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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

The Role of Community Services


The basis for community services:

A belief in people, in their strength, in their ability to change, in their desire to help each other, and in their capacity to solve problems

In an emergency, one should not forget that refugees are persons. The focus of community services interventions should therefore be to assist refugees to re-establish social structures, coping mechanisms and normality in day-to-day living. Basic needs must be met in the context of the refugees' culture as much as possible.

The refugee community should be the reference point for determining felt needs and in identifying priority groups and individuals. The means for meeting these needs should be worked out with the community through continuing dialogue, evaluation and by involving the refugees in planning and in the implementation of programmes and service delivery.

A Problem Solving Process: Community services methods aim at involving refugees in assessment of their needs, planning activities and services and in the implementation and evaluation of programmes. Their involvement in decision-making is vital.

The Goals of Community Services:

Individual - To restore the refugees' sense of being human, to enable them to take decisions, and to start living again in a self-respecting way.

Community -To restore a sense of security, create a sense of belonging and to rebuild a self-generating community.

Integrated Approach: Community services are part of a larger whole, supporting and complementing other activities such as protection, health services and education.

Focus: Community services activities are directed towards assisting individual refugees within the larger community. Community services thus focus on:

· the individual refugee
· the family
· the community

In refugee situations there are no ready made answers. Solutions have to be tailored to needs. Consequently, there is a need to have a very flexible and creative approach to such work. Involving refugees in solving their own problems is the best way to ensure that the problem is solved in the most satisfactory manner.

Timing: In an emergency, the transition from a stable existence to one of instability and uncertainty takes place over an incredibly short time. The old patterns and ways of living, the support systems, habits and routines are thrown into disarray. However, over a period of time, new patterns replace the old (see pp. 10-11). Therefore, if the subsequent patterns are to be positive, constructive, and have the seeds of self-generation, it is essential that inputs are made while change is taking place and the situation is fluid and dynamic. Later may be too late. Community services inputs should be made at the earliest, in the context of establishing appropriate procedures and systems, and involve refugees as partners in the process.

Emergency Response - A Phased Approach:

1. Assessment, Action Plan, Guidelines (2 weeks)

Involving the refugees in assessing their needs and planning is vital. Organizing meetings with refugees, including women, to discuss problems and ways in which the refugees themselves can solve them is a good way to start. These meetings should be documented and feed-back provided to help the refugees organize themselves. At the same time relevant resources need to be identified: within the community, as well as services and facilities provided by NGOs and the government.

Guidelines on policies and procedures will need to be worked out in order to ensure common aims and standards, and to avoid overlap and gaps in the provision of services/facilities.

2. Foundation of Community Services Programme

The following activities are carried out:

· setting up refugee committees (either including women, or separate women's committees)

· establish a regular meeting schedule with committees to develop a community service programme and to train people in community responsibility;

· identification/selection of implementing partners;

· training of UNHCR field staff

· revision of guidelines and action plan.

3. Building up Community Services

The third phase comprises the following:

· capacity building with implementing partner(s)

· identification and recruitment of refugee community workers

· training programme for community workers

· identification of vulnerable/special groups

· using registration information to build up a profile of population

· education programmes

· tracing

· special programmes.

Community Processes in Refugee Emergencies



Community Services Issues

· Choice of leaders (who, how, criteria for "good" leaders)
· Vulnerable groups - concept
· Women in community work
· Involvement of outside agencies (interference versus support)
· Capacity Building
· Idleness
· Causes of mental breakdown
· Community's perceptions of its own problems
· Education of women
· Power in community work
· Goals of community work


Process based on:

· maintaining self-respect,
· encouraging self-help,
· support,
· restraint
· capacity building


Community processes are disrupted/prevented leading to:

· frustration
· anti-social behaviour
· corruption for survival
· apathy
· idleness

Crisis and Leadership Patterns