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close this bookRefugee Emergencies. A Community-Based Approach (UNHCR, 1996, 142 p.)
close this folderPart Four. Organizing Services
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View the documentField Level Management and Administration

Field Level Management and Administration


Management in Emergencies:

Clear procedures
Clearly communicated
Continuing evaluation and review
Openness to change
Responsiveness to needs
Supportive to initiatives
Growth producing
Clear goals which are shared

The organization of the social welfare programme must be considered as early as possible in a refugee emergency and the refugees themselves must be involved in developing the necessary services. A co-ordinated approach by all organizations concerned is essential. It should be remembered however, that while operations and the provision of services may be undertaken by other bodies (e.g. NGOs, governmental agencies, etc), UNHCR should have overriding responsibility for setting up clear policy guidelines and agreed standards, and ensuring their implementation.

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 draw on these resources through the establishment of community-based services.

The basic case-work (identification of individual or family problems, assessment of needs, development of solutions or referral) will necessarily take place at the individual, family or small group level Social welfare programmes therefore generally require a decentralized structure, allowing community workers to work regularly among the same refugees, getting to know and be known by them. Regular home visiting is necessary both for identifying the persons or groups with special needs and for monitoring the effectiveness of the response to these needs.

Up-to-date records and confidential individual dossiers should be kept, and a simple periodic reporting system instituted, focusing on the needs identified and services provided rather than giving just statistical data. It is important that case records are transferred with refugees when they are moved. Unnecessary repetition of basic interviewing is not only a waste of time, but can also be psychologically damaging.

Co-ordination is required between the social welfare services and other community-based services, particularly health care. Health workers can often identify social problems and health problems may initially be brought to the attention of social or community workers. Regular social welfare clinics at health or community centres may be a useful complement to home visiting. In general, an active social welfare service is likely to be the major referral unit, helping to direct people with needs to available resources and identifying areas of need to which services may be directed.

Personnel: As part of the emergency response team, there must be at least one person with the time, training and experience to address the social aspects of a refugee emergency. This could be a UNHCR Community Services Officer, an NGO Social Services Expert, a consultant or an official from the Ministry of Social and/or Community Services (See terms of reference for Community Services Officer (Focal Point), annex no. 8).

Community and social services should be built around a nucleus of trained professionals - possibly comprising local nationals whose cultural knowledge and understanding of the refugees will be important, and international personnel whose role may be limited principally to overall co-ordination, support, training and liaison with the authorities and other organizations concerned.

In selecting an implementing agency, ensure that it has staff who have a good knowledge of the language and social and cultural practices of the refugees. Sympathy with and understanding of the kinds of problems faced, and a knowledge of local preferences for their resolution will be instrumental in the successful delivery of services to the target population. On selection, training and a thorough briefing on the operations of community and social services response to refugees should be provided. (See Duties and Responsibilities of Community Services Agencies in an Emergency, annex no. 9).

Refugee Community Workers: Experience shows that the most effective way to provide community services in large refugee influxes is through refugee workers. Volunteers therefore should be encouraged, supported, given recognition and rewarded.

Training should also be provided, drawing on the knowledge of the community and outside expertise (from within the host country if possible, in social work, community development and public health).

Refugee community workers could be involved in the following activities:

· orienting newly-arrived refugees and screening them for problems
· community surveys
· distributing basic material items based on individual needs
· monitoring food distribution and use
· providing a broad range of social work services
· assisting refugees with special needs to support themselves through self-employment
· conducting public health education and monitoring
· assisting with nutritional assessment and surveillance.
· finding and following up medical cases
· tracing to achieve family reunification
· organizing and supervising recreational activities.

Selection: Before refugee staff are recruited, consult a broad spectrum of refugees in the community about the kinds of people who would be suitable. Such factors as the following may be important:

· age and sex
· previous work experience
· ability to read and write the refugee language
· ability to read and write, or at least speak a common language with agency staff
· educational background*
· social position*

* A higher level of education and/or social position may help or hinder a community worker, depending on the requirements of the job and on the way these characteristics will effect relationships with other refugees.

It is important for community workers to:

· be respected as honest and trustworthy by other refugees
· have good judgement
· be concerned about me needs of other refugees
· show initiative
· be able to communicate easily with the refugee target group
· listen well
· have an agreeable personality.

It is also important that those recruited intend to stay in the area for the foreseeable future. The more highly educated are often among the first to be resettled or to seek better opportunities elsewhere. (NB: Continuity of personnel, whether from among the refugees or outside, is especially important for effective social welfare services because of the fundamental part played in these services by human contact and trust.)

