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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder10. Community Services and Education
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentOverview
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentOrganizing Community Services
View the documentHuman Resources
View the documentFamily Tracing and Reunification
View the documentGroups at Risk and Vulnerable Groups
View the documentEducation
View the documentKey References
View the documentAnnexes

Organizing Community Services

· Plan and implement the community services programme with the refugees;

· Use a phased approach to implement a community services programme;

· Assess the needs by screening the whole community; the most vulnerable rarely come forward themselves;

· Co-ordinate closely with other sectors.


5. The main objectives of community services should be to identify and assist those persons whose basic needs are not being adequately met and to ensure the general welfare of all refugees. A community services programme should mobilize appropriate community resources, with outside help as necessary, to screen the refugee population for those facing urgent problems and see these immediate needs are met. Community services can then proceed to strengthen self-reliance and develop community activities.

6. A three-phased approach has been developed to implement the community services programme:

Phase 1

assessment, action plan, guidelines;

Phase 2

foundation of community services programme;

Phase 3

building up community service:

To measure performance in each of these phases (which are not mutually exclusive), a community service checklist can be used (see Annex 1).

7. Experience suggests that even in an emergency many needs can best be met by resources that exist within the community. Every community has its own beliefs, social values, customs, traditions and preferences for how problems should be resolved.

A community services programme should seek to enhance and improve existing and positive coping mechanisms.

Community problems are best solved using an integrated, inter-disciplinary approach, working with other sectors. Community services staff should therefore work as part of the UNHCR team, contributing to assessment, planning, programming and monitoring activities of other sectors.

8. Community services programmes generally require a decentralised structure, allowing refugee community workers to work with the same refugees, getting to know and be known by them. An active community services team is likely to be a major referral unit, helping to direct refugees to available resources and identifying areas of need where other services (health, nutrition, etc.) may be targeted.

Assessment and Action Plan

9. A careful initial assessment will determine the most pressing social problems, and the plan of action. This assessment should cover the whole community, with particular attention to identifying refugees with special needs who may not come forward themselves. The assessment and resulting plan should take into account demographic and cultural information regarding the refugee population, as well as the policies and resources in the country of asylum. Another priority in drawing up the community services programme is to identify gaps in the general assistance programme.

10. The outcome of the assessment will determine the community services action plan, including priorities of actions to be taken, the role of the various partners, and the need for special programmes, such as family reunification or assistance to victims of violence (see key references for guidelines on these topics).

11. Before establishing the community services team (see the section on Human Resources below), it will be necessary to identify appropriate local, national and international partners, including NGOs, governments, local and refugee community leaders. Involving local communities and government will help raise refugees' sensitivity to the needs and culture of the local population, and will also facilitate local acceptance of refugees, thus preventing tension.

Foundation of Community Services Programme

12. It is important to identify and promote refugee self-management groups either within mainstream structures or if more culturally appropriate, in separate groups. These should include women and youth. Community support for the vulnerable must be encouraged. Refugee volunteers can help identify vulnerable refugees and ensure their access to general services.

13. To ensure that all refugees, especially the most vulnerable, have access to services:

i. Direct all refugees to appropriate health or nutrition services;

ii. Organize immediate tracing of lost children and registration of these and other vulnerable individuals and provide assistance to all those alone and unable to care for themselves;

iii. Address the problems of survivors of abuse or violence.

14. In order to minimize long term dependency, and ensure the services are appropriate for the whole refugee group, community services will promote refugee participation in all sectors, and build the refugee community's problem solving capacity. Community services should also raise awareness and mobilize refugees on sanitation and environment issues and respect for local community resources.

Building up Community Services

15. Once the community services programme has been established, community services are built up by: building the capacity of implementing partners; co-ordinating community outreach and community training activities; establishing information networks; running a training programme for community workers; setting up education programmes and running the tracing and special programmes. General community activities, for example, cultural events and recreation, will be important for the creation of a greater sense of normality and security, and the reduction of stress, as well as fostering the refugees' sense of community.