A Guide to Market-based Livelihood Interventions for Refugees


The number of forcibly displaced persons worldwide has been rising continuously in recent years. By the end of 2015, 65.3 million individuals had been driven from their homes as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence or human rights violations. Of these, 21.3 million were refugees, 40.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 3.2 million asylum-seekers (UNHCR, 2015a). While new conflicts erupt, existing conflicts linger and root causes of forced displacement show no signs of being addressed. The scale and complexity of the challenge of responding to the needs of refugees and other forcibly displaced people for protection and assistance have increased as displacement persists over time. Prolonged periods of displacement, often for more than a generation, have a devastating impact on the lives of communities of concern and result in grave losses of human potential.

The lack of economic and educational opportunities, the isolation of forcibly displaced communities, and increasingly restrictive policies that lead to growing hopelessness among many seeking refuge outside their own countries have been highlighted as particular obstacles preventing refugees from becoming self-reliant, independent and hopeful about their future. Many displaced people have risked their lives and depleted what little resources they may have in their search for a better protection environment. Others have found themselves in situations of destitution and exploitation, facing ever more serious risks.

The magnitude and protracted character of many of today’s displacement situations are leading States to engage with a wider range of partners in a growing recognition of the imperative need, on both humanitarian and development grounds, to secure sustainable solutions for refugees, IDPs, stateless people and returned refugees. Progress is best achieved where enabling public policies are combined with close cooperation between humanitarian and development organizations working in support of governments and helping local communities to address development issues, strengthen social protection and support the forcibly displaced to be free to move and find jobs and employment legally. Preserving dignity, reducing dependence on humanitarian aid and achieving economic inclusion are goals that all stakeholders can pursue jointly to good effect.

Joint efforts have therefore to be made to find new ways to reduce dependence on humanitarian assistance by developing interventions that promote the economic inclusion and self-dependence of refugees (see figure 1). Of fundamental importance to this endeavour is the fact that forced displacement primarily affects developing countries. The same 14 countries have hosted the majority of the world’s refugees, among them several of the world’s least developed countries with populations that are themselves suffering from high unemployment and a lack of economic opportunities. Interventions therefore need to focus on promoting the economic inclusion of displaced persons while at the same time also engaging in development efforts that aim to create employment opportunities for both refugees and the host community.