What is refugee warehousing?
Refugee warehousing is a term that describes the global practice of denying human rights to refugees through procedures that are ineffective and costly in the long-run. Although international standards, including the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, allow for recognition before the law, freedom of movement, and the ability to become self-reliant through work and educational opportunity, refugees are frequently and systematically denied these rights. When refugees are unable to gain access to these basic privileges, we refer to them as “warehoused.” Warehoused refugees are forced to endure lives of dependency and hopelessness while they wait for a durable solution.
Warehoused refugees are denied their independence. They are typically, but not always, confined to camps or settlements, virtually dependent on humanitarian assistance. They have no legal options to work or move freely throughout the country. Even refugees who have freedom of movement are warehoused, in effect, if they are denied the right to work, practice professions, run businesses, and own property. Warehousing is particularly difficult for children, who make up almost half of the world’s refugees. Frequently denied access to education, entire generations exist in forced idleness.
The term “warehousing” describes the inhumanity and hopelessness faced by the majority of the world’s refugees. View our Warehousing Map to discover the number of years that specific populations have been warehoused.
Are there any alternatives?
In principle, the alternative to warehousing is simple: let refugees have their rights—let them work, practice professions, run businesses, own property, move about freely, and choose their place of residence. It doesn’t cost money, but it takes political will.
In practice, there are some models in some countries where refugees exercise many if not all of these rights.
In many emergencies, initial refugee assistance comes not from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or the World Food Programme (WFP) but from local populations and/or authorities. Local hosts often lead the way in demonstrating practical alternatives to warehousing. Here is one example of communities that did not warehouse refugees but allowed them to earn livelihoods until they became unofficially integrated.
Self-settlement in Guinea >>
The chief drawback of self-settlement, however, is that the refugees often have no proof of the legality of their presence. Host governments may see them as illegal immigrants with no right to be in the country, placing them in danger of relocation to camps or refoulement. Some legal adjustment is thus necessary and that is why USCRI advocates interim legal status, however temporary, where refugees enjoy their rights under the 1951 Convention, while a durable solution is sought to their situation. Angolan refugees in northwestern Zambia, for example, have been able to enjoy limited agricultural opportunities under legal protection.
Agricultural settlement in Zambia >>
The Role of Donor Countries and Refugee Aid
Because most host countries are poor and highly dependent on international aid, refugees’ full enjoyment of their rights will likely require restructuring refugee assistance. Traditional relief-based approaches, while necessary to save lives in the short run, have not honored refugees’ rights nor have they generally been successful in preparing them for durable solutions. UNHCR has advocated targeted development assistance to increase international responsibility sharing, promote refugee self-reliance, and include refugees in development programs. While these efforts can sometimes improve refugees’ situations, USCRI and other organizations recommend a more rights-focused approach.
Targeted development assistance and USCRI’ s approach: Development & Rights >>
USCRI commends the governments and organizations that are taking steps to recognize the rights and needs of refugees and immigrants.
Examples of recent progress >>
Refugee Warehousing FAQs
Learn more about refugee warehousing at USCRI's Refugee Warehousing Frequently Asked Questions page.
Refugee Warehousing FAQs >>