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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





The trauma of becoming a refugee can be very great. Normal structures which have regulated community well-being and also cared for groups at risk such as older persons, women, children and the disabled, have broken down and need rebuilding. Social and psychological problems are created or exacerbated and appropriate measures for resolving these problems are essential.


To provide for the welfare of the whole refugee group and to ensure that the most vulnerable refugees have equal access to basic goods and services.

To assist the re-establishment and development of refugee community structures which can be used in the management of the assistance programme and which can also minimize longer-term problems of dependency.

To ensure that the assistance provided is appropriate for the refugees.

Principles of Response

· Refugee community participation (including both men and women) should be promoted in all sectors, by building on the community's own resources as much as possible and encouraging individual, family and group self-reliance;

· Special services for the vulnerable should, as far as possible, be provided by the refugee community itself;

· Services should be decentralised but within a structured plan, and must reach those in need;

· Community services should be developed in co-ordination with and in support of the priority life support sectors and should be an essential component of the overall assistance operation.


· Assess community problems, needs and resources. Help refugees to identify and establish the services which will meet their needs in all sectors;

· Ensure prompt identification of and support to the most vulnerable;

· Develop appropriate community management structures including mechanisms to ensure participation of women in decision-making and ensure that all groups within the population are appropriately represented. Identify community workers who can help the vulnerable, spread relevant information and support other sectors;

· Take immediate action to prevent family break-up and reunite families as soon as possible.

· Identify and provide care for all isolated vulnerable individuals, especially unaccompanied minors. Spontaneous groupings, if already bonded, should be kept together;

· Establish communication links with the refugees to ensure good two-way communication between the refugees and those assisting them;

· Build the capacity of the community by identifying training needs and by helping to organize practical and hands-on training in community work.


1. The shock of having to leave home and the circumstances of life as a refugee, particularly in the early stages of an emergency, create major emotional and social problems and exacerbate existing problems in the community. The trauma of flight and its aftermath may leave the refugees confused, frightened, lonely and insecure, facing an unknown future in a strange, sometimes hostile, environment. Separation from or loss of other family members as well as lack of community support are common in refugee emergencies, and causes emotional stress and problems for individuals and their community.

2. The most important action that can be taken to help reduce the shock and stress for the community is to provide security, stability and protection. In part this can be done materially, and in part by ensuring protection and involving the refuges from the start in the organization of all aspects of their new lives, and in particular the search for durable solutions. Community services are a vital bridge between the refugee and the goods and services of the new settlement. Without help in adjusting to this new environment, the sense of loss and isolation can deepen even in circumstances of relative material well-being.

3. It is important to involve the refugees in the provision of assistance and allow the community to share the responsibility of caring for itself and its vulnerable members. This minimizes dependency and encourages self-reliance.

The approach used during the emergency period will determine the whole pattern of behavioural response of refugees towards external assistance.

4. In every emergency, there will be refugee groups at risk with psychological or social problems that require particular attention. The most vulnerable are those with no family support who are dependent on external assistance for their daily survival. This dependence may be because of their age; their physical condition; their psychological condition; or socio-economic problems. The social disruption of emergencies causes these problems to be both aggravated and overlooked - but in stable non-emergency situations, the community itself meets many of the needs of groups at risk. Thus services to meet these needs are best given in a community-based programme.

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.

Human Resources

· The refugees themselves should play the central role;

· Continuity of personnel is very important;

· Professional impartial conduct and confidentiality must be maintained;

· Teamwork with other sectors is essential.


16. Refugees trained as community workers should be the backbone of the community services programme. Outsiders will be severely limited by language barriers and lack of familiarity with social values and customs. Refugee community workers will be responsible for assisting groups and individuals through outreach work, and referring individuals to appropriate services where necessary. In some cultures, traditional healers are especially skilled at resolving psychological problems.

17. Training refugee community workers is a priority. Training should draw on refugees' own knowledge of their community, and make use of outside expertise (from within the host country if possible). Training should cover social work and community development, with inputs from other disciplines such as public health, nutrition, sanitation, protection, water, shelter.

18. Refugee community workers should be drawn from the various groups within the refugees, and a particular effort may be needed to ensure that a sufficient number are women. There should be a proper balance between workers from different social and ethnic groups.

19. The number of such workers required will depend greatly on the community's own response mechanisms, and the geographical distance between site locations, population size and complexities of the situation. However, one worker per 1,000 refugees is usually appropriate. In addition, there should be community workers in the health centres, as there is a tendency for people with special needs to be directed to these even when the problem may not be medical.

20. Staff from outside the refugee community will be required to co-ordinate community services, manage training programmes and deal with problems beyond the resources of the refugees. This outside assistance is likely to involve both international and national personnel. The role of international personnel may be limited principally to overall co-ordination, guidance, support, training and liaison with the authorities and other organizations concerned.

Familiarity with social values and customs is essential.

21. National personnel will play an important role because of their cultural knowledge and understanding of the refugees. Additional specialist staff may be needed to focus on specific issues. A memorandum of understanding exists between UNHCR and Radda Barnen (Sweden) under which specialized community services staff can be quickly de ployed to emergencies (see Appendix 1, Catalogue of Emergency Response Resources, for details).

