Breaking the Mould: Policy Approaches Towards Bridging Protection and Development

Updated: Aug 21, 2019

By Maegan Hendow

In the context of protracted forced displacement, development approaches are of significant added value for both refugees and major refugee-hosting countries. While host countries and refugees are the clear target group for such approaches, their voices are not always those heard within the international policy arena. Moreover, many of the approaches implemented to date have experienced challenges in implementation. This article presents policy options provided by refugee country stakeholders, which focus on four main areas they believe need to be better taken into account to better respond to refugees’ needs and development opportunities. Having been tested in major refugee-hosting countries, they can be brought forward into the policy arena for other refugee-hosting countries, donors and international organisations.

In the context of protracted forced displacement, during which impacts on refugee communities and host communities are long-lasting, sometimes even generational, development approaches can be of added value for both refugees and major refugee-hosting countries. Such approaches engage the concept of the ‘development-displacement nexus’, which, while not new, has recently gained traction within academic and policy circles (Holborn 1975; Brooks and El-Ayouty 1970; Betts 2009). A ‘nexus’ approach suggests integrating development approaches into traditional humanitarian responses to displacement. The argument for such approaches being that while responses to refugee crises are primarily short-term in nature, displacement often continues for years, implying a need for a longer-term strategy to minimise negative impacts and maximise the potential for opportunities among refugee and host communities.

However, while host countries and refugees are the clear target group for such approaches, their interests are not always those heard within the international policy arena (Howden, Patchett and Alfred 2017; Lenner and Turner 2018a; Barbelet et al. 2018). Moreover, it is often donor priorities that shape the direction of policies and the ability of host states to respond to urgent needs. Indeed, as of October 2018, the Jordanian government received 149% of required funding for refugee livelihoods for 2018 – a ‘hot topic’ in the international policy arena at the moment – as compared to 3% of required funding for energy and 17% for education (Gharaibeh 2018; see also Hendow 2019). For these reasons, many of the approaches implemented to date have experienced challenges in implementation. This article outlines the limitations of recent national, regional and international efforts before presenting alternative policy approaches suggested by host country stakeholders themselves, based on fieldwork with stakeholders from Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.

National, Regional, and International Efforts

While recent development-displacement nexus approaches have pushed the boundaries of work between humanitarian and development actors, they also demonstrate key areas for future improvements. At the national level, the Jordan Compact has garnered significant attention in the academic and international arena for being an innovative ‘game-changing’ approach to promoting development for the benefit of refugees and host communities (Betts and Collier 2017, 2015; Howden et al. 2017). Based on an EU commitment to trade concessions for products exported from special economic zones in which refugees are granted access to work, the Jordan Compact has experienced a variety of challenges in implementation. These have been attributed to a number of perceived policy design flaws, including: lack of engagement of refugees, local experts, NGOs, and the private sector during policy design; bureaucratic obstacles and high registration costs; focus on work permit issuances as indicators of success; and mismatch between the skillset of Syrian refugees in Jordan and their foreseen employment in the Jordanian garment sector (Howden et al. 2017; Betts, Ali and Memişoğlu 2018; Lenner and Turner 2018a, 2018b; Overseas Development Institute 2018).

At the regional level, the European Union Regional Development and Protection Programme for Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon, revamped from purely protection-oriented programmes, have wedded a socioeconomic development component and protection within a regional framework. This approach reflects a broader shift by the EU to consistently integrate development approaches in humanitarian responses to refugee displacement across their external engagement (European Commission 2016a, 2017b). Nonetheless, critiques of the previous Regional Protection Programmes highlighted the continued prevalence of national-level projects and classic UNHCR services, with the ‘regional’ and ‘development’ aspects not yet sufficiently reflected (Papadopoulou 2015). UNHCR’s Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework similarly aims at bridging humanitarian and development approaches and is a key component of and framework for implementation of the recently concluded Global Compact on Refugees. The approach has only recently been launched and thus comprehensive analysis of implementation is not yet available. However, first analyses have highlighted the challenges the framework faces in terms of building and sustaining political support, both from countries of resettlement and refugee hosting countries (Hansen 2018; Genest 2018).

Policy Approaches

In the context of broader efforts to incorporate development approaches in responses to displacement, the author engaged with policy stakeholders in major refugee-hosting countries. The author conducted 30 semi-structured interviews and 15 stakeholder consultations in a roundtable format with representatives of government institutions, chambers of commerce, non-governmental organisations, and international organisations (including UN agencies and donor agencies) from or operating in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey between June and October 2018. This represents a complementary perspective to other policy guidance available, which tends to outline the views of international practitioners, rather than the perspective of countries with experience of hosting large-scale and long-term displaced populations.

The input from stakeholders reflected four main thematic areas and 20 key approaches in terms of designing and implementing more effective policy responses to protracted refugee displacement. These suggested approaches are actions considered as essential in order to maximise the development potential and minimise negative impacts of protracted displacement for host countries and refugees. The suggestions were reiterated across stakeholders – and thus represent areas of broad consensus, including between representatives of host countries and intergovernmental and non-governmental practitioners. This is significant, as development approaches to displacement (which often reflect ‘local integration’ approaches) have varying acceptance across sectors, institutions, regions, and the general public in the host countries considered, and may at times be in contradiction to perspectives from donors, UN agencies, and NGOs. The suggestions thus put forward areas where concrete work can already be done and where tangible success may be more feasible.

