarian assistance.

Causes of Emergency Settlement

The forces creating emergency populations are interrelated and often inseparable from one another. Economic and environmental conditions are usually linked to political policies and practice. Economic factors often influence environmental circumstances. Sometimes the forces which cause disasters are immediate and violent. In other situations the disaster may be the result of ongoing low-intensity conflict, steadily declining economic conditions or low-grade political repression or neglect. The variety of forces which displace populations traumatize people in different ways and create different needs. When establishing priorities and providing protection and assistance it is essential that the responses are based on needs. Understanding the various causes of emergency settlement, some of which command more attention than others, can positively contribute to the design of appropriate humanitarian assistance responses.

Political dynamics

Political dynamics - civil conflict and war, mass expulsions and forced displacements, state repression, human rights violations or abuse of minorities - may create emergency populations. Ongoing low-intensity conflict destabilizes social equilibrium, erodes infrastructure and the ability of people and communities to survive. Military operations, which could include invasions of an area, sweeps, occupation, or forced conscription, are major triggering events that uproot populations.

Government policies which discriminate and disadvantage certain groups may create displaced populations. Some emergency populations are created by the forced resettlement of communities by their own governments. In Ethiopia in 1985, the government relocated Tigreans and Eritreans, justifying their action in economic and environmental terms; most observers recognized their action as a politically motivated relocation. In Indonesia, the government has relocated people from the crowded island of Java to the more sparsely settled Irian Jaya, resulting in the displacement of Irian Jayans within their country and to neighboring Papua New Guinea.

Efforts to consolidate power or establish rule may involve domination, exclusion, repression, expulsion or attempts to eliminate groups whose language, ethnicity, religion, culture, political beliefs or socio-economic status is different. Civil conflict is often fueled by ethnic, racial or religious differences.

Economic dynamics

Economic dynamics which cause the loss of any of the essential elements of settlement are often linked to sustained conflict situations where local or national economies erode or collapse under the weight of military destruction. When war disrupts agricultural production, food marketing and distribution, a lack of income for food producers and suppliers as well as a shortage of food supplies result. Economic deprivation may lead to the inability to purchase adequate food for people in their homes. Such impacts on the agricultural system may lead to famine and even greater population displacement.

Conflicts also usually impact the country’s industrial sector and destroy transportation and communications infrastructure necessary for the resumption of economic life. When factories are destroyed, unemployment increases and survival becomes more difficult.

The collapse of world markets (e.g. gold, steel, minerals, agricultural commodities) may have significant negative impacts on national economies. In contexts of poverty or near subsistence economies, disputes concerning the distribution of resources, attempts to preserve the economic standing of one group over another, or attempts to avoid or allocate blame for economic conditions may heighten instability and aggravate conflicts.

Environmental dynamics

Environmental forces which create emergency populations may be natural disasters or catastrophes caused by humans. In both situations people are forced to leave their homes because the land on which they live has become uninhabitable or is no longer able to support them. The impact of environmental forces depends, in part, on the economic development of the affected region.

Natural disasters - including floods, drought, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, land instabilities and strong winds - in addition to causing serious environmental damage and loss of life, may destroy the homes and physical infrastructure of communities as well as agricultural and business industries and the local economy. Mass migrations of uprooted populations may result, or those communities that remain may become emergency settlements as they lose access to essential elements of a healthy life.

Human-caused environmental disasters include slow-onset disruptions which may result in famine, deforestation, land degradation, erosion, salinity, siltation, waterlogging and desertification; or accidental industrial disruptions which may involve chemicals, nuclear waste and other toxins. Urbanization and development-caused disruptions may involve land degradation, or over-exploitation, or encroachment which displaces or destabilizes and impoverishes populations.

Uprooting as a process

The following diagram illustrates the range of factors influencing migration flows and highlights emergency populations which are created. The horizontal axis places migration along a voluntary-forced continuum identifying the degree of voluntariness or coercion involved. Most emergency migrations are involuntary; people are forced to move in response to various dynamics which are operative in their place of origin.

