For over a decade, IRRI has criticised the encampment of refugees and asylum seekers as a key obstacle to their freedom of movement. Refugee camps and/or settlements reinforce the marginalisation of refugees and asylum seekers by restricting them to isolated environments. This in effect challenges their local integration and creates both personal as well as socio-economic barriers in their ability to determine a well-rounded and healthy quality of life.

Based on Article 26 of the 1951 Convention and Protocol Relation to the Status of Refugees which states that a host country shall allow refugees the “right to choose their place of residence to move freely within its territory”, IRRI advocates that the conventional encampment policy contradicts this framework by restricting freedom of movement, and furthering undermining livelihood systems, economic and educational opportunities, and reinforcing long-term dependence on humanitarian assistance. By contrast, when they are empowered to move freely, engage openly with their neighboring communities, and access basic social services and economic opportunities, both refugees and their hosting countries and respective communities, are able to mutually develop and progress socially, culturally, and economically.

Despite the ongoing support and implementation of encampment policies on behalf of UNHCR and national governments, steps are being taken to facilitate an alternative durable solution to encampments. UNHCR’s recently released policy on alternatives to camps recognises that the “defining characteristic of a camp… is typically some degree of limitation on the rights and freedoms of refugees and their ability to make meaningful choices about their lives.” The policy goes on to say that pursuing alternatives to camps means working to remove such restrictions so that refugees have the possibility to live with greater dignity, independence, and normality, either from the beginning of displacement or soon thereafter. IRRI welcomes this shift in policy and believes that the alternatives to camps policy has the potential to make a significant contribution to the realisation of refugee rights and more innovative durable solutions.