Tag Archives: Humanitarian assistance

Happy human rights day! Now, what was that about ‘enjoying’ asylum?

December 10 is International Human Rights Day, commemorating the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. Although the UDHR is not legally binding in the sense that a treaty is, many of its principles have been reflected in other international treaties, and there is a growing sense that the unanimous adoption by the General Assembly represents a strong commitment by States, which could be perceived as a principle of customary international law.

There are a lot of interesting elements to the UDHR, but let’s for a moment focus on Article 14(1): “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

If Article 14 is the officially non-binding human right, the binding version is expressed in Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention: “1. No Contracting State shall expel or return (” refouler “) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” The concept of “expel or return” also extends to not turning back people seeking asylum at the borders. So here we have a codified, binding right to seek asylum from persecution in another country.

But what about the part of “enjoying” asylum? The word was probably not intended to reflect “enjoyment” in the sense of amusement parks, beach holidays, or eternal happiness. However the fact that “seek” and “enjoy” are listed separately implies that crossing the border is “seeking” asylum, and “enjoying” asylum is something different.

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Some of “enjoying” asylum might be related to the standards of treatment as a refugee. The 1951 Refugee Convention states a number of rights and privileges to which refugees should have access – rights to things like employment, education, and documentation, some of which we discussed in a previous post – but many of these rights, at least as written in the Convention, indicate that refugees should have rights comparable to those of other foreigners, and only in some limited cases should refugees enjoy rights on equal footing to nationals. There is an interesting article by Alice Edwards, which looks at exactly this topic as applied to the right to employment and the right to family life. Edwards concludes that, “There is no doubt that the 1951 Convention retains its ‘central place in the international refugee protection regime’ [ …] Yet it is similarly clear that the 1951 Convention does not cover the many rights nor deal with the range of issues facing forcibly displaced persons today.” (read the whole article here) Some of the main thrust of Edwards’ article is whether international human rights law or instruments such as the ICCPR or IESCR might fill the gap where the 1951 Convention does not fully ensure a meaningful existence for refugees.

Abstract: “Increasingly hard-line and restrictive asylum policies and practices of many governments call into question the scope of protections offered by the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Has the focus on the 1951 Convention been to the detriment and subordination of other rights and standards of treatment owed to refugees and asylum-seekers under international human rights law? Which standard applies in the event that there is a clash or inconsistency between the two bodies of law? In analysing the interface between international refugee law and international human rights law, this article looks at the right to family life and the right to work. Through this examination, content and meaning is offered to the almost forgotten component of the right ‘to enjoy’ asylum in Article 14(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948.” (Edwards, Alice, Int J Refugee Law (2005)17 (2): 293-330. doi:10.1093/ijrl/eei011

 In addition to standards of treatment, one could also consider whether the concept of “durable solutions” might also fit within this concept of “enjoyment” of asylum. UNHCR’s Mandate charges the High Commissioner with  “providing international protection … and of seeking permanent solutions for the problem of refugees.” These permanent solutions are local integration, voluntary repatriation, and resettlement. UNHCR is charged with finding a solution for refugees – but States do not have an obligation in this direction, beyond a general one to aid UNHCR in its general efforts.

So what is really happening?

Well, on balance, the ability to seek asylum is pretty widely established, and generally well respected, although there are some substantial exceptions (Australia and EU, we are looking at you!). There has been an increasing push towards return, particularly to Somalia and also Afghanistan; where return is voluntary, it can be a durable solution, but if involuntary, return would constitute refoulement (cf Art 33).
Enjoyment of asylum is lagging behind. Although UNHCR estimates that some 60% of all refugees  (and 80% of internally displaced persons) live in urban and rural areas outside of camps, still, almost 8 million refugees are languishing in camps. Often, populations in camps have movement restrictions or strict encampment policies requiring them to live in camps, often without the right to work and therefore dependent on humanitarian aid for survival. Humanitarian aid which may then become limited as funding decreases and new situations arise.

“For decades, the default response to refugee crises has been to set up camps or settlements and coerce refugees into them. Camps, it was argued, were best suited to meet the social, economic and political realities in which refugees are living. Yet a significant body of research has demonstrated the exact opposite, pointing to the fact that those refugees who have opted out of the camp system – even when that means forgoing any humanitarian assistance – have established an effective alternative approach to exile. They have managed to live in areas where they feel more secure, and have engaged in the local economy. Far from being passive victims, they have taken control of their lives, often without any external assistance. Until recently, however, there has been strong resistance to modifying policy to reflect this reality and harness the potential of refugees: the settlement model has suited the powerful interests of governments and UNHCR alike.” (full article)

In a recent UNHCR study surveying 90 operations, there were still substantial restrictions and barriers to accessing basic services, movement, employment, or agricultural opportunities, even for those populations living outside of camps.

