Sustainable livelihoods for refugees in protracted crises


What evidence is there about what has worked in supporting refugees in protracted crises to build sustainable livelihoods, with a particular focus on MENA and especially Palestinian refugees? Activities such as employability and entrepreneurship support, microfinance, and technical & vocational training are of particular interest.


Much of the literature in this area acknowledges the widespread constraints to livelihoods development in refugee settings. These include a disabling policy environment, low levels of social capital, poverty, and weak baseline levels of training and skills. Measures to support self-sufficiency are often severely hampered by restricted freedom of movement, weak tailoring of interventions to local economic conditions, and the short-term or small scale nature of some programmes. Further, host governments can be resistant to any form of livelihoods programming that promotes the ability of refugees to work and therefore compete with locals.

While these constraints to livelihoods development are well documented, there is little available evidence of what works in addressing them. The evidence base is weak both in terms of its size and quality. Much of the data available in the public domain is limited to describing static outputs from livelihoods programmes in refugee settings – for example, number of target beneficiaries, or descriptive statistics of service uptake – with comparatively little consideration of longer-term outcomes on livelihoods, or wider collective impacts. In addition to these limitations, experts point out that since each protracted crisis offers its own challenges and constraints, it is probably not advisable to draw comparisons about what works across contexts.

In light of these limitations, this report identifies only a handful of relevant evaluations of livelihoods interventions in protracted crises. While it is not possible based on this evidence to give any reliable account of ‘what works’, these evaluations do provide some indication that certain activities have seen positive results. In general, more holistic approaches that address structural barriers (e.g. integrating measures to secure housing or address land rights) while also promoting livelihoods and skills are advocated across the literature. At the same time, short-term, ad-hoc interventions (e.g. temporary employment opportunities) have been relatively discredited as having little durable impact.


Suggested citation

Mcloughlin, C. (2017). Sustainable livelihoods for refugees in protracted crises. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies