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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

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.