Continuity of personnel is necessary for effective community services because of the fundamental part played in these services by human contact and trust.

22. Interpreters are a vital link of communication between UNHCR and the refugee community as they bridge the gap created by cultural, national, linguistic and racial differences. Interpreters are usually selected from the refugee or local community and should include an adequate proportion of women. Refugee interpreters have the benefit of knowing and being committed to helping their community; however they are likely to be placed in a difficult position as intermediary between refugees and UNHCR and expected to be answerable to both. Therefore, if possible, refugee interpreters should not be used in sensitive situations such as status determination interviews.

Working as a Team

23. Community services should support, and have strong links with, other sectors. For example:

Protection: Community services and protection have complementary roles in dealing with refugee problems on a day-to-day basis and working with refugee groups at risk. There will be areas of overlapping concern, for example, in training, promotional and advocacy activities at the community level; programmes for unaccompanied minors such as tracing, family reunification and foster care; and in developing preventive mechanisms and community-based solutions to deal with harassment of minority groups and sexual violence;

Health services: Many problems have both a medical and social component. Refugees might not make use of health services because they are too weak or infirm, too traumatized or just unfamiliar with the health service. Women may be particularly constrained if there are insufficient female health staff. On the other hand, problems of all kinds may be referred to health centres - so community outreach workers should be located in the health centre. Community networks can be used to promote basic health messages in cleanliness, sanitation, breast feeding etc.;

Site planning and construction: Community services can assist in the identification of social and cultural determinants of shelter planning, promote the involvement of all the community, including women, help establish refugee committees to oversee construction, and ensure that the community will take responsibility for providing shelter for its more vulnerable members in locations where they can be protected and assisted;

Environment: Community services should convey environmental messages such as the need to preserve trees and vegetation during emergencies (see chapter 12 on site planning). Community services should also promote simple, but crucial, energy saving techniques such as covering pots with lids during cooking, drying, chopping and splitting firewood before burning, and soaking beans and grains to reduce cooking time. Community services staff should work closely with environment specialists in areas such as forestry and domestic energy, to ensure these activities take into account the concerns and priorities of the local and refugee community. Without community participation, environmental programmes might not achieve their objectives;

Logistics: Community services should also work with logistics officers to ensure that vulnerable groups and groups at risk have equitable access to all commodities.

Family Tracing and Reunification

· Tracing and reunion of separated family members must be organized as quickly as possible;

· Refugees must be able to send and receive mail.

24. Procedures for the reunion of refugee family members separated during flight or within the country of asylum should be agreed with the authorities and implemented as soon as practicable. Tracing programmes should be set up and co-ordinated in the country of asylum, country of origin and regionally. At camp or local level, simple and effective tracing mechanisms include posting lists of names with photographs on the community notice boards in different locations, using the radio, or even making announcements by megaphone. 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. A suitably experienced agency may be needed to implement these activities. Tracing requires the involvement of the refugees themselves, who will play a key role. The local population and authorities can also play an important role. Confidentiality of information and protection of individuals is also essential.

25. Consider the causes of separation when establishing tracing systems. Separation may have been caused by large scale population movements but may also have been due to other factors such as children opting to leave their families, or placement of persons outside their family for survival purposes. Outsiders, often relief workers, may have removed a child from an apparently dangerous situation, without informing the family and without proper documentation.

26. The following actions should be taken:

Organize tracing and reunion of separated family members as quickly as possible, giving first priority to unaccompanied minors and other extremely vulnerable individuals;

Combine a variety of systems: on the spot tracing, use of community mechanisms and formalized tracing at a regional level;

Coordinate activities with agencies having expertise, e.g. the ICRC. Note that ICRC procedures, using the national Red Cross or Red Crescent societies, can be lengthy but may be the most appropriate for difficult cases;

Ensure regional standardization of registration systems;

Set-up a communication network in the community including a mailing system. A properly organized exchange of news (Red Cross messages) may considerably diminish the workload of a tracing service and accelerate the reunion of family members. Refugees have the right to send and receive mail.

Groups at Risk and Vulnerable Groups

· Develop and strengthen community-based support for vulnerable groups wherever possible;

· Ensure that children are cared for in ways that meet both their physical and emotional needs; individual care of unaccompanied children is all-important;

· Ensure that all groups among the refugees can participate in decision making affecting their well-being.


27. In dealing with vulnerable groups, community based support is preferred, and only as a last resort should small, special facilities be established. These should be short-term to shelter vulnerable individuals while identifying community support mechanisms.

28. Experience shows that in refugee emergencies certain groups are likely to be more at risk than others. Standard criteria for vulnerability, and for eligibility for the provision of special assistance should be developed in conjunction with refugees. Some groups may be excluded from decisions directly affecting their wellbeing, and the particular needs of these groups may be unintentionally ignored or excluded in programme development. This exclusion may result in making the group vulnerable. This is often the case with minority groups. Women, who often make up the majority of the population, can be excluded in much the same manner.

