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The global governance of forced migration is generally used to refer to the response of governments and international organisations to displaced populations; rarely do we think of refugees as the providers of protection and assistance. Yet understanding the ways in which refugees themselves engage in forms of refugee-led social protection offers an opportunity to fundamentally reconceive support for the displaced in more sustainable and empowering ways.

We have used inter-disciplinary, mixed methods research in Kenya and Uganda (across urban and rural areas) to examine the diverse and neglected ways in which refugees engage in the provision of protection and assistance to their own communities.

One of the key findings from the research is that refugee-led organisations often provide important and valued sources of assistance within their own communities. However, they face significant barriers and obstacles, often being excluded from recognition of funding by donors. In the rare circumstances that they thrive, it is usually in spite of, rather than because of, the formal humanitarian system.

The project has culminated in a book, The Global Governed? Refugees as Providers of Protection and Assistance, which was published by Cambridge University Press in March 2020, an article entitled The Rhetoric and Reality of Localisation: Refugee-Led Organisations in Humanitarian Governance (Journal of Development Studies), and a ‘Research in Brief’ entitled Refugees as Providers of Protection and Assistance (RSC Research in Brief No. 10).

During Covid-19, the research was applied by the authors to highlight the important role of refugee-led organisations as front-line responders to protection needs. Articles on the relevance to Covid-19 were published in the Conversation, the New Humanitarian, Forced Migration Review, and on the Kaldor Centre’s blog.

The ideas in the book also inspired the creation of the RSC online seminar series (jointly convened with the Global Refugee-Led Network), ‘#ByRefugees: Refugee-Led Responses to the Covid-19 Pandemic’, which featured the leaders of refugee-led organisations, and attracted a combined global audience of over 2000 academics, refugees, policy-makers, and practitioners.

Follow-up research on refugee-led organisations in the context of Covid-19 is now planned across four countries in East Africa, with the intention of providing more in-depth insights into the conditions under which refugee-led organisations can provide effective, efficient, and legitimate assistance within their communities.

The main publications and the #ByRefugees seminar series are available on this site.