Refugee integration in the intermediate term - a study of Nepal, Pakistan, and Kenya

from UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Published on 30 Oct 2004 View Original
As the world reels from the cascading effects of Cold War conflicts gone awry, wars have grown increasingly complicated and refugee situations have become ever more prolonged. Such protracted refugee situations challenge the "durable solutions" framework embraced by the UNHCR,(1) which recommends one of three solutions for the refugee: local integration in the country to which the refugee has fled, return to the country of origin, or resettlement in a third country.

Protracted conflicts, however, keep refugees in limbo, where they are neither able to resettle in third countries nor return home. In the short and intermediate term, when refugees flee across a border, nearly all of them remain in the first country to which they have fled. Thus, while durable solutions have long been discussed as a means to resolve refugee crises, the increasing length of refugee stays suggests that refugees require solutions in the intermediate term.

Some intermediate solutions allow refugees to integrate better than others. Some refugees are able to pursue livelihood strategies in urban or rural settings amongst the local population. They rarely seek help from humanitarian or government agencies, and, more often than not, are below the radar screen of host governments. Other refugees reside in settlements, where they are prohibited from dispersing amongst the local population but may be given some land or other means for making a living. Others end up in restricted camps, where their capacity for self-sufficiency is virtually non-existent.

Although some host countries may offer better opportunities for refugees than other host countries, it cannot be assumed that within one country, the same level of integration is always available. In fact, different populations who flee to the same country often find themselves in vastly different circumstances. For example, the refugees from Djibouti who fled to Ethiopia in the mid-1990s were dispersed among the local population, while the more recent Somali and Sudanese refugees are restricted to camps (USCR 1998). Even within a refugee population that flees to the same country, rates of integration vary widely. Refugees from Angola who have fled to Zambia are either under restricted government control or are free to farm land and participate in the local economy.

This is a puzzle. Why, within a given country, would groups of refugees experience widely varying integration levels? Why would the same host country have different policies - actual and de facto - regarding different groups of refugees? What would explain different levels of integration for refugees who flee from the same country and arrive to the same country?

This paper explores the factors that facilitate varying levels of refugee integration in the intermediate term. It begins by offering a measurement for integration, and then provides an overview of the author's terminology for possible factors that influence refugee integration. Then, it examines the cases of Nepal, Pakistan, and Kenya to substantiate/challenge these possible factors. Synthesizing the information, it concludes that no one factor is responsible for determining levels of integration in all cases. Notably, however, the ability of recent refugees to integrate has decreased consistently over the past decade. In addition, political considerations, social similarity, and the size of refugee flows are important integration determinants in the intermediate term. Finally, individual refugee behavior can circumvent government actions altogether.


(1) UNHCR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is the international body charged with the protection of refugees.

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