Although it does not convey the full complexity of the causes of emergency displacement, the vertical axis identifies these dynamics along an economic - non-economic continuum. While economic dynamics cannot be separated from other causal forces, in many situations economic issues predominate. In other situations, political, religious, racial, ethnic and other social dynamics prevail. Environmental dynamics often involve both economic and political factors. While the continuum highlights the predominance of economic dynamics in some situations, a complex mix of factors create emergency populations.


Truely accurate numbers of emergency population types are nearly impossible to obtain and verify. At least one current estimate believes the population exceeds forty-five million people. The U.S. Committee for Refugees’ December 1994 statistics estimate the following:



Internally displaced


Externally displaced


Refugees and asylum seekers




In addition to the uprooted populations specified above, the number of people displaced by development projects world-wide is estimated to be over 90 million (McDowell, 1995, p. 30). While such displacement does create social disintegration and impoverishment resulting in emergency populations, the circumstances and needs of this population lie beyond the scope of this emergency settlement project. Unlike other emergency populations, people and communities displaced by development projects are often populations identified years prior to their displacement and the responses required to protect their human rights and assist their resettlement can be planned with the effected population and implemented as part of the development effort. Other emergency populations require immediate protection and assistance in order to survive, establish refuge and a temporary solution to their crisis.

Contexts of Emergency Settlement

There are numerous factors which affect emergency settlement populations. Displaced persons and refugees are rarely free agents who are able to choose where they will settle on an emergency basis. Host communities among whom they settle are frequently not consulted. Logistical, political and economic factors are often the deciding factors which direct the flow of emergency populations and prescribe the design and implementation of protection and assistance which agencies and organizations provide. The following are factors which may determine where settlement occurs.


The geographic location of emergency populations may be in situ, in-country, or within the region of origin. When the population is a community trapped at home by conflict, settlement is in situ. Such emergency populations may include displacees as well as local residents. Cross-border operations and corridors of tranquillity or safe passage are established in order to provide humanitarian assistance to such populations in need of emergency relief. In Sudan, Lebanon, Kampuchea, El Salvador and other places assistance has been provided utilizing these methods.

More recently, designated “safe havens” have been identified by the U.N. and international humanitarian assistance providers as a means of responding to the protection and assistance needs of emergency populations trapped at home. In 1991, following the Persian Gulf War, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 688 which identified the Kurds of Northern Iraq as “sufficiently threatening to international peace and security to authorize outside military intervention and create safe havens for them” (Minear and Weiss, 1993; see also Chopra and Weiss, 1992). Having established a protected area of safety, international humanitarian assistance was provided to the emergency population, both displacees and local residents.

Similar operations have been mobilized in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia. However, these safe havens are not always safe. Four UN protected areas were set up in Croatia and six Muslim enclaves were designated as safe havens in Bosnia - Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zepa, Srebrenica, Gorazde and Bihac. The protection offered to these areas was extremely limited and the populations remained vulnerable to continued attacks. In fact, Zepa and Srebrenica fell to Bosnian Serb forces and thousands of people were uprooted. While UN officials appealed to governments in the areas of protection and they were able to restrain abuses against civilians, when Zepa and Srebrenica fell thousands of non-combatant men and boys were murdered. In 1993, UNHCR prevailed on the Croatian government to restart registering Muslim refugees, an initiative important to many who, lacking proper documentation, were subject to refoulement to Bosnia (Minear, et. al, 1994). Croatia, however, later revoked Bosnian Muslims’ right to stay. Emergency populations residing in safe havens may be extremely vulnerable.