29. In emergencies vulnerable refugees may need special transport where the refugee has physical problems which would prevent long distance movement. This would include older persons, the disabled, women in late pregnancy, severely malnourished or those in severe psychological distress. If special transport is needed, the refugee should be accompanied by a responsible attendant (usually a relative) and a clear reunion point identified to prevent further vulnerability through separation.

30. When individual casework is necessary, 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. A coordinated response avoids unnecessary repetition of basic interviewing which is not only a waste of time but can also be psychologically damaging.

Children (including Adolescents)

31. For the purposes of this Handbook, "children" should be understood to mean "persons below the age of 18 years" (as defined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989), and therefore includes young children and adolescents.

32. Children make up a large proportion of most refugee populations. Early interventions during emergencies will help to normalize and stabilize their situation. Specialized agency expertise may be needed for parts of a child-focused programme.

33. Birth registration may be a prerequisite for obtaining nationality, enrolling in school and may be a vital tool for tracing. It can also be important in preventing military recruitment and other forms of exploitation. Ensure that the births of all refugee children are registered. Ideally births should be registered through the same procedure applicable to nationals. Where this is not possible the authorities should be encouraged to establish a separate birth registration system for refugee births. If this is not possible either, organize a temporary attestation system to ensure, at a minimum, that the date, place of birth and the names and nationalities of both parents are recorded. The UNHCR Field Office or the Red Cross/Red Crescent could, for example, issue such an attestation.

34. Different age groups will have different problems, young children have very different needs from teenagers.

35. UNHCR has an MOU with UNICEF which outlines their respective responsibilities for children and unaccompanied minors- UNICEF takes the lead in countries of origin and UNHCR in countries of asylum (see MOU attached as Appendix two).

36. Take the following action:

Identify and develop community-based mechanisms to monitor refugee childrens' assistance and protection needs;

Identify whether the child population as a whole might have any specific characteristics or needs as a consequence of the trauma of their flight and life before finding asylum: in particular, where children have been victims of and/or participants in armed conflict, or might have particular psychological, physical or social problems as a consequence;

Identify what current risks there may be to the child population: for example a risk of on-going military recruitment, or of sexual exploitation or abuse;

Promote the social role of adolescents in the community and their responsibility towards others in need, for example they can serve as community workers. Adolescents will need support, especially if they have assumed adult roles as heads-of-households. They will also need access to and education about reproductive health services, and vocational training;

Coordinate with the health and nutrition sectors in organizing education campaigns and outreach activities in community health, nutrition and sanitation, such as promoting breast feeding, immunization and feeding programmes;

Organize play groups, recreation activities and emergency education for pre-schoolers and for school age children including girls and vulnerable children;

Identify resources within and outside the community which could be used to address the needs of children and young people (and their families). These community resources should encourage self-reliance, and work towards preventing domestic violence, sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse and involvement in military activities;

Integrate the needs of children in all programming activities.

Unaccompanied Minors

37. UNHCR defines an unaccompanied minor as one who is below 18 years of age who has been separated from both parents and for whose care no person can be found who by law or custom has primary responsibility. Note that other organizations may have other definitions of unaccompanied minors. In addition, note that unaccompanied minors are sometimes also called separated minors.

38. Labelling children as orphans tends to encourage adoptions, (and in some cases, there may be enormous external pressure for orphanages and/or third country adoption) rather than focusing on family tracing, foster placements and increasing community support.

The description "unaccompanied minors", or "separated minors", should always be used in place of "orphans".

39. Although the government of the country of asylum should take legal responsibility for these minors, with UNHCR offering advice and assistance, in practice if government resources are thinly stretched, UNHCR may take a more pro-active role.

Prevention of Separation

40. Family unity must be preserved as much as possible - take no action that may prevent family reunion. The failure to protect family unity not only results in avoidable physical and emotional suffering, but subsequent efforts to reunite families are costly and difficult, and delays in family reunification will impede durable solutions. Although children are often separated from their families while their families are in flight, steps can be taken to minimize further separations, and to maximize the chances of timely and successful reunion.

Steps to prevent separation include supporting households at risk, and ensuring care provided to unaccompanied minors does not become an incentive for parents to abandon their children to institutionalized care.

41. There is sometimes pressure to rescue minors from dangerous situations but some child-only evacuations have caused years of separation and in some cases the breaks have been permanent. The physical dangers may be over estimated, while the children's psychological need to be with their parents may be under appreciated.

There should be no evacuations separating children from their parents or others recognized as primary caretakers (custody) unless essential to protect life.

42. If an evacuation is essential, the following safeguards should be observed. Minors should be accompanied by an adult relative, and if this is not possible, by a qualified care-giver known to the children, such as their teachers. The minors' identities must be fully documented before departure. Whenever possible, documentation should travel with the minors, and caregivers should be waiting at the destination. The evacuation must be coordinated with the designated lead agency. If the minors are moved across an international border, written agreements with the government should be secured in advance in order to ensure family visits and reunions are possible.

43. Continuity of existing care arrangements will help avoid further disruption and may facilitate reunion. Siblings should be kept together, as should unrelated children who have been living together and give each other emotional support.

