Beyond humanitarian relief: the capability approach as a framework for social inclusion for refugees in protracted encampment

Nimeh, Zina; Hunns, Alex; Iacoella, Francesco (2018). 'Beyond Humanitarian Relief: The Capability Approach as a framework for social inclusion for refugees in protracted encampment' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


As a result of physical, political and environmental volatility across East Africa and the Horn of Africa, Kenya is home to approximately 500,000 migrants seeking shelter from the vicissitudes of life in regions from South Sudan to Somalia. Two camps host most of Kenya’s refugee population: Kakuma in the arid Turkana District in the North East, and Dadaab adjacent to the Somali border in volatile Garissa[1]. Since the establishment of Kakuma and Dadaab c.26 years ago, UN agencies and the Kenyan government have been providing food, shelter and charitable assistance to their residents. However, domestic political pressure is growing for the closure of Dadaab (believed to be nurturing a terrorist cell within its boundaries), with Kakuma (and neighbouring Kalobeyei settlement) expected to remain the biggest camp in the country. Kakuma and Kalobeyei are home to a growing population of c.200,000 individuals; in 2016 alone, there were 6,000 new arrivals[2]. The camp itself has developed an urban-like structure over time (and with the help of UN agencies), overviewed by refugee leaders and committees. However, little progress has been made toward integration of refugees, who are not allowed by the Kenyan government to own property or live outside the camp.  As a result of this, friction with the host community over land use and, more recently, over cash-based transfers received by refugees, gave rise to conflicts and violence.

A well-established assessment system has been monitoring Kenyan camps food and livelihood indicators[3]. However, these analyses fail to take into account a holistic rights-based approach. The same can be said for a growing body of literature that explores the impact of refugee camps as poor urban locations on host communities[4].

In responding to the Kenyan migration situation – which may be characterized as protracted emergency relief – measures must be taken to ensure that human capital, agency and freedom are promoted, and that a path toward economic, civic and political inclusion is started. This paper aims to contribute to the emerging theoretical and empirical literature that advocate for a switch from a “containment and charity”[5] approach to one aimed at building capabilities and sustainable livelihoods. Using the case study of the Kenyan migration situation, this paper will consider the capability approach from both an evaluative and prospective lens. Through the analysis of available data, we will conduct an initial multidimensional evaluation of the camp population condition and an opportunity gap analysis[6], using near-real-time qualitative and quantitative data collected in December 2017. The data, collected during an impact evaluation exercise, contains quantitative demographic, health, nutrition, intra-household inequality, coping strategies, security, decisional power, and risk attitude and locus of control information for 1,087 refugees, and nearly 100 in-depth interviews with key informants and camp inhabitants. This information will help perform a multivariate analysis to identify if current approaches are satisfying WFP and UNHCR targets, and/or are helping building capabilities. Moreover, primary qualitative data in the form of key informant interviews, in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, and opportunity gap walks and matrix building, will be collected in Kakuma and Kalobeyei refugee camps in order to gain insight into factors suggested in the literature to be important for analyzing humanitarian situations in the light of the capability approach. Based on the results of this analysis, a prospective exercise will be conducted where we propose a framework for social inclusion and the generation community capabilities expansion of as an alternative approach to sustainable human development in the area. This framework should potentially help in the identification of actions which would contribute to the expansion of capabilities, enabling social inclusion and improving conditions for refugees in the short and long term.  

[1] Joint Assessment Mission – Kenya Refugee Operation, UNHCR & WFP, June 2014

[2] UNHCR Monthly Bulletin, December 2016

[3] Namely, WFP Monitoring & Evaluation System (FSOM, BCM), WFP mVAM, and UNHCR Monthly and Bi-Monthly bulletin.

[4] Alix-Garcia, J., Walker, S., Bartlett, A., Onder, H., & Sanghi, A. (2018). Do refugee camps help or hurt hosts? The case of Kakuma, Kenya. Journal of Development Economics130, 66-83.

[5] Mohammed Al-Husban and Carl Adams, Sustainable Refugee Migration: A Rethink towards a Positive Capability Approach, Sustainability 8-451, 2016.

[6] As described in M. Biggeri & A. Ferrarini , Opportunity Gap Analysis: Procedures and Methods for Applying the Capability Approach in Development Initiatives, Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 2014, 15:1, pp. 60-78

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