In-country emergency settlement is that which occurs within the country of origin. Internally displaced as a result of armed conflict, internal strife, systematic violations of human rights, natural or human-made disasters, or development projects, millions of people have been forced to flee their homes but remain within the territory of their own country. In contexts of conflict where border areas are contested and ruling powers are shifting what constitutes “in-country” is not always clear. In addition, many refugees and displaced persons move back and forth between their area of emergency settlement and their place of origin. In Sri Lanka, centers for displaced persons were set up, but people moved between these centers and their homes in conflict zones, seeking to retain their holdings and protect belongings.

Emergency settlement that involves movement across an international border generally occurs within a geographical region. When people are uprooted by actions of their government, when their governments are unable or unwilling to protect them, or when people are not able to find or access a place of refuge within their country of origin, they will cross international borders. Cross-border movement may involve less travel than some in-country movement. Again, uprooted populations that have crossed borders may move between their area of emergency settlement and their place of origin. Mozambican refugees in Malawi, Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Guatemalan refugees in Mexico would periodically cross back and forth into their countries for a variety of reasons: to look for firewood, check on their farms, continue the military conflict or assess whether it is safe to return.

The living situation for many refugees and displaced persons is constantly in flux. They may move from a settlement camp to a city and back again. They may rotate between an area where they have chosen to self-settle and a camp, or the members of a household may separate, some living in a camp, some in a city and others in a rural location of self-settlement. Such strategies may be adopted in order to maximize their chances for survival. A crucial aspect affecting the context of emergency settlement is the degree of coercion involved in the emergency populations’ choice of settlement.

Another important factor is the density of uprooted persons relative to the host population. When refugees or displaced persons outnumber the hosts, the local impact is significant. Planning, resource mobilization and management, as well as community relations require particular attention. If the number of uprooted persons is small, it may be possible to integrate them into the local population with limited local impact.


Economic conditions in the community of settlement are a significant factor influencing the process of settlement for emergency populations. When economic conditions are perceived as improving and resources are abundant, policies toward emergency settlement are usually more generous. When conditions are poor, unemployment is high or the economy is declining, hospitality is diminished and outsiders may be scapegoated.

In resource poor or developing countries, the needs of emergency populations may exacerbate existing conditions of poverty and contribute to social and political instability. African countries have had much more liberal policies towards refugees than many other countries and an African “tradition of hospitality” to serve uprooted persons of the same ethic origin from across the border has been relied upon to address the needs of many. Kibreab exposes the myth of this tradition and identifies the difficulties that poor countries and their citizens face when an influx of emergency populations arrive. Many in African rural society are living in abject poverty; land scarcity is an increasing problem; and basic resources of water, sanitation, food and fuel are limited. Hospitality is a function of resource availability. While, initially, the presence of people who speak the same language and share common cultural traits may provide a “soft landing”, such affinity cannot be relied upon in the long run to ameliorate the plight of emergency populations (Kibreab, 1985).

The availability of land and water are critical factors impacting the settlement of emergency populations. When land and water are not available, the displaced are more likely to be settled in camps, to settle on marginal lands or to settle on small plots of land where they cannot sustain themselves. In such circumstances, the uprooted are forced to find wage labor or rely upon assistance that is available. Land and water shortages may also encourage increased urban settlement where the displaced seek employment and alternative ways to support themselves. The anticipated availability of jobs is also an influencing factor which affects the settlement of the uprooted.

Emergency populations also comprise a wide range of skills. The occupations, experiences and skills of the inhabitants, in addition to the resources available and the circumstances in the place of settlement, can make a difference in the degree of dependency or self-reliance of the population. For example, refugees and displaced persons of urban origin are unlikely to thrive in organized smallholder agricultural settlements. When the place of settlement is one that provides opportunities and resources which match the skills and abilities of the uprooted population, they are more likely to be able to sustain themselves.

Most of today’s host countries of emergency settlement are among the least developed countries in the world. The vast majority of emergency populations move within their own countries and the next largest share move across national boundaries within the less-developed world (Meissner, et. al, 1993). Without protection and assistance, uprooted persons are vulnerable to exploitation and injustice. The better-off and more visible hosts may gain from the presence of refugees and refugee programs. In contrast, the poorer among the hosts and refugees can be losers, especially where land is scarce and labor relatively abundant. The poor can lose from competition for food, work, wages, services and common property resources (Chambers, 1986). International assistance is essential if the plight of uprooted people and their hosts is to be redressed, however, this dependency of poor countries on international assistance also makes them more vulnerable to international pressure.