Refugees should, where possible, be involved in the selection of staff. Find people respected in the refugee community, explain what the initial work will be and involve these people in choosing workers. Thereafter the community workers could, possibly in consultation with the refugee leaders, take responsibility for finding and screening additional replacement staff as needed.

Where mere are various ethnic, religious, political or other sub-groups within the refugee community, it is important to see that these are adequately represented among the community workers selected.

Training: The type and amount of training will depend on the background of me workers in relation to the tasks to be undertaken. Training should be practical, concentrating on what workers will do on a day-to-day basis. Formal training should be kept to a minimum before community work actually begins.

Pre-service training needs to provide a general orientation to:

· the work to be done
· the social cultural and statistical characteristics of the refugee community
· the resources available
· the role of the sponsoring agency
· the roles of and relationships with other organizations, including UNHCR, and
· a functional ability in the skills initially required for the work
· a sense of confidence and legitimacy in taking on the community worker role
· procedures and guidelines to be observed.

Start community workers on basic tasks and progress to more difficult ones. Once they have some experience and gained more confidence, skills needed for more challenging work can be taught through in-service training sessions.

Find out whether there are any training programmes for nationals in which refugees can participate or which could provide a model for a similar programme for refugees.

Pair new refugee community workers with those who are more experienced. This has proved to be a successful in-service training method.

Set aside regular times for workers to come together to:

· discuss their experiences with the work
· identify and discuss how to resolve difficulties
· learn new skills.

Select training methods appropriate to:

· the skills to be learned
· the trainees
· the instructor
· the setting.

One way to start workers in the community is to help them do a survey of needs related to the work they will do. This may be broadly focused or specific to certain groups likely to have special needs.

A survey:

· involves workers in a structured activity they can easily handle
· makes them familiar with the community
· helps define work to be done and further training needed.

A distinction should be made between refugee para-social workers and volunteer refugee community workers. The para-social workers should be recruited as assistants and be paid for their services. Refugee volunteers would form a second line of community workers, from which potential para-social workers could be recruited for training. Volunteers could be reimbursed for incidentals, such as transport and given a lunch allowance when this is warranted. (NB. Agencies involved in providing emergency assistance to refugees should co-ordinate the type and level of remuneration to be paid to refugee workers in order to avoid competition.)

Community Services as Part of an Integrated Approach: Community Services should not be seen in isolation, but as a baseline support system and a bridge between the various other services and the beneficiaries (i.e. refugees, and in the case of repatriation, returnees). Social services personnel, by co-operating and co-ordinating with the other services, can complement and supplement their activities and ensure a positive response from the refugee community.

Qualities Expected of Community Services Staff


· Ability to genuinely accept persons who are different
· Analytical abilities
· Ability to get along with others
· Knowledge of resources
· Flexibility
· Creativity
· Maturity of outlook
· Ability to bring people of different backgrounds together in a common cause
· Communication skills
· Listening skills
· Ability to accept criticism
· Pleasant personality
· Honest and trustworthy
· Committed to the cause
· Sense of humor


1. Understanding Previous Situation

· political situation
· demographic breakdown
· habits/customs/traditions/religion

2. Country of Asylum

· attitudes towards refugees
· habits/customs/traditions/religion
· economic conditions

3. Staff Preparedness

· training/orientation
· material resources

· strategies for refugee involvement

Several different approaches have been used, often in combination, for assigning responsibilities to refugee community workers.

Geographic areas: Workers can be assigned to certain specific areas to which they go every day. Part of the day may be spent making informal contacts in the community or following up specific cases. Part of the day the worker may keep "office hours" at a particular place.

Experience suggests that it is better NOT to assign workers to the areas in which they live. This affords them some protection from pressures to show favouritism to those they know. It also reduces after-hours difficulties with authority and confidentiality.

Functional: For some projects a division of labour among workers is appropriate. More than one worker can be assigned to the same area with each carrying out different, but complementary tasks.

Teamwork: Some projects have had success using teams, such as one male and one female worker. Other characteristics or skills of workers can be matched to form effective teams.

Special Assignments: Some projects require certain specialized skills or management abilities. Some workers can be assigned to special tasks that support the activities of those assigned to geographic areas.

Assignments to Avoid: Refugee community workers may be more vulnerable in some situations than nationals or expatriates. It is best to avoid assignments that would place a worker in a sensitive position such as negotiating with authorities or between rival factions within the refugee community.

Check List

Have you identified or designated a focal point to deal with community social services?

Have you identified a local or locally-based international agency to provide community social services?

Does the agency possess skills and expertise to function on its own? Is extra training or briefing required?

What kind of resources can the agency mobilize? What input is required from UNHCR?

Determine funding possibilities and other resources, including refugee participation?