First, a more comprehensive and in-depth analysis of the situation on the ground is critical to better tailor and design policy approaches. This entails ensuring that all relevant information on refugees has been collected and assessed, in order to design and prioritise the most appropriate actions. In contrast to short-term ‘crisis response’ approaches, countries and implementing agencies have in mind longer-term strategies based on a clear understanding of the country’s needs generally and with respect to the refugee population. Moreover, host country institutions highlighted the differences across regions, municipalities, and institutions, and the need for policies and methods that are more inclusive during the design period, particularly by donors and implementing agencies. Where local-level stakeholders are not included, tailored responses can be hampered because of a lack of understanding of local needs. On the other hand, in Turkey, the provincial representation of the Turkish employment agency convenes provincial-level boards including stakeholders from the Chamber of Commerce, Ministries of Education and Health, and others, in order to shape responses to labour issues within the region. This has facilitated labour matching programmes, skills development programmes and other services of which Syrian refugees can avail. Engaging a wide range of stakeholders through consultations or inclusion in projects were mentioned as concrete ways to ensure that the full spectrum of perspectives is included.

Second, interviewees have stressed the importance of communicating needs, raising awareness, and coordinating response. While approaches that are more inclusive can help ensure more effective policies and programmes, lack of coordination or leadership by an institution in a host country can equally hinder progress, and it is important for donors and implementing agencies to understand and effectively assist countries in designing a tailored approach. At the same time, communicating the added value of refugees to the society, and supporting programmes that promote social cohesion (such as cross-community activities and media training) should be core aspects to a country’s actions and rhetoric in order to support and reinforce social cohesion. In Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, a number of recent projects have focused on these aspects, often run through local partners and through community centres, who engage with both the host and (Syrian) refugee community through intercultural activities and services on a more regular basis. Piggybacking on established local and community structures, while perhaps smaller-scale in size, can be a more effective way to access and bring together both communities (host and refugee).

Third, integrating development approaches into national and local service provision and policies is key. This is not always immediately possible for all sectors or institutions, according to each country’s particularities. But at the same time countries and international stakeholders highlighted the importance of using international support to bolster service infrastructure, rather than creating unsustainable parallel systems. Refugee inclusion in education systems (whether immediately or gradually), for example, seems to be a key area of consensus across countries. Lebanon and Jordan have already implemented second-shift schools since 2014 and 2016, respectively. As of 2014, Turkey made efforts to facilitate Syrian refugees’ enrolment in public schools and also established “Temporary Education Centres” for them in camps and urban centres with curricula in Arabic and Turkish. However, these centres have been phasing out since 2016, in recognition of the need to find more permanent solutions to the protracted situation. Host community inclusion (particularly vulnerable communities) in programmes outreaching to refugees has been equally emphasised, particularly to support social cohesion.

And finally, further boosting business and decent work for refugees and host communities is critical to improve livelihoods. There is already a plethora of (vocational) training programmes aimed at refugees in all countries. Yet stakeholders agreed on the need to link these more concretely to labour market needs, including through certification programmes and access to employment. This was generally highlighted by chambers of commerce, NGOs, and UN agencies, and specifically related to refugee-focused services by policy makers. In Turkey, Syrians have been employed by government ministries in service provision in the areas of health (within the Turkish health care system), education (through the Temporary Education Centres), family and social programmes (Ministry of Family and Social Policies home visits on vulnerable groups and guidance on access to services). This approach was implemented in order to improve outreach to the Syrian refugee population in Turkey, which they were previously having challenges accessing due to linguistic and cultural barriers. Supporting investment and business development by refugee and host country entrepreneurs was also considered a key area for development not yet sufficiently explored considering the already sizeable investment by refugees in (informal and formal) businesses in all three countries. Policy options should thus focus more on developing programmes that better match and respond to host country needs, refugee skills, and business development.

These four areas highlight the main issues stakeholders from refugee-hosting countries agree should be taken into account comprehensively to better respond to refugees’ needs and to take advantage of development opportunities in major host countries. All four areas aim at empowering refugees to regain control over their individual situation and require the active involvement of refugees and a variety of host country actors in policy design and implementation in order to meet protection and development policy objectives. Finally, the options call on the international community, especially donors and implementing agencies, to more closely align policy approaches with host country needs.


Rather than being considered as subjects of policy reform with regard to protracted displacement, major host countries have rich expertise from which we can learn lessons for the improved implementation of development-displacement approaches. Refugee-hosting countries should be recognised at the international level as stakeholders with good practices and valuable insights on how to respond to refugee needs and their own development needs in a constrained environment.

In addition, it is also worth considering convening similar consultations in other refugee-hosting regions to explore how to enhance the design and implementation of development-oriented responses to protracted refugee situations. Doing so can be seen as a means to recognise the global good major refugee-hosting countries provide to the international community, as well as to better respond to protection and development-oriented needs of both refugees and host communities alike.

Maegan Hendow is a Research Officer with the International Centre for Migration Policy Development’s Research Unit, with particular experience in research on irregular migration, forced displacement, border control and fundamental rights. Her work has focused on the geographic areas of Europe, as well as the Middle East and North Africa. She has coordinated research activities, conducted field research and drafted country-level and comparative case studies for several large-scale projects. This has included research on modus operandi and policy approaches to migrant smuggling and border control, policy options in the context of forced migration and the development-displacement nexus, and the impact of crises on migrants (Migrants in Countries in Crisis Initiative).

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