Conceptualising crisis, refugees and IDPs: Insights from northern Iraq on vulnerabilities and needs caused by displacement

Release date: 2019-10

This Working Paper assesses how humanitarian and development aid agencies address   individuals whose human rights and human dignity have been affected by displacement. It proposes a fresh look at how to measure needs that arise in such situations. To this end, the  Paper evaluates characteristic needs regarding livelihoods, rights and basic services for displaced  persons in an empirical study of so-called protracted refugee situations (PRS). The needs are  then contrasted with the international legal category of ‘refugee’ and the descriptive definition  of internally displaced persons (IDPs) used by aid agencies to address situations of displacement.

Following empirical observations and drawing from existing models, the author Markus Rudolf establishes an  inter-subjectively comprehensible catalogue of needs, i.e. land, employment (livelihoods), housing, social inclusion, nutrition, health, community assets, social networks, education, legal  aid, political rights, legal documents, human rights. It is argued that these indicators need to be  evaluated in regard to the degree of access displaced persons have (from no access to full access).  The weighted indicators establish different points of reference to measure the detrimental impact of displacement on human dignity. Assessment of aid for displaced persons thereby reaches  beyond the pre-displacement situation as a central point of reference: This would enable   humanitarian and development actors to evaluate their contribution to facilitating a dignified  life of individuals more accurately, as a return to the status quo ante does not automatically  mean that aid was successful—e.g. a return to misery.   

Drawing on field research findings in northern Iraq, moreover, the Paper argues that any   indicator-based-approach must be combined with an analysis of the socio-political and historical  context of forced migration and also pay attention to impacts on the host society. In line with  empirical examples, the Working Paper argues that humanitarian and development aid agencies  need to start from a long-term, multi-sectoral, whole-of-society, and systematically indicator-based approach—even though it is inevitable to prioritise some issues (and disregard others) in  situations of crisis.