As you read this - right now - about 20
million people are forcibly displaced from their homes; displaced by wars,
famine, government agencies and corporate projects. About 7 million are
in Southwest Asia (mostly Iran and Pakistan), North Africa and the Middle
East; another 5 million in sub-Saharan Africa; 5 million in Europe and North America (1
million in the USA); a million more in Latin America and the Caribbean; and
another million in the remaining countries of Asia, and in Oceania. (Encarta
2003) These are ordinary people, much like you or I, worrying about their
As you read this, these families live in tents, ramshackle communities and
hastily constructed shacks. People with university degrees or professional
experience may be forbidden to seek work. They live with limited food and little clean
water, and with restricted contact with the outside world. Their conditions may
resemble concentration camps more than displaced communities.
Imagine that you suddenly find yourself
without a home, without property and without rights. You cannot leave the camp,
or find work. You are trapped in a dull, hopeless existence. Your
nutrition may be poor and your ability to think clearly is diminished.
You may have watched children die, you may have encouraged
children to collect garbage and you may have stolen from other
refugees - that your family might survive.
As human rights are ignored; as wars and terrorism
continue; as food, oil and other resources diminish; the large-scale
movement of refugees is likely to increase ... especially in
those countries least able to provide for their people. (And, unless we
change, our entire planet may become a refugee camp).
Although displaced people highlight the failure of governments to provide
peace and prosperity, they also offer ordinary people the possibility to
provide an extra-ordinary service. We can support these people during
crises and later help them integrate into communities.
What can you do?
We help people plan and realize
their lives with responsibility and integrity.
Refugee and evacuee management involves many cultural, economic, political
and religious factors. A crisis may be acute (natural or national disasters), chronic
(housing shortage, mental ill-health or unemployment) or forever (large
construction projects or government programs). All result in
displaced people who urgently need food, shelter and medical aid
- as a first step towards resettlement.
Some refugee management models are based on Charles Darwin's (1809-1882)
theories of natural selection and on Robert Malthus' (1766-1834) theories
of social evolution. Malthus argued that if population growth outstrips food production,
poverty and suffering are inevitable. This leads people
to encourage "the survival of the richest" by ignoring or punishing victims.
Other approaches to refugees and forced evacuees focus on how their
needs are understood and measured – on their abilities and assets,
and how they can contribute to their own survival and development. Refugees
can be encouraged to develop their own life strategies, whether they were
forcibly displaced by dams and agricultural projects or by war and persecution.
Relief agencies can provide incredible resources to those refugees fortunate
enough to receive these benefits. However relief workers may impose their definitions of
peace and order or good behavior
on distressed people. Untrained relief workers risk communicating ethnocentric
Although refugees need resources, and relief agencies can provide
resources, refugees may at best tolerate relief workers who are
well-meaning but incomprehensible. To be effective, relief workers need
insight into the dynamics of refugee management and
quality cross-cultural communication skills.
|1. Respond appropriately to current crisis
||Assess situation, provide triage, food and medical aid,
reassurance and hope
|2. Define goals and evaluate resources
||Make basic decisions and negotiate resources
|3. Assign refugee shelter & transport
||Evacuate people to safe shelter / food / medical aid
|4. Cultural, economic and religious conflicts
||Prioritize and help resolve community conflicts
|5. Dissolve trauma
||Provide culture-appropriate treatment for trauma &
post traumatic stress (PTSD)
|6. Coaching, training and mentorship
||Provide skills and train community leaders
integrate and resettle
||Transport / damage control / re-build communities
A critical factor in refugee management is the return-home time
(the likely time in which evacuees or refugees can return safely to their
communities). Examples of a short return-home time are the 1984 evacuation of
Bhopal following the Union Carbide industrial accident; and the forced
rejection of Burmese refugees from Bangladesh in 1991. An example of a long
return-home time is the Israeli occupation of Palestine in 1967 - even after
35 years, about eight million evicted Palestinian people remain refugees. An
example of extended return-home time might be the Jewish Diaspora, starting
about 2500 years ago.
Some people never return home. They die, or they are assimilated into
dominant cultures, sometimes as menial workers or second-class citizens. This
happens to many aboriginal peoples. The proud Berbers, for example,
survived independently for at least 2000 years, and are now associated
with the sale of newspapers on the streets of Mediterranean Africa.
