In a factory right next to a large refugee settlement in Kawempe, Uganda, Ugandans and refugees manufacture sanitary pads together that are being distributed to refugees by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, as well as being sold cheaply in Ugandan shops. The head of the factory has a flight history as well. Many of his employees are able to support themselves, gain and develop professional skills for the first time since their arrival in Uganda. The “MakaPads” are cheaper than other sanitary pads, as they are made from local materials –papyrus and scrap paper – as well as being biodegradable. For many girls and women, they are a blessing, as other sanitary products are so expensive that they cannot afford them. Many of them therefore do not go to work or school when they are on their period.
The “MakaPad” factory is an example of a project that helps both refugees and the local population, in this case by providing jobs and producing a product that drastically improves the quality of life of many girls and women. Here, two things are united that are seldom thought of together: Refugee and development work. The factory in particular is also a tangible result of the realization that many of the refugees living in the settlement will remain there for along time, and that they need not only aid supplies, but also employment and development perspectives.
In her study „Entwicklungsorientierte Flüchtlingsarbeit – Aus der Vergangenheit lernen und für die Zukunft planen“, Ulrike Krause emphasizes that such projects are forward-looking. In the study, she scrutinizes measures of refugee protection, in particular measures taken by the international community of states in host countries of the Global South. Unlike the “MakaPad” factory, most measures are based on the supposition that the “refugee” status is transitory. Thus, it is assumed that refugees voluntarily go back to their home countries after a short time, that they become permanently integrated into their host country or that they move to a safe third state. While this would be desirable, these assumptions do not reflect the reality of many people who have fled. Only 1.82 percent of all “refugees” have found a permanent solution in 2014; 45 percent have been “fleeing” for 5 years of more.
Refugee Aid as Charitable Gesture
In addition to the “long-term flight situations”, acute crises arise and overwhelm the humanitarian system. Mainly emergency humanitarian aid is provided, cooperation with development organizations is rare. Aid organizations ensure that food, water and sanitation is provided to the people in the camps. They try to fill the acute, short-term needs for the people living there. This work is crucial and important. But it falls short of the mark and operates on the basis of assumptions that create an image of refugees as aid recipients. Medium-term perspectives and development opportunities are therefore not created through this kind of aid. This has consequences, sometimes dramatic ones, for people who remain dependent on external structures for years, who frequently have no way of working or developing skills, and who often have to live with extensive restrictions anyway.
All in all, refugee aid appears as a charitable gesture by the Global North, which voluntarily helps the host countries of the South. The financing for these measures is organized accordingly: States freely decide how much they want to spend for which measures and attach conditions to their support. The result is that central organizations like the UNHCR or the World Food Programme (WFP) are chronically under-financed. If we saw refugees not as aid recipients, but as people that have rights which the international community of states is responsible fighting for, then not only questions of financing would need to be answered differently.
Approaches Based on Human Rights See Refugees as Actors
What would change as well would be the way in which measures of refugee protection would be conceptualized. Instead of stopping at emergency humanitarian aid, refugees would be seen as actors in their own right, who as a matter of course have a right to growth opportunities, both personal and professional. Refugees must be involved in the conception and implementation of projects, as they themselves are the experts on what is needed in particular. In addition to short-term aid, there should be significantly more long-term measures that run for several years. Further, gender-sensitive approaches must take both women and men into consideration, as they are affected very differently by experiences of flight and expulsion.
Krause's suggestions go even further. She pleads for expanding refugee work to incorporate development-orientation approaches. This concept is not new, but it was never fully realized in the past. It would mean that refugee aid measures would not only be created with and for refugees, but also with and for the local population. For example, projects that offer job training could be made available to refugees and he established neighborhood both, thus fostering encounters between people and helping to overcome prejudice along the way.
Refugee aid that is oriented towards development can generate a triple-win situation, Krause adds: Refugees gain some prospects in life in their host country. Local communities profit from this, as refugee protection also leads to sustainable development in the region. Finally, Northern donor states and Southern host countries can share the burdens and responsibility fairly and promote cooperation based on the principles of sustainability, human rights and good governance.
The Global North Profits from a Shift of Perspective as well
While Krause focusses on the Global South, her approaches and suggestions are relevant to all countries. Her demand to avoid “dual systems” can be read as a general plea against camp accommodation, or at least against camps in which inhumane conditions prevail, camps that are completely isolated from the local populace or that have been set up without their involvement. There are still many such camps in Germany. Therefore, it is important for German actors, too, to acknowledge that most refugees are in long-term situations and have a right to prospects in life – for example, by improving their access to the job market.
Contact: Felix Braunsdorf, Desk Officer Migration and Development
Publication in English: Development-oriented refugee assistance : Learning from the past to plan for the future / Ulrike Krause. - Berlin : Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Global Policy and Development, August 2017. - 14 Seiten = 250 KB, PDF-File.
Publication in German: Entwicklungsorientierte Flüchtlingsarbeit : aus der Vergangenheit lernen und für die Zukunft planen / Ulrike Krause. - Berlin : Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Globale Politik und Entwicklung, April 2016. - 16 Seiten = 230 KB, PDF-File.