In industrialized countries with established economic systems and infrastructures, more resources may be available to provide assistance. However, when economic conditions are in decline, competition for work, wages, housing and social services are likely to negatively impact the poor in those countries and the refugees or displaced persons. Foreigners may be blamed for the wider economic and social problems and marginalized from the society. The governments of rich and internationally influential countries are also more likely to be able to enforce exclusionary policies and prevent the flow of refugees into their countries. For example, the U.S. government has the capability to physically prevent most Haitians from arriving on its territory by interdicting ships and returning Haitians to Haiti. The refugee camp in Guantanamo, Cuba, which the U.S. established and maintains outside its territory, also prevented an influx of refugees to the mainland.

However, the governments of both rich and poor countries are unable to fully control emergency populations. In both cases, there are large numbers of undocumented people living on the margins of large societies.


Political factors which affect emergency settlement are multiple, varied and complex. Today’s complex emergencies are characterized by conflict stemming from varied political factors and response to the emergencies must take into account the political dimensions of the situation. In addition to assessing the needs and resources of the emergency population, humanitarian assistance providers need to know who the actors are, who is in control of what areas, what kind of alliances may or may not exist and who is benefiting and losing as a result of relief efforts (Slim, 1995). The political dynamics operative in specific contexts will impact uprooted populations and emergency settlements and humanitarian assistance personnel must become more politically savvy in order to alleviate suffering and avoid being used by various parties in the conflict. These concerns are addressed more fully in topic paper 8.

The extent to which a local or state governing authority or party faces political opposition will affect its attitude and response to emergency populations. In both multi-party states and governments of single-party rule, governments are more likely to adopt a restrictive hard line policy toward emergency populations than when they are more secure. Vulnerable governing authorities fear their local support will be eroded if they welcome outsiders and extend services to needy populations.

On the other hand, governments and communities that are more heterogeneous and have a history of immigration are more likely to respond to uprooted populations, providing emergency settlement. Australia, for example, opened a camp for Cambodians living on its northern shores. In contrast, Japan, a homogenous society, has been historically opposed to immigration and was unwilling to receive South-east Asian refugees (Ferris, 1995).

The ethnic composition of a country or area of settlement and its relationship to political power will affect the treatment of refugees and displaced persons. For example, the admission of large numbers of Soviet Jews into the U.S. is influenced by the political influence of Jewish constituencies in the United States. The responses of local communities and governing authorities to internally displaced persons are similarly influenced.

Regional disparities and politics within and between countries also influence the attitudes and policies of receiving communities and countries towards emergency populations. Internal and external political factors contributed to an ambiguous response to Guatemalan refugees in the first couple years of their flight into Mexico. Critical of governmental repression in Guatemala and sympathetic to the plight of Guatemalan refugees, the Mexican government provided limited assistance and legal status to some refugees. Fearful that the influx of Guatemalan refugees into the state of Chiapas would exacerbate conditions of poverty and potential insurgency within Mexico, the government deported large numbers who sought protection and assistance (Ferris, 1993). Similarly, in the heavily impacted states of Florida and California in the United States, Haitian and Cuban refugees are deported in order to mitigate negative domestic political repercussions generated by the fear of social and economic instability. Fleeing political violence in Algeria in response to the upsurge in Islamic fundamentalism, many Algerians have sought asylum in France. Concerned to minimize the number of Algerian refugees in France, the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA) has required Algerian refugee claimants to show that the persecution they feared was at the hands of the government. The Office has had a very low approval rate for Algerian claimants (U.S. Committee for Refugees, 1995).

