When refugees arrive:

What about the people already living there?

Imagine you live somewhere where there is a lack of everything from water and food to fuel. Then hundreds, even thousands, of refugees come and settle in the same place. They also need food, water and fuel. It goes without saying that this can easily create conflict.

NRC does not work in Norway, but we provide aid in 32 countries worldwide. We help refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries and people who are displaced in their own country.

When you hear the word “refugee”, it is easy to imagine a person living in a refugee camp. But in reality, only a fraction of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people live in camps. The vast majority move into – or in the vicinity of – existing towns and villages: the host community. This can subject host communities to a lot of pressure, and conflicts can arise.

Read caption Martin Suvatne, Director Core Competencies, has the overall responsibility for NRC’s core activities. These are shelter; camp management; livelihood and food security; water sanitation and hygiene; information, counselling and legal assistance; and education and youth. Photo: Beate Simarud/NRC
Refugee camps are our last option
Martin Suvatne

One reason why camps are not optimal is that there are so few job opportunities there. This makes it difficult for refugees and internally displaced people to become financially independent, which in turn makes it easy to lose faith in a future.

“In addition, it is incredibly expensive to run a refugee camp, when we have to offer people food, shelter, water and electricity. We simply don’t have enough resources. So, it is really best if refugees can live in host communities. It is a solution that benefits everyone,” says Suvatne.

Read caption NRC helps to complete unfinished houses so refugees have a place to live. Thanks to this project, a family of six from Syria has moved into a new home in Ramtha, Jordan. The photo shows two of the family members. Photo: NRC

Pressed housing market

Host communities generally want to help people who have had to flee from war or conflict – who have had to leave everything they own, everything they live on and everything they love.

But it often proves to be difficult to keep a positive attitude when schools become overfilled and your own children don’t get the teaching they are entitled to. Or when you can’t get a job because there are so many people vying for the same position. Or when salary levels go down because some people accept or work at lower wages.

Or when there is a shortage of housing. When the few houses that are available become too expensive. As an example of the last point, Suvatne points to Jordan, one of Syria’s neighbouring countries, which was severely affected by the crisis:

Read caption Hamzeh is a 20-year-old university student from Jordan. Thanks to a job he got through NRC, he can afford to pay his tuition fee. He plants trees in Jerash. Photo: NRC

“Many are familiar with Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. It was built as a temporary solution in 2012, but around eighty thousand people are still living there. Many more refugees live outside Zaatari camp. A great number of them are looking for a place to live. This has radically changed the housing market: there are many more people who need apartments than there are apartments available. The rental prices rise. This also affects ordinary Jordanians.” 

 

Read caption Bidibidi in Uganda: Never Rukia (28) from Uganda is walking at the front, behind are Mary Kiden (17) and Christian Awate (16) from South Sudan. They have collected water from a new water station that is used both by refugees and by people from the host community. “The fact that refugees came here has benefits for us as well. We have clean water and there is a larger selection of goods on the market,” says Never. Photo: Tiril Skarstein/NRC

Favourable agreements

It is often the case that people see their house as an investment, in the sense that they build onto the house in times when they can afford it. For example, they may add a new storey one year, while putting in windows the following year. Perhaps the homeowner has calculated that it will take seven or ten years to completely finish their house.

But NRC can come in and offer the person a favourable agreement:

“We say that we can finish the house in the next two to three months. In return, we ask the owner to lend their house to refugees for a period of one, two or three years. This is controlled by a solid, legally binding agreement,” says Suvatne.

Read caption Mtendeli refugee camp in Tanzania houses over 40,000 refugees from Burundi. NRC runs a youth centre in the camp, which offers vocational training both for refugees and for people from the host community. The photo shows (from the right) ICT-teacher Deogratius Kimena (27) with Festo Philipo Emmanuel (23) host community youth and Nizigama Jenovanie (22), refugee from Burundi. She says: “I came here in 2015. I’m thankful for these trainings, I’m learning a lot that I didn’t know before, like how to write letters, modify pictures and other things. After this, I’d like to get a job as a computer trainer. I want to be a teacher.” Photo: Guri Romtveit/NRC

Or if it is a house that has been damaged and needs repair. Then NRC pays for the repairs in return for the owner agreeing to let refugees live in part of the house for a period, for example. The house is given a simple but good standard.

In this way, NRC also contributes to reducing the demand in the market somewhat and to stabilising prices.

 

Not alone – together

For NRC, our goal is to find good and lasting solutions. Whether this means that refugees and internally displaced people return home, that they stay or that they find another place to go.

“In any case, the host community must not feel forgotten. Also, the host community can be affected by the crisis. They shouldn’t feel like they are alone in this situation. The host community must be able to see that having refugees live there with them can be beneficial. That they receive help they would not have had otherwise,” says Suvatne.

That’s why NRC includes the host community in everything we do. This way, we avoid conflicts, and hopefully also contribute to a more peaceful world.