Support Effective Interventions for World Refugee Day
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Support Effective Interventions for World Refugee Day


Nearly a third of The Life You Can Save’s recommended nonprofits are doing highly effective, impactful work in improving life for many of the millions of refugees suffering from poverty and displacement around the world. Here are snapshots of their efforts, in their own words.

Leading off is GiveDirectly, who provides a helpful overview of the issue, along with a summary of what they are doing to help:

GIVEDIRECTLY: Delivering large cash transfers to help Ugandan and Rwandan refugees rebuild their lives

More refugees are becoming long-term refugees. Of the 25 million people in this situation today, about two-thirds have been displaced from their home country for five consecutive years or more. Over the last four decades, the long-term nature of refugee crises has only increased; at the end of 2017, 13.4M refugees were in protracted situations, up from 11.6M in 2016. Refugees facing these long-term situations require solutions that move beyond emergency assistance that is often delivered as in-kind aid or vouchers. Instead, they need more durable solutions. GiveDirectly is proposing an innovative solution: deliver large, lump-sum, unconditional cash transfers to long-term refugees to empower them to rebuild their lives in their new, adopted homes.

Phase I:

In 2018, GiveDirectly completed a $3.5 million pilot program distributing cash transfers to refugees in the Kyaka II refugee settlement in South-Western Uganda. The program delivered transfers to all protracted refugees in the settlement, plus an additional 2140 households in the host community (based on a ‘poverty prediction index’). Through the pilot, whose full results can be seen here, GiveDirectly found evidence of wide-ranging positive outcomes and immediate improvements in recipients’ lives, including increased incomes, greater access to education, improved family and community relations and sustained financial inclusion. ​​Cash can provide refugees with a critical financial lifeline in their inherently unstable environments. Taken together with the existing evidence-base around cash, we consider cash transfers one of the most effective livelihoods-improving interventions in refugee settings. ​​​Where other interventions lack positive evidence, or any evidence at all, we invite donors and implementing organisations to ask themselves: “why not cash?”

Phase II:

After the successful operational pilot in Kyaka II, GiveDirectly is launching projects in Uganda and Rwanda, testing this solution at larger scale and adding an independent experimental evaluation. In Uganda, the project will fill a gap in the evidence base for large, lump-sum cash transfers in refugee settings, while simultaneously reaching ~15,000 recipients with approximately $1,000 transfers, based on the latest UNHCR figures and current GiveDirectly estimates. In Rwanda, GiveDirectly is working in close collaboration with key local stakeholders and partners including UNHCR (which is providing partial funding for the programme), the World Food Programme and the Ministry in charge of Emergency Management to deliver lump-sum cash grants of ~$700 to ~2,275 to long-term refugee households in Rwanda.

At best, we will help reform the way humanitarian aid is delivered. At worst, we will alleviate poverty for nearly 80,000 people.

Read more about GiveDirectly’s work here and donate here.

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SANKU/PROJECT HEALTHY CHILDREN: Fortifying meals for hundreds of thousands of refugees

Sanku/PHC’s Smart Dosifier

At Sanku/PHC, we recognise that there are communities within the at-risk population that we serve that may not be reached without a more targeted approach. For example, today there are an unprecedented 18 million refugees in Sub-Saharan Africa who have escaped from war and terror, only to end up in overcrowded refugee camps, plagued by malnutrition, causing 100,000 child deaths annually. Currently, the Sanku device is the only viable technology and mode of delivery available to fortify food in these refugee camps.

Sanku partnered with the World Food Program (WFP) in 2015 to install dosifier equipment in the Kakuma refugee camp, located in the arid northwest corner of Kenya, that to date is still providing fortified meals to over 80,000 children daily. Building on this successful program, Sanku has since expanded our WFP partnership to Tanzania, where we are now reaching over 300,000 Burundian and Congolese refugees daily with nutritious flour in Eastern Tanzania.

Sanku is projected to reach four million refugees throughout Africa by 2022.

Read more about PHC’s work here and donate here.

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OXFAM: Supporting refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers worldwide

A woman in Bangladesh receives a hygiene kit from Oxfam partner JAGO NARI. The kits include 10 bars of soap, a kilo of detergent, 8 reusable sanitary pads, 50 disposable masks, information, and a bucket with lid and tap for washing hands.

Oxfam works around the world to address the root causes of forced migration. But when people have no choice but to flee, we work to make sure that those on the move have help to survive, can exercise their legal rights under international and US law, and have the best possible
chance at a life with dignity.

On World Refugee Day, we join people across the United States to celebrate the courage and resilience of refugees, recognizing the hardships they have faced, the new lives they have created, and the positive impact they have on US communities. In the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, Oxfam is working with local communities, partners, and refugee- and women-led organizations in nearly 50 countries to deliver life-saving humanitarian aid and to help slow the spread of the virus. This includes providing water, sanitation, and public health promotion, as well as meeting the urgent needs of vulnerable communities, especially people facing conflict, displacement, and hunger.

We’re deeply concerned about how the poorest and most vulnerable people around the world will be impacted by COVID-19, especially refugees. An outbreak of COVID-19 in a refugee or internal displacement camp would pose a massive threat to people who are already extremely vulnerable and would also have serious implications for getting basic services to those in desperate need. 

