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Krause, U., and Schmidt, H. (2020). Refugees as actors? Critical reflections on global refugee policies on self-reliance and resilience. Journal of Refugee Studies33(1), pp.22-41.


Global policies designed to promote the self-reliance and resilience of refugees strive to increase their abilities to deal with hardships; in doing so, they rhetorically shift refugees from the category of ‘vulnerable’ to that of capable actors. This shift as well as policy effects on refugees are at the core of this article. The meanings in global refugee policies, and particularly in UNHCR policies on self-reliance and resilience, are explored through an interpretive analysis. The article shows that, in lieu of the assumed shift, these policies continue to use vulnerability ascriptions and thereby produce binary categories of vulnerable versus self-reliant or resilient refugees. ‘Objective’ criteria are installed that obscure the idea of refugees as self-determined actors and lead to an understanding of them as ‘actors-to-be’. It is ultimately argued that self-reliance and resilience policies support the logic of traditional humanitarian aid and, rather than promoting refugees’ own capabilities, strengthen the power of aid agencies over refugees.


  • Introduction
  • Research Approach and Methodology
  • Refugees as Actors (or Communities)? Reflections of Meanings of Refugees’ Roles in Self-reliance and Resilience Policies
  • ‘Helping Refugees to Help Themselves’? Operational Frameworks in Self-reliance and Resilience Policies and Their Questionable Meanings for Refugees’ Roles
  • Quo Vadis?