If a host government considers the emergency population to be a dissident faction which could destabilize relations between the host and sending countries or relations among people within the country, potentially expanding conflict and violence into the host region, the governing authorities are likely to require strict security and closed camps. Perceiving Salvadoran refugees as guerrillas and fearing that they would find fertile ground in Honduras, the Honduran government kept Salvadoran refugees in strictly controlled camps. Concerned about the refugees close proximity to the border and internal security, as well as their relations with El Salvador, the camps were kept under close military surveillance. Nicaraguan refugees, on the other hand, were given much more freedom because they were not feared and the Honduran government actually supported their efforts to oppose the Sandinista government (Ferris, 1993).


Several social factors influence emergency settlement patterns, including the ethnic identity of the uprooted persons and the host populations, the social organization of the uprooted, the timing of their flight, and their skills and experience. Uprooted persons will tend to go to areas where they have family members or areas of the same ethnic group. For example, many of the refugees in Croatia and Chechnya stayed with family members in areas which are less affected by the conflict. Ethnic Hungarians from the former Yugoslavia have fled to Hungary.

When people move in advance of the crisis of a disaster, they often move as individuals or households and tend to self-settle with relatives, on small land-holdings or in urban areas where they can support themselves or rely upon the initial support of relatives. Those who move in smaller units tend to have more flexibility and, therefore, options for settlement.

When refugees move in response to a crisis they are more likely to be vulnerable and part of a larger flow of refugees. They may have lost their resources and suffered violence, conflict and the loss of loved ones. When the numbers are large, a mass program of relief will be needed and money will end up in camps and settlements. If the mass movement of uprooted persons consists of people from the same community or area of origin, they may have some social leadership structures and relationships that they can continue to rely upon. If the population is one that has been divided, the unique vulnerabilities, skills and resources of the people will have to be assessed and some additional temporary support services may be essential. If the population is one that has expanded as they moved from their area of origin to their place of settlement, community formation and leadership development may require support.

Topographic, environmental and climatic factors

In addition to the economic, political and social factors which effect the settlement of emergency populations, settlements may be differentiated by physical environment. The terrain may be mountainous, hilly or flat. Agricultural resources must be considered: forested area, pastureland, cropland, soil type and vegetation. Proximity to water is a critical factor. Climactic variations effect housing and livelihood options. Environmental degradation has serious impacts. Proximity to transport routes and communication links is also critical in terms of providing necessary supplies to any settlement and assuring that the displacees have access to services, employment and other resources.

Site selection is limited by availability of land. Settlement land should be exempt from the right of ownership or use by other people. When uprooted people are settled on land to which others have legal claim, conflicts with the local population may arise and the livelihood of all may be threatened. In addition, sites should be located a safe distance away from any military targets and a safe distance away from their country of origin in order to prevent hostile attacks either against the refugees or against the country of origin. It may be that land shortages limit the availability of land to marginal holdings of questionable habitation. Such sites require additional outside assistance. Minimum physical and planning standards (detailed in topic paper 13) must be met when establishing sites for emergency populations.

Sometimes political factors override the consideration of logistical factors. For example, in Kenya, Somali refugee camps on the coast, which have been relatively easy to service were moved to the interior where they were much more difficult to service. The relocation was motivated by several political concerns: to encourage the Somalis to repatriate, to move them away from populated areas where they have become engaged in business, and because the coastal camps were located on valuable land. Care should be taken to minimize such political concerns when they threaten the livelihood, safety or security of the emergency population.

Types of Emergency Settlement

The types of settlement in which uprooted populations settle vary considerably. The following overview provides a brief description of the major settlement types.

Spontaneous or dispersed settlement

The majority of uprooted people settle themselves, “seeking livelihoods outside organized settlements or camps and without sustained official assistance.” (Chambers, 1982). Spontaneous or dispersed settlement may occur in-situ, in country, or involve cross-border settlement. Internally displaced populations more often self-settle and are dependent on their own resources and ingenuity, in addition to the generosity and tolerance of host communities, because of the limited mandates of humanitarian assistance organizations that address their needs. Settlement is often with extended family members or in communities with people of the same ethnic background. It may be either rural, urban or peri-urban. In some cases the U.N. has promoted this kind of settlement by providing food rations to uprooted persons staying with relatives.

