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Promoting Livelihoods and Self-reliance: Operational Guidance on Refugee Protection and Solutions in Urban Areas
About this resource
The Right to Work is a right established in the Article 23.1 of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights and in the Article 6 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights. It allows men and women of all ages and backgrounds to live in dignity
and to become self-reliant. The right to work includes refugees according to Articles 17, 18
and 19 of the 1951 Geneva Convention.
In urban settings, protection and livelihoods are closely intertwined. Forcibly displaced
people need to acquire goods and services, and cash everyday, but many aspects of urban
settings make the pursuit of livelihoods risky. Host government policy often makes it illegal
for refugees to work or to own property or businesses. Even in situations where refugees
can legally work, access to decent employment continues to be a huge obstacle. Cases
of discrimination and harassment by the state (police, immigration authorities) can make
it difficult for refugees to move around freely to work or engage in economic activities.
Refugees often face greater expenses than other urban poor because of costs associated
with bribes, often related to the lack of documentation. Refugees are discriminated against
by landlords and employers who often require higher rents or extra “fees”. Refugees are
targeted by criminals, who know they are less likely to seek recourse. The poor are more
likely to rely on child labour and to engage in risky coping strategies including illegal
and criminal activities such as prostitution and smuggling. Accessing public health and
education services may pose a financial burden on refugees that exceed the burden
experienced by other urban poor. In many cases financial shocks come in the form of
school fees and hospital bills that exceed their monthly income and may indebt them to
their community or employers.
Beyond meeting protection objectives, advocating for livelihood rights and supporting
refugees in fulfilling those rights is appropriate and necessary for UNHCR in urban settings
for the following reasons:
? Many refugees come to cities because they possess assets that are more effectively
utilized in urban settings than in camps or rural areas. Livelihood programmes
promote and preserve the use of skills and assets, which can prevent households
and individuals from slipping into poverty, and enables them at the same time to
support their own communities.
? Increasing the economic capacity of households can promote durable solutions,
particularly successful repatriation. Refugees who can build and protect their
livelihood assets are more able and more likely to return to their home countries
when it is safe to do so.
? Livelihood programmes that also benefit local populations can address host
government concerns about the presence of refugees in cities (economic
competition, pressure on resources, etc.) and improve the asylum environment.
? The pursuit of livelihoods helps restore the dignity and independence of refugees.
This operational guidance to livelihood programming is aimed primarily at UNHCR Field
Operations, starting with representatives and senior managers in field operations; at
Multi-Functional Teams (MFT) that include Protection, Programme, Community Services,
Field and Livelihoods Officers, where applicable; and at government counterparts and
operational and implementing partners, including potential new partners that may include
microfinance institutions, the private sector, foundations and academic institutions.
Regional representations and decision-makers in headquarters are also addressed.
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