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Displaced People

We have a mission to improve the international protection system for displaced people. Our projects in this area range from research to direct implementation in the field – we identify opportunities to reform the system so that it protects the most vulnerable. In practical terms, we work directly with displaced people and potential asylum seekers, for example in our program design and strategic communications services. We also work with countries hosting refugees, particularly when they are seeking to balance border management and humanitarian imperatives, or where they are searching for new approaches to refugee integration.

In Western countries, recent years have seen a continued sense that there is a refugee crisis, particularly a European refugee crisis. It is true that absolute numbers of displaced people are higher now than at most points since the 1951 Refugee Convention. But here are five points we consider when contemplating the ‘crisis’:

  1. The absolute number of people on the planet has also grown since 1951, which reduces the relative burden on the rest of us of caring for a higher number of displaced people.
  2. Many commentators cite the “highest-ever” number and then talk about refugees, but the reported number combines refugees and internally displaced people. This is a confused analysis, but is helpful in highlighting the plight of internally displaced people. In many cases they are more vulnerable than those who can leave a conflict or persecution zone.
  3. The number of people displaced by local conflicts and persecution was probably understated in the mid-20th Century, since many of these people were not traveling to places that would count them and were unknown to the UNHCR bureaucracy.
  4. Humanity is richer now than in 1951. Relative to our wealth and income, the burden is not as high.
  5. The sense of ‘crisis’ is driven largely by Western countries. Calculating between national populations, wealth and the number of refugees hosted, a similar ‘crisis’ level started in, for example: 1980 for Pakistan; 1980 for Iran; 1992 for Kenya; before the 1960s for Jordan; and 2011 for Lebanon and Turkey.

What the sense of crisis shows is a shifting consensus on who deserves help and what help they deserve. From our research in source countries of refugees and illegal immigrants, we know that strains in the international protection system will continue to grow. In particular, it will be a growing struggle to maintain a practical focus on finding and protecting the most vulnerable people. To do so, we provide specialized research and survey tools to segment populations, advanced methods of strategic communications, and policy advice to turn humanitarian ambitions into real progress.

Here are some examples of how we deploy our expertise in relation to displaced people:

  • Applying unique research and survey methods to understand patterns of displacement
  • Program design for donors to address the links between humanitarian aid and refugees
  • Strategic communications planning and implementation to focus protection systems on the most vulnerable people
  • Re-thinking the idea of refugee integration to focus on host-refugee relationships and on social inclusion