Livelihoods in displacement: from refugee perspectives to aid agency response

Research reports and studies
September 2017
Ms Hamadou, 22, lives in a host community in Ngam, Cameroon and works as a food vendor. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Statistics succinctly depict the state of displacement around the world today. Over 65 million people are currently displaced, including more than 21 million refugees. Most refugees seek asylum in countries close to home (eight out of ten refugees live in neighbouring countries) with the burden falling on lower and middle-income countries. 86% of the world’s refugees are being hosted in developing regions. More than 75% of all displaced people live outside organised camps.

Focusing on the lives and livelihoods of refugees living in protracted displacement, specifically how Central African, Rohingya and Syrian refugees sustain themselves in Cameroon, Malaysia, Turkey and Jordan, our authors analyse the policy implications of refugees’ livelihoods objectives, strategies, actions and outcomes, as well as looking at the formal and informal institutions, networks and actors that shape the livelihoods risks and opportunities for refugees. The study sets out to explore opportunities to better support refugees' livelihoods.

Our findings indicate that the main problem is a lack of understanding amongst aid actors: aid actors are, to varying degrees, cognisant of the main features of refugees’ lives, including the types of work they undertake, the protection risks they face and the constraints they confront in trying to meet their basic subsistence needs. The issue is that, for the most part, they have failed to integrate the perspectives of refugees into their programming, either systematically or well.

The paper concludes by identifying the different ways in which the lives and livelihoods of refugees residing outside camps in protracted displacement can be better supported.