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We also have to take into consideration the length of time during which refugees are refugees. UNHCR frequently quotes the statistic of an average of 17 years (!) (although the source and veracity of that statistic has come to be questioned) in order to emphasize the point that refugees do not generally enjoy a brief stay before returning home; often, the displacement can last decades or generations. A US State Department report, quoting UNHCR, indicates that “UNHCR estimates that the average length of major protracted refugee situations is now 26 years. Twenty-three of the 32 protracted refugee situations at the end of 2015 have lasted for more than 20 years.”

Former UNHCR staffer, who headed the Za’atri refugee camp in Jordan, pointed out in a recent interview that,

“These are the cities of tomorrow, The average stay today in a camp is 17 years. That’s a generation. In the Middle East, we were building camps: storage facilities for people. But the refugees were building a city. I mean what’s the difference between someone in Philly and somebody in a refugee city? We have to get away from the concept that, because you have that status – migrant, refugee, martian, alien, whatever – you’re not allowed to be like everybody else.”

An interesting ODI study found that,

“Most displacement crises will persist for many years. A rapidly resolved crisis of any significant proportions is a rare exception. Data from 1978–2014 suggests that less than one in 40 refugee crises are resolved within three years, and that ‘protractedness’ is usually a matter of decades. More than 80% of refugee crises last for ten years or more; two in five last 20 years or more. The persistence of crises in countries with internal displacement is also notable. Countries experiencing conflict-related displacement have reported figures for IDPs over periods of 23 years on average. Understanding the likelihood of protractedness from the outset – and well before the five years that is the current UNHCR threshold for protracted refugee situations – should influence the shape and duration of national and international interventions.”

So where to now?

The conclusion is and should be that short-term approaches are not sufficient; that having asylum-seekers and refugees is a long-term commitment; that efforts towards self-reliance, livelihoods, and sustainability are important; and that it is not just enough to be able to seek asylum – refugees must be able to enjoy it, in some meaningful sense of the word. Efforts such as UNHCR’s Policy on Alternatives to Camps are a good start, but must be matched by hosting state commitments such as the fifteen countries who committed during the September 2016 summit to take concrete action to improve refugees’ ability to work lawfully by adopting policies that permit refugees to start their own businesses, expanding or enacting policies that allow refugees to live outside camps, making agricultural land available, and issuing the documents necessary to work lawfully.

Continue reading Happy human rights day! Now, what was that about ‘enjoying’ asylum?

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Cash not stuff: humanitarian assistance of the future?

Header: Cash Atlas

The logic of providing cash assistance instead of stuff is pretty simple: it’s more efficient and more effective; it’s more accountable; and it allows recipients some sort of agency. Traditional aid is supposed to be needs based, but in the end is subject to global procurement contracts favoring economies of scale, earmarked funding by donors, and the whims of changing global priorities that may result in the distribution of items because they are in the warehouse whether or not the beneficiaries want or need them.

It’s more efficient, because it does not need to be packaged, shipped, and distributed. With low distribution costs, more of the money actually goes to the recipient. It’s more effective, because recipients of blankets or other non-food items may sell them to obtain what they really need (as anyone who has traveled in certain countries and seen the wide range of uses to which UNHCR plastic sheeting has been put). It’s more accountable, because anti-fraud safeguards can be built in, the assistance is attributed to a specific individual or family, and there could be less vulnerability to corruption related to procurement contracts that can plague humanitarian assistance (i.e. USAID suspending funds to major aid groups after finding corruption in Syrian aid pipeline). Finally, cash assistance recognizes that recipients have agency and should be able to decide for themselves what their most important needs are.

And interestingly, cash has impacts in the wider economy, since the money given to the beneficiary is then spent on goods and services in the host community. For example, in an evaluation of the cash assistance programme in Lebanon, the study noted that cash assistance “has significant multiplier effects on the local economy. Each dollar that beneficiaries spend generates 2.13 dollars of GDP for the Lebanese economy.”

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Cash for everyone, right?

It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution nor a panacea, and there are a few preconditions necessary. As World Vision, one of many NGOs involved in provision of cash assistance, describes it, “The ability of cash transfers to deliver their promise fundamentally depends on whether or not they are calculated at a fair value and for a sufficient duration to accomplish the programme objectives. In short, cash transfers are neither a panacea for the global humanitarian financing gap nor a long-term solution to ending conflict, where 80% of humanitarian resources are currently directed.”

First of all, sufficient basic financial infrastructure or systems may be required:

“To realize a global scale-up in cash transfers, countries facing crises must have the necessary infrastructure and financial services in place to make payments safely and efficiently. E-payment mechanisms, including mobile-based money transfers and cardbased payments such as prepaid debit cards, are effective tools that enable efficient and scalable transfers, improve transparency, and mitigate fraud in humanitarian response. However, these tools are not present in all countries. E-payment tools are increasingly common, but as yet impractical in countries with weak digital and financial infrastructure, regulatory environments, and/ or financial institutions.”