Oxfam has great expertise in the area of public health, water, sanitation, and hygiene – it is the area we are best known for. We also work with communities on public awareness; we help ensure access to food and other essentials; and, through our advocacy work, we help disaster-affected communities stand up for their rights. Here are some of the places we’re responding:

  • In Bangladesh, Oxfam has stepped up its work on hygiene promotion and water and sanitation facilities in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, where some 855,000 refugees currently live in extremely overcrowded conditions. We plan to help 70,000 refugees and 5,000 members of the local Bangladeshi community with these activities.
  • In Zaatari camp, Jordan – the largest Syrian refugee camp in the world – Oxfam has already started hygiene and handwashing awareness for 2,000 children and aims to reach 78,000 people with water, hygiene, and sanitation.
  • In Yemen, families and communities have endured five years of conflict, which has left the health system in ruins and has pushed vital resources like clean water, safe shelter, and proper nutrition out of reach for many. Our team is planning to respond by training community health volunteers to raise awareness of the virus and how to prevent it. We have also distributed nearly 4,500 hygiene kits and plan to deliver almost 10,000 in total.

In all our programs around the world, Oxfam is putting women at the center of our relief efforts by ensuring women are involved in decisions that affect them and advocating for policies that protect women’s well-being and livelihoods.

Read more about Oxfam’s work with refugees here and donate here.

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VILLAGE ENTERPRISE: Helping refugees in Uganda launch small businesses

Village Enterprise helps refugees launch small businesses. Photo: Sadie Rose Zavgren

In 2018, Village Enterprise partnered with Mercy Corps Uganda on a project funded by the ECHO Foundation to adapt Village Enterprise’s microenterprise Graduation program for refugees. The pilot paired newly arrived refugees with host community members to launch small businesses. This promotes resilience and reduced aid reliance across three refugee settlements in West Nile, Uganda: Bidi Bidi, Rhino Camp, and Palorinya. The pilot consortium also includes CARE, Save the Children, and Oxfam.

The pilot launched 105 businesses and reached 315 refugee and host community households. Based on the success of that pilot, we recently entered into a new partnership in the refugee settlements as part of the ReHope BRIDGE (Resilient Market Systems Development) project run by Mercy Corps and funded by the UK Department of International Development (DFID). In the current project, Village Enterprise is targeting 420 households and starting 140 group-based businesses, with both refugees and their host communities. We are also providing support to DFID Innovations Centers by facilitating the Human Centered Design (HCD) approach to improve project outcomes. The program now has the added feature of hiring entrepreneurial refugees within each settlement to serve as business mentors. This offers participants guidance from business-savvy peers who applied real-life experience to their training and coaching and served as role models whom participants were eager to learn from.

For more on Village Enterprise’s use of Human Centered Design to improve our program for refugees, you can check out this blog post by Hannah McCandless: Using Human Centered Design to adapt Graduation for refugees

Read more about Village Enterprise’s work here and donate here.

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Helping Rohingya refugees: Seva, Fred Hollows Foundation, and Fistula Foundation

SEVA: Data collection for assessing eye health needs

©Orbis International Bangladesh – Qatar Fund for Development supported project

Almost one million Rohingya refugees have fled persecution and are living in refugee camps in Bangladesh today. Seva and the Eye NGO Forum in Bangladesh just completed collecting data for the rapid assessment of avoidable blindness within the Rohingya refugee camps. This is the first internationally validated systematic blindness assessment in a refugee setting. Cox’s Bazar now has one of the most densely packed populations on the planet. It was often a struggle even to find enough room needed to check the vision.

Cox’s Bazar is now one of the most densely packed populations on the planet, making it a struggle even to find enough room needed to check the vision.  Photo: Jerry Vincent

The survey was commissioned and funded by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and managed by Orbis with data collection from Child Sight Foundation (Bangladesh). Seva and IAPB provided technical support. Seva and partners will use the findings to develop a longer-term plan that links eye care within comprehensive health service provision within the camps. Your support will allow us to respond to the needs identified and ensure that this underserved group of people is able to receive the vital eye care that they need.

Read more about Seva here and donate here.

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FRED HOLLOWS FOUNDATIONS: Eye camps

Shamsun, a refugee whose eyesight was restored by cataract surgery via the Fred Hollows Foundation

In late 2017, one million Rohingya refugees fleeing violence streamed into Bangladesh, walking through jungle, across mountains and rivers for weeks to find safety.

“While emergency care was the first priority it soon became clear that up to 50,000 refugees were blind,” points out Ian Wishart, The Fred Hollows Foundation CEO.

With the help of partners, including Baitush Sharaf Eye Hospital, The Foundation was the first eye health organization to try to help. When The Foundation held its first eye camp for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, it was clear there was a dire problem. Almost 600 people lined up for help.

“I was so proud our Bangladesh team looked at the crisis and realised we could help,” Mr Wishart reflects.

Now, many organizations are working together on this humanitarian project. And The Fred Hollows Foundation is looking at other ways they can help deliver eye care to the world’s displaced people.

Read about three of the Rohingya refugees for whom the Fred Hollows Foundation has helped restore sight in “Restoring Sight for Those Who Have Lost Everything” in this month’s Charity Voices.

Read more about Fred Hollows Foundation here and donate here.

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FISTULA FOUNDATION: Facilitating fistula care

Fistula Foundation supports fistula surgery repair for Rohingya refugees. Photo credit Touhidal Islam

At the border of Bangladesh and Myanmar, the Rohingya refugee crisis continues—nearly two years after it first began. The Rohingya people, a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar, have been subject to violent persecution, and as a result, over 700,000 refugees have fled to Bangladesh since August 2017.

HOPE Hospital, Fistula Foundation’s longstanding partner in Bangladesh, is located in the border town of Cox’s Bazar—the epicenter of the crisis. HOPE was the first NGO responder two years ago, mobilizing within 24 hours to immediately provide emergency care. They continue to work tirelessly in the refugee camps, and refer fistula patients back to the main hospital for surgery by a certified fistula surgeon.

Read more about Fistula Foundation here and donate here.


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The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.