Assessment, Identification, Registration and Tracing

44. Make a rapid assessment of the situation of unaccompanied minors among the refugee population. The first source of information for identifying unaccompanied minors will be the refugees themselves and the community leaders. A general registration or census of refugees may provide a suitable occasion for initial identification without raising expectations before seeking more detailed information.

45. A general registration or census will also identify those children not alone, but not with their immediate family, and who thus require tracing. Give priority to identifying children under five years, girls who may be subject to sexual abuse and boys who may be recruited into military service.

46. Once identified, unaccompanied minors should be individually registered as soon as possible (see Annex 2, unaccompanied minor registration form).

Registration should not raise expectations for special status and advantage.

The Emergency Kit for Unaccompanied Children provides guidance and tools for identification, registration, and tracing. This can be ordered from Headquarters and contains a priority actions handbook, emergency registration books, cameras, equipment and basic supplies.

47. Ensure that children are issued with separate registration documents and ration cards and that these documents (including a recent photograph), always travel with the child. These measures will avoid confusion if a fostering arrangement breaks down.

48. Unaccompanied minors should be individually assessed and medically screened. A sympathetic and imaginative approach to interviewing children is very important and best conducted by carefully trained refugees, if possible by someone the child already knows and trusts. If an interview has to take place through an interpreter, the interpreter must be well briefed, with his or her role limited to direct translation, and must not be allowed to break personal contact between interviewer and child. Children may react very differently, depending, for example, on the degree of their trauma, fear and shyness. The presence of the child's friend(s) at the interview can not only reassure the child but may also yield important information. Any accompanying adults or persons who brought the child forward should also be interviewed.

49. As soon as unaccompanied minors are identified, start to trace their parents or families. Family tracing is not considered exhausted before a two year investigation has been completed. All claims for reunification must be verified, as mistakes and false claims sometimes occur.

Care and Protection of Unaccompanied Minors

50. Children separated from their immediate next-of-kin during a refugee emergency are often cared for by the refugee community, frequently within an extended family.

It is only where children cannot be cared for by the community that special measures will be required for their care.

Whenever possible, children should be placed with families, as institutional placements cannot provide adequately for children's developmental needs and social and cultural integration into society. Ideally, they should be cared for by relatives or others from the same ethnic or cultural groups.

51. One of the most important principles in the care of any child is that relationships must be stable, because of the importance of the emotional bond developed with the care-giver. An unaccompanied minor must be placed in a family where bonding can continue until the parent(s) or recognized first caretaker(s) are found. The child will then need time to reestablish a bond with his or her parent(s) or original caretaker(s). A period of overlap with the two families may therefore be necessary, in order to permit the re-establishment of the relationship with the parents while avoiding an abrupt severance of the ties with the foster family. Where years have elapsed, the child's interests may be better served by remaining with the foster family. UNHCR's usual practice is to allow unaccompanied minors over 15 to take decisions concerning durable solutions for themselves.

52. Criteria for foster family care should be worked out together with the community. Foster care arrangements should be formalized as quickly as possible by signed contracts or agreements, with an understanding that children should be returned to their immediate family if located. Particularly needy host families may be provided with an incentive to support the child on a case by case basis, but not as a systematic measure for all foster families. Food rations and other normal assistance should of course, continue to be provided for the child through the foster family. However, the child should continue to have registration and ration documents separate from those of the foster family. Foster care arrangements should be monitored closely through outreach activities in the community. Careful account should be taken of cultural attitudes towards fostering. For instance, in some situations, a family may find it hard to conceive of taking in a child except as a servant.

53. Where child care centres are necessary, they should be small, decentralized within the community, and integrated into community activities.

Remember that when the facilities and services provided for unaccompanied children are significantly better than those otherwise available, parents may actually place children in special care.

54. The advantage of small residential centres is that if reunification with the parents is expected to take place quickly, such centres provide an efficient way of caring for the children while at the same time not losing sight of them during the upheaval and confusion at the start of an emergency.

Unaccompanied minors should be integrated into the life, activities and services available to other children. Avoid either marginalizing them or paying them special attention.

55. Ensure continuity and stability in care (foster families and other) by employing refugee and national community services staff who are less likely to move on than international staff.

56. Provide supervision, support and training to child care workers, including child interviewing techniques, child development, community mobilization and child trauma. Train refugees and aid workers to identify and register unaccompanied minors from the outset of an emergency.


57. While it is not correct to see women as a vulnerable group, women do have specific needs which, if not met, can put them at risk, such as vulnerability to exploitation and sexual abuse, sexual discrimination and restricted access to basic services. In addition, many decisions in camp management which affect women are made without them being consulted. Not including refugee women in decision making about camp management may put them at risk and add to their workload. In addition, the effectiveness of the assistance programme may be reduced because the problems and needs of all the beneficiaries have not been properly identified.

58. However, when seeking women's participation in decision-making, it is also wise to remember that measures which challenge the status quo may be threatening to traditional leaders. Special efforts may be needed to overcome resistance to change.

