Evaluating Refugee Status
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) predicts that in 2017 there will be around 60 million ‘persons of concern’ on their books, including 16 million refugees and 32 million Internally Displaced Persons. The amount requested by the organisation for their protection exceeds $6.4 billion dollars, with the majority of this money being targeted at programmes in the Middle East or Africa.
It is often presented as an unquestioned good that though the number of individuals requiring protection from this organisation is increasing, there is at least a refugee regime there to support them. What goes unchallenged, however, is that the average time people are in a protracted refugee situation appears to be on the rise as UNHCR is increasingly failing to provide these individuals with durable solutions. From the perspectives of those individuals living through this scenario therefore, should we continue to support UNHCR’s expansion?
Part of answering this question involves asking whether refugee status does indeed provide the best – and preferred - conduit to protection for individuals. For some, it is undoubtedly a necessary and welcome form of legal recognition. For others, however, it may constitute a status conferred on them largely without informed consent, which undermines their mobility and psycho-social security. Being labelled a refugee can lead to individuals being confined to hostile camp environments, treated with varying degrees of stigma, or establish expectations of support that are continually and damagingly undelivered on.
There is thus work being done, for example, which suggests that certain individuals would rather circumvent refugee status altogether and seek protection through alternative channels, such as higher education or labour mobility. My postdoctoral research at LMH contributes to this field of scholarship by asking individuals, mainly from Eritrea, how they understand the role and value of refugee status. How does it help them find solutions to their forced exile? And how does refugee status alter their expectations, of access to protection and to durable solutions? This research will take me to Kampala, Khartoum and Asmara, and I hope allow me to begin answering the broader question of what the perceived ‘value’ of refugee status is – or is not - to one group of individuals to which it is applied.
- Georgia Cole, Joyce Pearce Junior Research Fellow in International Development (Refugees and Forced Migration)
Contributing to the IKEA Foundation’s Donor Strategy for Refugees
This past December, the IKEA Foundation—a major international donor, whose priorities include supporting refugees—convened representatives from its various partner organizations for a three-day meeting to discuss and develop its new donor strategy for 2015-2020. LMH became one of the IKEA Foundation’s partner organizations last year, when the Foundation agreed to fund the IKEA Research Fellowship in International Relations at LMH as a means of supporting innovative research into the Foundation’s priority areas, such as humanitarian response and rights protections for women and children.
As the IKEA Research Fellow, I attended this partner meeting, with much of my activity focused on the IKEA Foundation’s strategy for assisting refugees. I was part of a team including representatives from UNHCR, Oxfam (founded in Oxford), and Save the Children (founded by LMH alumna Eglantyne Jebb).
Drawing on our collective expertise and experience, we focused on developing the IKEA Foundation’s strategy for increasing refugees’ resilience to the effects of climate change. We discussed how refugees, who are already a vulnerable population, tend to be especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including various forms of extreme weather, drought, and resource scarcity. We reflected on the kinds of interventions the IKEA Foundation could support at the individual, community, and policy levels. We also brainstormed indicators for monitoring and evaluating the impacts of IKEA Foundation-funded projects in this area of refugee assistance.
- Nicole De Silva, former IKEA Research Fellow in International Relations