Scaling up humanitarian cash transfers

Second, it requires the existence of markets with sufficient supply of basic necessities, which may not exist in remote locations or post-disaster areas.

Third, the programme needs to be designed in a way that mitigates risks of fraud (both in terms of selecting beneficiaries as well as technical protections such as iris scans at ATMs) or of protection vulnerabilities, and programme design will need to think carefully about how to ensure the most vulnerable of the population have access to the services. The targeting strategy will often have to take into consideration competing priorities in different sectors, particularly if the cash assistance is intended to be unconditional and multipurpose. And the programme design will have to consider if the cash assistance programme results in market distortions or inflated prices.

In a survey of available literature evaluating cash programmes, in terms of emowerment (relating to many themes that would often be characterized under the heading of “protection”), the study found that,

“The available evidence shows that transfers can reduce physical abuse of women by men, but also that they may increase non-physical abuse, such as emotional abuse or controlling behaviour. It supports both the theory that increased income lowers stress-related abuse and the theory that increased income enables the woman to bargain out of abuse. The relatively strong evidence that decision-making power increases for women in the beneficiary household also offers substance to this latter theory. Other evidence reveals that risky sexual behaviour and early marriage differ by gender, but for both girls/women and boys/men increased income to an extent lifts the constraints that drive engagement in these behaviours. In the case of women and girls, the evidence that directly or indirectly receiving a transfer reduces the likelihood of having multiple sexual partners indicates that cash transfers may reduce the incidence of relationships that are transactional. Taken together, the evidence in this section points to cash transfers having a positive impact on women’s choices as to fertility and engagement in sexual activity. In the case of men and boys, some of the evidence collected here suggests that cash transfers do not have the same effect of reducing risky sexual activity, and in fact may lead to an increase in this type of behaviour.”

Finally, there are factors such as duration of programme, amount of assistance, gender of main recipient, and timing and frequency of asistance all influence how successful the programme may be in terms of impacts in individual sectors.

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Distribution of Non food items

But does it really do all it says on the tin?

Luckily, cash assistance being in fashion does mean that there are quite a lot of studies interested in measuring its effectiveness, usefulness, and everything else-ness that one could possibly want to measure.

But preliminary findings do indicate that cash assistance has positive impacts on poverty, education, savings, health, nutrition, and empowerment. Employment seems not to be substantially impacted by cash assistance. In the same study surveying available literature evaluating cash programmes, the study findings are as follows:

Monetary poverty

There is a comparatively large evidence base linking cash transfers to reductions in monetary poverty. The evidence extracted consistently shows an increase in total and food expenditure andreduction in Foster–Greer–Thorbecke (FGT) poverty measures.

Education
Overall, the available evidence highlights a clear link between cash transfer receipt and increased school attendance. Less evidence and a less clear-cut pattern of impact is found for learning outcomes (as measured by test scores) and cognitive development outcomes (information processing ability, intelligence, reasoning, language development and memory), although,interestingly, the three studies reporting statistically significant findings on the latter all report improvements in cognitive development associated with cash transfer receipt.
Health and nutrition
Evidence of the impacts of cash transfers across all three indicator areas – use of health services, dietary diversity and anthropometric measures – was largely consistent in terms of direction of effect, showing improvements in the indicators. On the whole, the available evidence highlights how, while the cash transfers reviewed have played an important role in increasing the use of health services and dietary diversity, changes in design or implementation features, including complementary actions (e.g. nutritional supplements or behavioural change training), may be required to achieve greater and more consistent impacts on child anthropometric measures.
Savings, investment and production
Overall, impacts on savings, and on livestock ownership and/or purchase, as well as use and/or purchase of agricultural inputs, are consistent in their direction of effect, with almost all statistically significant findings highlighting positive effects of cash transfers, though these are not universal to all programmes or to all types of livestock and inputs. This is an important finding as, with the exception of one programme, none of the cash transfers analysed focuses explicitly on enhancing productive impacts. Impacts on borrowing, agricultural productive assets and business/enterprise are less clear-cut or are drawn from a smaller evidence base.
Employment
The evidence extracted for this review shows that for just over half of studies on adult work (participation and intensity), the cash transfer does not have a statistically significant impact. Among those studies reporting a significant effect among adults of working age, the majority find an increase in work participation and intensity. In the cases in which a reduction in work participation or work intensity is reported, these reflect a reduction in participation among the elderly, those caring for dependents, or they are the result of reductions in casual work.

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Resources and specific studies:

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