The types of crisis which cause the forcible relocation of communities
- Wars, riots and terrorism
- Industrial and nuclear accidents
- Famines and droughts
- Plagues and epidemics
- Storms, floods, tidal waves and tsunami
- Avalanches, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions
- Hurricanes, cyclones and tornados
- Major construction projects
- Government programs (genocide, ethnic cleansing)
- Unemployment, depleted natural resources, climatic changes
Each crisis may require different resources. The best
preparation is contingency planning. Appropriate planning
may include stockpiling emergency reserves, training disaster
control, relief agency and community leaders in
decision making during emergencies, and emergency exercises.
2. Resource Management
It is sometimes politically expedient or fashionable to
offer charitable assistance to refugees. But not all donated assistance
reaches distressed people. In a country in crisis, donated
resources may provide immense political power and immediate wealth. In some
regions, officials demand large bribes or "special
taxes" to allow relief supplies to be delivered. Sometimes local
warlords confiscate all emergency resources (e.g. Somalia 1990-2).
Hence donors may hire or designate powerful, trusted agencies to ensure
that supplies are delivered. (In Somalia, the US army tried to fulfill this
role - with only partial success). The designated agency is accountable to
The distribution of relief goods usually requires difficult decisions
about who receives how much. Should limited resources be given to people who may die soon
- or to the strongest? How many people are still struggling to reach the
distribution center? Unless an accepted distribution system is put in place,
refugees will challenge and test whatever decisions are made.
Volunteer helpers can be a blessing when they bring needed
expertise to crisis situations - or they can consume vital supplies without
providing value. Trained medical and emergency workers are most likely to be
highly valued if they can speak the local language and can empathize with local
Volunteers without emergency skills can provide a wonderful
service to refugee immigrants. (See Mentorship below)
Research shows that to be meaningful to refugee populations,
participation must address their political and legal rights as well as their
socio-economic needs. Participation may only be welcomed when it contributes
to the authority's own agenda. For example, when refugees in a Uganda
settlement (Kiryandongo) wanted to offer refuge and support to friends in
another refugee settlement, which was attacked by Ugandan rebels, they were
bluntly told by the Uganda government that they were not permitted to do so. (Tania
Kaiser, Department of Development Studies, London)
3. Refugee Management
Important factors when managing displaced people are:
- The numbers of men, women and children
- Their physical condition and mental health
- Their languages, dialects and history
- Their economic background and skills
- Their cultural background and religions
- Their expectations of government and political affiliations
- Local economic and political constraints
- Local terrain, climate and season
- Local infrastructure: buildings, electricity, water, bridges, roads
Short term refugee or evacuee camps often
use sheltered locations, for example sport stadiums. Longer term camps may
be chaotic - or may be based on model villages. Relief agencies can assist and empower
displaced people to select community representatives to make communal decisions; both as a
basic human right and to protect refugees from both internal and external domination.
Photo: Rwanda Refugee Camp
Life in an unplanned refugee camp can challenge
physical and mental resources. Some camps are organized like penal colonies,
with all aspects of life regulated. Refugees may be blamed for all
problems arising in these camps; and refugees deemed
"problematic" may be forcibly returned to hostile conditions. When refugees
provide forced labor, the differences between refugee camps and
concentration camps may become blurred.
In 1991-1992, about 250 000 Rohingya Muslims sought
refuge in Bangladesh from the Burmese army. The majority were forcibly
returned to Burma. Around 20,000 refugees remain in Bangladeshi refugee
camps. The United Nations provide dry food, clothes and cooking fuel,
although refugees do not consider these resources to be adequate. People
live in congested spaces with limited water. About 60% of children and 50%
of adults are reported to have malnutrition. Refugees are not allowed to
seek work or any other activity outside the camps. All education was
forbidden for four years. Since 1996, schooling is allowed in some camps.
The refugees provide reluctant forced labor. (Choudhury R. Abrar,
University of Dhaka)
An example of an alternative approach to refugee management is Guinea’s
policy towards refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone. Refugees were allowed
to settle in villages and were given access to existing welfare services,
which were reinforced by international relief. This approach was beneficial
for both local and refugee populations and cost a fraction of refugee camps
– an estimated US$4 per refugee per year compared with US$50 per year for
camp-based medical programs. (S Gainsbury, University of Sussex)
Conflicts can be predicted - both between refugees and between refugees
and other communities - which include communities called banks, merchants,
corporations or government agencies. Appropriate training can prepare
community leaders and relief agencies to assist in their resolution.
- People under stress are likely to be exploited (e.g. the slave
trade and the migration of Texas and Oklahoma farmers to California in
- Governments and corporations may try to eradicate traditional
values (E.g. the historic treatment of all native American Indians, native
Alaskans and native Hawaiians)
- Displaced people may not consider economic rationality and
oppose marketing efforts. (E.g. many Middle Eastern refugees despise Western
- Superior agriculture and technology may be inappropriate for
local landscape and climate. Refugee farmers may be coerced to borrow to
buy seed, fertilizers and pesticides, but the marginal production increase may only
pay for more seeds, fertilizers, & pesticides.
Other conflicts include left-brain - right-brain conflicts
(logical decisions versus intuitive/emotional decisions)
and men / women conflicts (differing values may be more fundamental
than cultural values).
Trauma refers to the consequences of physical harm, alienation,
witnessing horrible events and losing family and/or possessions. People may
express inner trauma
as "outer rage"; and internal chaos fuels external chaos. If economic wealth
masks spiritual poverty, a lack of wealth may expose deep insecurity. By
contrast, people who find inner peace better tolerate and survive suffering
and the threat of death. Solutions for trauma require empathy, care and
patience. (Read Viktor Frankl).
- Consequences of injury, disease and malnutrition
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD)
- Insecurity about basic survival needs
- Loss of freedom and human rights
- Being unrecognized and unappreciated
6. Refugee Coaching and Mentorship
As a crisis fades, displaced people return to their homes, build new
communities or relocate. Professionals and volunteers, with varied training
and experience, can provide enormous assistance. The best mentors are often
people who have been refugees themselves, especially if they have additional
training in coaching and mentorship.
Many countries accept refugees, and many of these
people will need coaching and training - in languages,
in community procedures, in new skills and in finding work.
Coaches and mentors can assist and solve many problems. The simpler coaching
skills, suitable for many volunteers, are:
- being a friendly contact person
- finding appropriate information
- observing behavior and offering feedback
- providing consultation
- finding reference materials
- motivating, stimulating and inspiring
- promoting the newcomer
- opening new perspectives
More complex coaching skills can be offered by trained coaches:
- assess their life situations in preparation for and
during major change
- untangle chaotic relationships (including relationships
with dead people)
- deal with "survivor guilt", other unpleasant feelings
and inner conflicts
- define and plan their realistic congruent goals
- resolve existential identity issues
- identify and change toxic beliefs (and relationships
that require toxic beliefs)
- identify and dissolve emotional trauma
- identify and improve their expert strategies
- identify and disconnect from toxic role models
- find and use inspirational mentors for important goals
These skills are taught, practiced and integrated during training in
Home visits, and offices that are open at fixed
times, can be run by volunteers to assist many refugees. The volunteer staff
can solve simple problems and refer more complex issues to trained people.
A one year integration program can include three phases. A) intense coaching
for the first three months, B) six months of less intense coaching,
and C) three months that encourage self-sufficiency. This period may be
expanded or contracted to suit individuals.
Resettlement staff can ensure that refugees receive housing,
furnishings, food, clothing, transportation, medical aid and employment.
They help ensure that isolated refugees are contacted and that people showing signs of medical,
psycho-social or psychiatric problems are referred to appropriate agencies. They can also help protect refugees from unscrupulous vendors - who
cause many naive refugees to become poorer then when they started.
They can refer more complex issues to trained staff. Complex issues
include finding durable solutions for unaccompanied
children, child soldiers, people with disabilities, education,
child and adolescent health, exploitation and abuse.
After a year or so, refugees can receive professional consultation, and
receive added direction, motivation and inspiration; with the option of
maintaining a more casual relationship with the coaching staff - and perhaps
training to become refugee coaches themselves.
Plagiarism is theft. Copyright © Martyn Carruthers 2002, 2009 All rights
Preparedness . Contingency Planning .
Emergency & Crisis Coaching
served on Royal Navy nuclear
submarines during the Cold War. He was health physics and
safety officer at English and Canadian nuclear power stations, and Radiation
Protection Officer for the Canadian government, where he worked with Public Health
and Emergency Measures organizations. Martyn founded Systemic
a complete system of coaching and mentorship.