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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

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?