Culture and tradition cannot be used as reasons to exclude refugee women from participation in decision-making.

To Ensure Women's Participation:

Include refugee women in leadership functions and give them responsible roles in the community including participation in decision-making bodies;

Ensure that women have equal access to services and facilities, particularly health and reproductive health care services, and inform persons concerned about these resources;

Encourage activities such as adult literacy classes which will help empower women and bring them together for mutual support;

Provide community support to women by organizing recreational and educational activities for children;

Develop preventive protection mechanisms with the community to ensure protection of women against all forms of abuse;

Work with the elders and other influential groups to gain their support for the participation of women in camp management.

Single Parent Households

59. In refugee emergencies, the majority of single parent households are female-headed. However, community services must be sensitive to the needs of both male and female single parents. Men may have to be supported in the functions of rearing children and organizing household responsibilities. Women who have to manage the family needs on their own are at risk as they are vulnerable to exploitation and harassment, especially if they are young. They may be exposed to pressures attached to provision of food and material resources. Women must therefore be included in food management and other committees. Some women may have to resort to prostitution in order to provide for their families, particularly if they do not have any skills to earn a livelihood.

Survivors of Violence

60. Men, women and children can be victims of violence in conflict situations (including torture, rape or solitary confinement) and suffer consequent trauma. Rape is a crime of violence, and is sometimes used as a systematic method of intimidation. Survivors of rape can be any age from the very young to the very old and belong to any social group. It should be remembered that survivors of sexual violence including rape can be men as well as women. It is important to recognize that the consequences of sexual violence on children and adolescents will differ from that on adults.

61. Where there is a high risk of violence, steps can be taken to reduce exposure and vulnerability. Crimes of sexual violence may be more likely to occur where women and/or children are exposed and vulnerable, such as when they collect firewood or water from distant points. The level of risk of violence including sexual violence from within or outside the community, should be reflected in taking increased precautions in camp security, and in creating mechanisms to allow people to travel outside the camp in safety e.g. fuel-wood gathering in groups.

Take the Following Action

Establish services for survivors of violence which are integrated into other community and health care services;

Ensure confidentiality is maintained;

Organize counselling support services using trusted, supportive refugee staff, including female staff;

Organize support groups with people who are trusted;

Provide a safe place for survivors to stay, with friends if possible;

Ensure appropriate legal and medical services are established and accessible, including access to female staff;

Mobilize community support by discussing the general problem with them to ensure more compassionate treatment. Religious heads and community leaders in particular can influence attitudes to survivors of violence;

Ensure that site layout, fencing and lighting promote physical safety. Good site planning, including location of services, will help create conditions where violence will be less likely (see chapter 12 on site planning).

Sensitize the community to the problem and the seriousness of domestic violence. An emergency situation often triggers an increase in levels of domestic violence, particularly in the early stages. However, in the later stages of an emergency incidents of domestic violence may remain high and on occasion escalate, if the situation generates high levels of stress.

62. Urgent medical treatment must be provided to any person who has been raped to help deal with the physical trauma. A protocol for management of such persons, based on host country laws, should be adopted.

63. Post trauma reactions to sexual violence include feelings of shame and guilt, anger, humiliation, nightmares, withdrawal, depression and suicidal tendencies. Family, friends and community support groups must be alerted to these possible reactions so that they can understand and assist the survivors of violence.

64. Social attitudes to rape are usually very judgmental. A woman who becomes pregnant by rape may need help in being accepted by her family and the community or in placing a child for adoption. In some cases a man or a woman who has been raped may have to leave their present location in order to lead a normal life. This is especially the case of a woman with a child, who may then be left without family support. Additionally, she may feel hostile towards the child, a common post trauma reaction.

65. Any documentation of a case should be undertaken with the utmost confidentiality. It is the survivors choice whether or not to take legal action; there may be very strong considerations not to do so. If legal action is taken, the survivor will need support and protection in every step of what is a painful process, and should be made aware of exactly what degree of protection and care will be available.

66. Community services, protection and health staff must work together for survivors of rape and sexual violence. Protection staff can provide information on legal action and monitor the legal process if charges are pressed. Health personnel should make necessary treatment facilities and documentation available. Community services should work directly with the survivor concerned, and with the family of the survivor, as well as establish support groups and more generally sensitize refugees to the problems of rape. A refugee team, which could complement the UNHCR community services team, may be established to provide outreach to women reluctant to come forward.

Disabled and Handicapped

67. Disabled and handicapped persons might have problems in accessing goods and services available to refugees and steps must be taken to ensure this access, including that of disabled children to whatever schooling is available. In some refugee situations, but more often in returnee situations, additional dangers of land-mines mean that an information campaign must be started immediately to prevent further disability. Initial care for the disabled should be through families and the community, nevertheless, rehabilitation services (e.g. wheelchairs, crutches) should also be introduced as soon as possible. Community based rehabilitation to care for disabled people is an approach that should be promoted from the outset of an emergency.

Older Persons

68. The presence of older people in the community can strengthen the bonds and the sense of belonging. However, physical deterioration may limit their mobility and hence their access to basic services. Those most at risk are living alone or caring for young children.

