Restrictions on humanitarian aid to refugees


What lessons can be learnt from situations in which host governments have allowed humanitarian assistance to refugees in camps, but put restrictions on aid to those in host communities? What has been the impact of such policies and how has the humanitarian community responded to these restrictions?


The evidence base for this question is extremely weak. Very little of the literature uncovered during this rapid review engages directly or in depth with the question of the impact of such aid restrictions. Even fewer analyse how the humanitarian community has responded to these restrictions. A related debate is ongoing around aid provisions to urban refugees and the suitability of camps as a response to supporting refugees , which a number of expert commentators suggest could offer some insights. However, this was beyond the scope of this rapid review. An overview of the literature uncovered during the review also suggests there is much less analysis of the impact of aid restrictions on refugees who self-settle in rural areas as opposed to urban areas.

Case studies of Bangladesh, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania are used to examine the impact of restrictive aid policies.

The limited literature and expert contributors identify the following lessons:

  • Refugees will end up outside camps even when not provided with aid, either by choice or circumstance.
  • Lack of assistance often leads to refugees in host communities facing problems accessing services, livelihoods and protection.
  • A camp only aid policy can cause tensions with the local community due to perceptions of unfairness or worries over the strain placed on local services by unregistered refugees.
  • Restricting aid can be inefficient as it does not provide substantial benefits to refugees or host communities.
  • Aid agencies have done little to counter these restrictions.