The advantages of self-settlement include the limited administrative support required, the low-cost, the self-help and independence that it fosters and the degree of self-determination that it permits. Disadvantages include overburdening existing resources and infrastructure, and inadequate support and protection (Chambers, 1982). Given the existing poverty of many hosting communities and countries as well as the limited resources of emergency populations, self-settlement can be extremely difficult and the entire population may become further impoverished.

Spontaneous settlement may involve shelter exchange. This occurs when two or more communities are forced to flee their homes, usually because of war or civil conflict, and when it is feasible for each abandoned community to become occupied by the population from the other. Such exchange has occurred between Armenia and Azerbaijan/Nagorno-Karabakh. In Bosnia-Herzegovina abandoned flats have been occupied by incoming emergency populations. Such occupation provides shelter for needy populations, however, the political implications of such occupation is significant. The incorporation of shelter exchange into organized settlement programs, requires complex political analysis of the implications and long-term consequences of such settlement.


Camps may be established to provide protection and assistance for emergency populations near their place of origin, in-country or in settlement areas across international borders. Regional or local integration is a low priority and the relief and protection is usually intended to be short-term and temporary.

Closed Camps restrict the movement of refugees or displaced persons to assure security and physical protection in the context of conflict and to restrict integration in the area of settlement.

Open Camps allow freedom of movement and generally facilitate integration with the local population and economy. Openness improves the opportunity for development and fosters self-reliance. Open camps are organized emergency settlements which may develop into permanent residential settlements.

Mass shelter

Generally required by the emergency flow of mass movements of uprooted persons and considered short-term, mass shelter provides refuge in pre-existing facilities - warehouses, barracks, gymnasiums, schools - which often were never intended to be residential facilities. The central concerns include overcrowding, inadequate privacy, sanitation and provision of services. The impact on the facility used for shelter can also be a major concern. In 1992, after the worst floods for 200 years in China, schools were used as shelters. Families wrecked the chairs, desks and other furnishings, resulting in a new policy requiring a specific room into which all furniture is placed before the headmaster hands the school over to the Civil Defense Office.

When longer-term alternatives for temporary settlement are not available, issues related to such concerns are exacerbated and dependency is likely to result. In addition, the occupation of public facilities for housing may obstruct the capacity to provide the public services for which the buildings are normally utilized.

Smallholder Settlements

Smallholder settlements are organized settlements where refugees are provided with a place of residence and a means of livelihood. Most are agricultural and aim to establish economic viability for the settled population. Arguments against smallholder settlement have focused on the institutional nature of some settlements, the high failure rate of settlements that have required continual subsidies and support, or the failure of those which were established on insufficient land with inadequate resources and accessibility. In addition, the costs of such settlement have also been prohibitive, particularly when land had to be purchased. There are, however, cases where smallholder settlement has been successful and uprooted persons have been able to establish themselves in a self-reliant manner, with familiar livelihoods, contributing to both the economy and social infrastructure of the host community. (Chambers, 1982).

Lessons learned from the mistakes of some of the first emergency settlements include recognition of the importance of freedom of movement, the failure of collective agricultural production and the importance of qualified staff selection and training (Chambers, 1982). Confining agricultural settlers within a limited area reduces their ability to learn from area agriculturists, supplement their incomes and food supplies through other employment or trade, and integrate within the social and economic context of the host community. Such isolation inhibits self-reliance and induces dependency, rather than encouraging an investment of time and energy in community development.