Older persons can constitute a significant proportion of the refugee population though they are often overlooked.

69. Consideration should be given to include older persons in the supplementary feeding programmes. Even if older people can obtain food rations, limited mobility may preclude collection of water or fuel essential for food preparation.

70. For the more frail elderly, family and community care should be encouraged. Refugee community workers should identify neighbours, relatives or others who can help these people with food, water or fuel collection.

71. It should be kept in mind that after any repatriation, the elderly may make up a high proportion of refugees remaining behind in the country of asylum. Hence local government structures and local NGO capacity should be strengthened to care for them.

Isolated Social Groups

72. Every society has its social, religious, political or ethnic groups whose access to services is restricted even under normal conditions. They become particularly vulnerable during emergencies as assistance is likely to be channelled through the leaders of the majority groups. Immediate assessment should be made of any of these groups to determine if they can be integrated into the refugee community, or whether special provision must be made.

In the early stages of an emergency, cultural and traditional customs that may be harmful to particular groups of refugees such as genital mutilation, early marriages and other abusive practices should be addressed and appropriate action taken.


· Education programmes can help address not only the psychological and social needs of the children, but also the well being of the whole community, by helping to organize the population and by providing structure for the children and their families;

· Education programmes can provide important support to lifesaving activities;

· Every child has the right to education. Even in an emergency, start providing appropriate education as soon as possible;

· The priority is to make primary schooling available to all. Special efforts will probably be necessary to ensure the proper participation of girls in the programme;

· Refugee schools should be organized and run by the refugees themselves, to the extent possible, with proper outside support.


73. Establishing an education system is important for the well-being of the whole refugee community, as well as for the social and psychological well-being of children and young people. Setting up basic schools will give a structure and sense of normality to a dislocated and traumatized community. Refugees are dislocated not only from their homes and families but also from their community - the old community is disrupted while new community structures are only gradually evolving. Schools can be the initial community focal points, and a sense of well-being may be created if the new community is partly structured around institutions which are as familiar as schools, rather than around, for example, distribution points, registration and health centres which may be more representative of the problems of their current situation.

74. In addition, schools can be initiated and managed by the community itself much more easily than other refugee institutions, again enhancing self-esteem and self-reliance. Refugee teachers and parents often establish informal schools even in an emergency - as soon as basic needs in food water and health are met, because they recognize the importance of a school system for the reasons set out above.

Informal schools started by the refugees themselves should be supported, and can be used as a basis to begin the programme.

75. In addition to community building, other important functions of the education system in an emergency are:

i. To disseminate survival and life skills messages. Simple messages can be spread through the school system, on issues such as health, sanitation, nutrition, and looking after the local resources (fuelwood for cooking) so they do not become too rapidly depleted;

ii. To provide parents with extra time to work on family survival needs;

iii. To serve as an important protection tool in certain circumstances, e.g. through providing an alternative to military recruitment;

iv. To provide continuity of education which can help reintegration in the country of origin.

Every child has the right to education, as set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

76. Detailed information on planning education programmes and on standards for refugee schools is set out in the latest edition of NHCR's Education Guidelines. These guidelines are essential reading for those establishing an education programme.

Setting up an Education Programme

77. Basic education must be provided and, although priorities in the emergency phase may mean that the full implementation of an education programme is difficult, a start must be made. An education programme should only be delayed if the emergency is clearly going to be short-lived.

The emergency education programme should provide free access to organized activities and basic education for all refugee children and young people.

78. Identify teachers from the refugee population who can organize recreational and educational activities, and identify agencies to support the development of basic education programmes.

Simple Activities

79. In the beginning, the aim is to establish a simple programme of structured recreational and simple educational activities for children and young people. This is possible even with limited educational supplies - simply gathering the children together for a set period each day and keeping them occupied is a valuable first step. Identify teachers from the refugee population who are willing to do this. The activities should support the lifesaving measures underway in other sectors by including simple messages on health, sanitation etc. appropriate for the children's level, and by providing parents with extra time to work on family survival needs. Recreational and activity materials of the type listed in Annex 3 could be used to support such a programme.

80. The initial activities should then be developed into a primary school system, based on the curriculum of the country of origin. The timing of the transition from the simple activities to the more formal primary education will depend on the evolution of the emergency. Where the school system in the country of asylum is similar to that of the country or area of origin and refugee numbers are limited, resources may be provided to local schools to enable them to accommodate refugee students, provided this is cost-effective.

Basic Education

81. A single, unified primary school system should be developed as soon as possible. Educational materials of the type described in Annex 4 can be used to establish a basic education programme. The materials on this list would meet the initial needs of 1,000 refugees, and include sufficient writing materials for two classrooms of students in the earliest stages of primary school plus one classroom for students who have completed 2 or 3 years or more of primary schooling. If each classroom is used initially for separate morning and afternoon shifts, then a total of 240 students can be catered for. Typically there would be two or more writing materials kits (of the type specified in Annex 4) per school, according to the number of classrooms on each site.

The curriculum should initially be based on that of the country or area of origin, to facilitate reintegration upon repatriation.

