Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre has published a report on the importance of refugee-led community organisations (RCOs) in low- and middle-income countries. By examining four cases of refugee-led social protection in Kenya (Nairobi and Kakuma) and Uganda (Kampala and Nakivale), the research shows that, in contrast to the dominant humanitarian model premised upon a provider/beneficiary relationship, refugees themselves are important and often neglected providers of protection and assistance.

The report describes that at the global level, the rhetoric around RCO’s is gradually changing, and there has been increasing recognition of the need to support refugee lead initiatives. However they are still absent from most of the crucial strategy documents published by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), while formal partnerships between the UNHCR and RCOs are discussed rarely and with varying significance from country to country.

RCOs often lack funding in a dilemma the report explains as a “chicken and egg” problem; “In order to receive recognition and funding, they need to have capacity. But in order to have capacity, they need recognition and funding”. Nevertheless they often provide protection and assistance in areas as diverse as education, health, livelihoods, finance, and housing, despite their lack of access to external funding or recognition. In many cases refugee recipients regard these informal sources of social as more important than formal sources of assistance, and some RCOs thrive largely due to individual leadership and the creation of transnational networks that bypass the formal humanitarian system.

The reports suggests that by engaging with RCOs, the UNHCR and other donors and international organisations can meet their commitment to the localisation agenda and assist them to become sustainable providers of social protection on a more participatory basis, within formal partnership structures.

It recommends that UNHCR adopts a global policy framework on refugee-led community organisations and that international organisations and NGOs should develop training and capacity-building schemes for community leaders. Meanwhile, RCOs can do a number of things to enhance their own recognition and sources of funding, through advocacy, collective action and transnational networks.


This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.