Collective agricultural production has seldom been successful, but smallholder production based on household economic units have been successful and are preferred by settlers. The management of agricultural settlements requires a willingness and ability to listen to, understand and communicate with the uprooted population, rather than an authoritative top-down management approach. Agricultural and administrative competence and an ability to work with the local population, administration, and governing structures is also critical. A participatory and flexible approach to smallholder settlement is more likely to develop appropriate support systems and respond to the needs of the emergency population. The resources available for such responses and the increasing numbers of uprooted persons, will limit the viability of smallholder settlements in many contexts, however, they may be the best solution in some circumstances.

Duration of Emergency Settlements and Long-Term Solutions


Temporary settlements are interim arrangements intended to be of limited duration until safe return or resettlement is possible. An emergency that is short-term is generally caused by natural or technological disasters for which recovery can be achieved without intervening political upheaval or conflict.


Though intended to be temporary, the duration of many settlements is not readily apparent, as resolution of protracted causal factors is difficult to predict and implementation of recovery programs may languish. Increasingly, host governments and communities are unable, reluctant, or unwilling to integrate emergency populations and emergency settlement is considered temporary. Though permanent legal status may not be granted, in situations where the conditions causing flight are protracted and return is impossible, the development of self-sufficient settlements is preferred to indeterminate camp status.

Decisions made in the initial emergency phase of an influx - such as placement of wells or patterns of housing or choice of fuel supply - are often made in the heat of the moment, but come back to haunt camp administrators. In Zaire thousands of Rwandans who were dying because of lack of food and medical treatment, self-settled in an area without water. When the immediate emergency had passed, aid providers were faced with the choice of moving large numbers of people to an area where there was sufficient water, or providing water by truck to camps, an expensive response requiring enormous energy and logistical support. The consequences of compromising on the availability of essential resources in the initial settlement crisis period are far-reaching. Guidelines have been developed for emergency settlement, although they are sometimes not utilized, to ensure that longer-term implications are considered at the very beginning.

In contrast, self-sufficient settlements with an adequate base of resources that have received initial support for both the emergency population and the local hosts may have beneficial impacts on the local socio-economic structure and systems. They may also provide opportunities for improving the lives of refugees and displaced persons that can be beneficial in their eventual place of permanent settlement. Given the increasingly protracted nature of forces which create emergency populations, a development approach to emergency settlement, which recognizes the diverse needs and abilities of the host and emergency populations and facilitates opportunities to address those needs and build upon those strengths, is essential.

Long-Term - “Durable” - Solutions

Historically three long-term solutions have been applied to uprooted populations: third country resettlement, integration into host communities, and voluntary repatriation or return to place of origin. Third country resettlement is a durable solution for less than one percent of today’s emergency population. Because many host communities and countries are impoverished and lacking socio-economic and political stability as well as resources to sustain their own populations, local integration is not an option for most refugees and displaced persons. Repatriation and return have become the preferred durable solution and it is fully discussed in topic paper 11.


Reconstruction is often required before uprooted persons can return to their place of origin or reestablish their lives when they have been emergency populations in-situ. When the forces of displacement have involved natural or environmental disasters or warfare, substantial reconstruction may be required before it is safe for people to return or possible to re-establish self-sufficiency.


As the number of uprooted persons in the world increases, the size and frequency of emergency operations have increased and they are more complex. The crises are intertwined with a variety of political, military, economic, social and legal interests which involve complex historical origins and contemporary issues. However, the funds available for emergency protection and assistance are limited and there is an increasing tendency to limit assistance to life-sustaining relief items. Less funding is available for programs which support education, economic self-sufficiency, preventive health care, counseling and other services. Support for development planning, strategies and assistance which could address the root causes of disasters are being eclipsed by emergency relief and humanitarian assistance. While those who are providing humanitarian assistance cannot bring development or peace, international institutions and organizations can offer aid in a way that avoids reinforcing the problems that underlie emergencies and maximize opportunities to address and correct these problems (Anderson, 1993). Careful contextual analysis and strategic implementation of assistance is essential if the plight of the world’s uprooted peoples is to be alleviated.


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