Displacement-affected communities

This project is focused on research with displacement-affected communities but who do we include when using that term? Why are we not just talking about refugees and internally-displaced people (IDPs)?

The most obvious displacement-affected community are indeed those made up of people who have been displaced from their country or place of origin. Often this displacement can last for a considerable amount of time; the majority of the world’s refugees have been displaced for more than five years (a threshold usually referred to as ‘protracted’). However, since 2010, there has been a greater recognition that it is not only displaced people themselves who are affected by displacement, but also the communities that were already there in the places they were displaced to (sometimes referred to as ‘host communities’), as well as the people left behind who might have to manage displaced people’s absence and return.

A greater awareness of a wider displacement-affected community has led to attempts at a more holistic approach to humanitarian assistance, aiming to include not just displaced people, but those around them. This is hoped to both support communities in general, and reduce social tensions and possible resentment towards refugees, IDPs and returnees.

In this project we build on the humanitarian sector’s understanding of displacement-affected community (i.e. the displaced, their ‘hosts’ and communities of return), but expand our understanding to include other communities whose experiences are affected by displacement. We include those who have come to the area to work in response to the arrival of displaced people (in formal and informal roles). This includes not only humanitarian workers supporting displaced people but also those who seek related business opportunities providing goods and services, the military, journalists, filmmakers, development actors, academics, diaspora groups and others.

A broader understanding of displacement-affected communities provides a number of valuable insights. First, it recognises the diversity of people’s experiences in the places people are displaced to. For example, the people already resident there might have their own experiences of displacement or the humanitarian workers providing assistance could themselves have been displaced. The variety of human experience of mobility and displacement is wide-ranging and often characterised by uncertainty and insecurity.

Second, the wider notion of the displacement-affected decreases the distinction between people who are currently visibly displaced and those who are not, which in turn helps break down simplistic oppositional categories such as victim-rescuer, guest-host, receiver-giver. In doing so we challenge the image of the refugee or IDP as a passive recipient of assistance. Third, by looking at the activities of the displacement-affected community as a whole we create opportunities to witness the ways in which mobility, displacement and global connections create new possibilities for interactions that operate both inside and outside ‘traditional’ humanitarian assistance.