82. Where possible, contact should be made with the Education Ministry of the country of origin, initially to obtain school textbooks and teachers' guides and later regarding certification of education and training received by refugees and teachers. In order to open schools as early as possible, temporary shelters may be erected using plastic sheeting. The community should be mobilized to help build and maintain school buildings. Other items required for simple classroom structures, latrines etc. should be constructed, using local materials where possible.

Smaller, decentralized schools are generally preferable to large schools. Primary schools should be established within walking distance for young children.

83. Recreational and sports programmes for children and adolescents should be included as part of the education programme, and necessary space should be allocated at the time of site planning. The likelihood that additional classrooms may be needed at a later stage should likewise be borne in mind at the time of site selection and demarcation.

It is probable that young refugees will have had their formal education disrupted. There Should therefore be no limitation of entry to schooling according to the age of the children or adolescents.

84. Initial budgets should provide for the printing or photocopying of classroom materials for pupils and teachers, based on core elements of the country of origin curriculum as well as for the initial purchase of school and recreational supplies. Budgetary provision may also be necessary for the translation and reproduction of materials supporting health, environment, peace education and other messages.


Identify humanitarian agencies to be responsible for educational assistance in each location and to establish and train community education committees and parent/ teacher groups;

Identify school sites, and erect temporary shelter, ensure construction of latrines;

Provide writing and recreational materials to support community initiatives (see Annexes 3 and 4);

Convene a refugee education committee. Include refugees, local education authorities, relevant UN agencies, implementing partners and refugee educators, at appropriate (district and/or national) levels;

Consult UNHCR Headquarters and the local UNICEF office regarding availability of educational materials and school-books;

Arrange the timing of educational and recreational activities around other household and family activities to get maximum participation and cooperation of refugees;

Establish schooling in all refugee locations with refugee education advisers and teachers. Make plans for moving to a normal system of education as soon as possible;

Aim at a realistic level of service which can be sustained over the longer term;

Organize in-service training of teachers. Training should cover: school organization; basic teaching methods; review of basic subject matter; and dissemination of messages regarding health, sanitation, environmental conservation and peace;

Monitor participation of girls in educational programmes and promote girls' enrollment and attendance in school. Identify what are the root causes of non-attendance by girls. Promote recruitment and training of female teachers (at least 50 per cent);

Reintegrate out-of-school children and youth in school or non-formal education. Causes of school drop-outs and non-participation in community activities should be monitored.

85. An education specialist may be needed to advise on programme development. Liaise with UNHCR Headquarters, regarding materials and expertise available internally and through standby arrangements (see Catalogue of Emergency Response Resources, Appendix 1).

86. The provision of education may give the refugees a privilege not enjoyed by the local population of some locations. If the government is in agreement and there is a common language of instruction, it is usually appropriate to open the schools to the local population. Some assistance may be provided to national schools located very near to refugee schools.

Key References

Assisting Disabled Refugees, UNHCR, Geneva, 1996 revision.

Environmental Guidelines, UNHCR set of environmental guidelines for different sectors (May 1998 revision): Domestic Energy Needs in Refugee Situations; Livestock in Refugee Situations; Forestry in Refugee Situations. UNHCR, Geneva, 1996.

Evacuation of Children from Conflict Areas, UNHCR, UNICEF, Geneva 1992.

Guidelines for Educational Assistance to Refugees, UNHCR, Geneva, 1995.

Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women, UNHCR, Geneva, 1991.

Memorandum of Understanding between UNHCR and UNICEF, 1995.

Refugee Children: Guidelines on Protection and Care, UNHCR, Geneva, 1994.

Refugee Emergencies: A Community-Based Approach; UNHCR, Geneva,1996 (revision).

Sexual Violence Against Refugees: Guidelines on Prevention and Response, UNHCR, Geneva, 1995.

Working with Unaccompanied Minors: A Community-Based Approach; UNHCR Geneva 1996.

Urban refugees, A Community-Based Approach. UNHCR, Geneva, 1996.



Annex 1 - Community Services Checklist

The following chart covers the three phases of community services in an emergency. In each phase activities are identified and quantitative and qualitative indicators listed which can be used to assess the effectiveness of the community services programme.

CS = Community services

CSO = Community Services Officer


Major Activities

Community Service Checklist

1.1. Assists with overall programme management

Are CS resources available through LOI?
Does the CSO participate in the UNHCR management team and support other sectors - water, sanitation, shelter, health, food and nutrition, programme, protection and environment?

1.2. Helps meet basic refugee survival needs

Have CS considerations been included in the needs and resource assessment?
Have refugee leaders been identified and involved in assessment?
Do vulnerable groups have access to initial assistance?
Have relevant local government and other local resources (NGOs, host families) been identified?
Have CS standards and guidelines been set?
Is there an action plan based on the above?


Major Activities

Community Service Checklist

2.1. Facilitates refugee participation and self-management

Have refugee committees and information networks been established with women's participation as well as men and are vulnerable groups represented?
Is community awareness building and information dissemination undertaken?
Is there a CS coordination mechanism with refugees, implementing partners and government?


