USCRI: U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

Interim Status

The chief drawback of self-settlement is that the refugees often lack proof of the legality of their presence. Host governments may see them as illegal immigrants with no right to be in the country, placing them in danger of relocation to camps or refoulement.  Some legal adjustment is thus necessary and that is why USCRI advocates interim legal status, however temporary, where refugees enjoy their rights under the 1951 Convention.  This is not itself a durable solution, such as permanent local integration but, according to UNHCR, self-reliance is, a “precursor to any of three durable solutions.”

Many host countries fear that granting refugees freedom will lead to their permanent settlement.  This fear, however, has often proven false. Self-settled or self-reliant refugees are among the first to voluntarily repatriate (Bakewell, 2000).  Encamped refugees, on the other, typically become more impoverished over time and less able to reintegrate to their homeland.  As UNHCR recognizes, “self-reliant refugees are better equipped to restart their lives and the first ones to go home on their own to contribute to the development, reconstruction, and peace building processes in their own country.”

Host countries also note that funding from donor countries goes largely toward relief in camps, ignoring public services like education and healthcare that even integrated refugees require. Donors should agree to compensate hosts on a pro rata basis for all such expenses if they allow refugees their Convention rights.  Donors could also go further and offer other incentives such as more funding for vocational education, microenterprise credit, and other assistance.

See Merrill Smith, “Warehousing Refugees: A Denial of Rights, a Waste of Humanity,” World Refugee Survey 2004--Warehousing Issue, pp. 52-54. 

Agricultural settlements (Zambia)  

When governments allow refugees to earn a livelihood, they can become more self-sufficient and return home in better prepared to rebuild their countries.

Unlike most refugee populations in Africa, the settlement-based Angolans in Zambia did not become dependant on the international community. Instead, local Zambian officials and chiefs lent Angolan refugees 6 to 12 acres (2.5 to 5 hectares) of farm land each, enabling them to support themselves after WFP ceased giving them food rations. Angolan refugees also contribute to the national economy as workers producing widely-marketed vegetables and sweet potatoes.  According to locals, refugees in Zambia turned the bush into villages.  Zambian businesses make money transporting and distributing the produce. The Zambian government issues 30- to 60-day permits to refugees who want to travel outside of the settlements to sell their vegetables in the main marketplaces of the country.

Zambia’s relatively generous land policy can be explained by three main factors: local chiefs controlled an abundance of land and water, which they allow refugees to use; people on both sides of the Zambian-Angola border share the same culture and language; and the Government has little capacity to implement Zambian law in the remote border areas, leaving the local chiefs to determine what is best for the region. Allowing refugees to cultivate land eventually did not discourage them from returning home: in 2004, nearly 47,000 repatriated.

See Joel Frushone, “Providing for Ourselves: Angolan Refugees in Zambia,” World Refugee Survey 2004--Warehousing Issue, pp. 74-77.

The Zambian government, however, maintains reservations on the 1951 Refugee Convention, including one on the right to earn wages.  Refugees are only permitted to work as farmers on land that has been allocated to them. They lack full rights to earn livelihoods, own property, or live where they choose, especially in the cities.  Many are fairly well educated with no agricultural background.  Legal permits to live and work in Lusaka are difficult to obtain, and those who are unable to support themselves farming are reduced to an underground existence in the informal sector, well below their capacity.

©2014 USCRI
Powered by Convio
nonprofit software