Major Activities

Community Service Checklist

3.1. Assistance to groups at risk, promoting their self-sufficiency

Unaccompanied minors
Are they protected from exploitation by provision of information centres etc.?
Are reception points established for reunifying parents and children?
How many UAMs are identified? a Is the community mobilized to provide foster care?
Is information disseminated on the reunification programme?
Traumatized children and adults
Do children attend clinics, child care services, schools or organized play?
Is there a system of identification and referral of acute cases to local facilities and are volunteers identified?
Are there special programmes established and are children participating in these therapeutic activities?
Single parent households
Are neighbours or volunteers mobilized for support?
Have interest groups formed?
Survivors of violence
Are means of safety and security identified and implemented?
Are activities established to provide a supportive environment and re-establish normal life?
Are preventative measures established?
Are children immunized?
Have health education messages been identified and disseminated? Are the disabled referred for identification and treatment? · Are their families supported?
Are the disabled receiving education?
Unaccompanied older persons
Do they receive assistance in daily survival?
Are they involved in community activities?
Has a skills inventory of elderly been established?
Ethnic minorities and mixed couples
Is their safety and security ensured through site planning?
Have community activities been developed to foster peace and reconciliation?
Are they involved in community activities?
Single Females
Are they protected?
Have neighbours and volunteers been identified to offer support?
Have community activities been organized?
Have females been accomodated in a physically secure place in the refugee community?
Other specific groups
Is there a system of emergency support for urban refugees, co-ordinated with programme and protection?

3.2 Establishment and maintenance of reproductive health services

Has consultation been held with refugees groups?
Have needs and priorities been identified within categories -safe motherhood, family planning, HIV/AIDS, STDs, sexual and gender based violence, special needs of adolescents?
Have clinics and services been established?
Have refugee health workers been mobilized and trained?
Are women attending the services?

3.3. Promotion of refugee self-reliance and durable solutions

Self-help activities
Have projects been established for community development? Training
Are refugee training programmes developed, have refugees been trained?
Has capacity building (on-the-job or orientation training) been organized for government, NGO, CS workers?
Are schools established (especially primary) and students enrolled? Is non-formal education established?
Is the education of girls taken into consideration?
Capacity building of refugee infra-structure
Are structures established (including community centres, clinics, housing)?
Have some programmes been handed over to refugee groups?
Are women included as part of the refugee leadership structure?

Annex 2

Unaccompanied Minor Registration Form

Child's Name




Registration No.


ICRC Number

1. Write names of brothers & sisters who are with the child.
2. Find out the name and location of persons who found or brought child to current location, interview that person and record that information.
3. Interview any other adults & children who may have information on child's family and record that information.
4. Write down any visit the child receives: date, name and address of visitor and relationship to the child.
5. Record child's movements: date and places: e.g. hospital, nutrition centre, etc. and final move for family reunion or other reasons.






Reg. No.

Last and First Name



Last and First Name

Last and first Name

Note: Find out immediately who found the child and name, address of that person.

Are there other persons who know how to find child's family? Continue to talk to the child to obtain and write down more information about locating family.

Last Address of Child & Family

Present Caretaker or Organization Complete Name and Address

With Siblings Yes/no

If Child leaves, note reasons: Family Reunion, moved to another place, where, reasons? - Died, etc.

Annex 3 - List of materials for Recreational and Other Activities

(Resource box for children and young people)

Quantities indicated below are required for 1,000 total refugee population. For the younger children:






medium-sized inflatable balls


skipping-ropes, long


skipping-ropes, short


slates (A4)


slate pencils


slate cleaning cloths

For young people




volleyball nets




exercise books (100 pages, lined)


pens, ball-point

For storage of the above materials


lockable metal or plastic container



For use by the team leading the activities


double sided chalkboards


registration books


notebooks A4 (250 pages, lined)




large handbells




air pumps


puncture repair kits


boxes of white chalk (144 sticks)


soft tape-measures


lockable sports bags


small padlocks


The materials on this list is sufficient for a refugee population of 1,000 people. (Thus, a refugee population of 50,000 persons would require 50 times the quantities indicated on the lists).

Supplementary items based on local needs and culture should be added (such as items needed for local games). If these items are not available locally the UNHCR Supplies and Transport Section in Geneva should be asked to assist with their purchase. Specific items normally used by the refugee children should be added.

Annex 4 - Writing Materials List

Quantities indicated below are required for 1,000 total refugee population.

For the younger children:






slate pencils


slate cleaning cloths




exercise books (100 pages)

For older children


exercise books (100 pages, lined)


exercise books (100 pages, squares)


ball point pens

For storage of the above materials


lockable metal or plastic containers



For use by the teachers


double sided chalkboards


boxes of white chalk (144 sticks)


chalkboard ruler


chalkboard compass


chalkboard set square


ball point pens, (6 blue, 6 red and 6 black)


large pencil sharpeners


register books


rulers, 30 cm


chalkboard dusters




boxes of HBO pencils (12)


poster sets (alphabet, numbers in the language and script of the refugees)


duffle bags to carry teacher items