UNHCR has just released a new policy on alternatives to refugees camps. The policy paper indicates that refugee camps, while remaining an important feature of the humanitarian landscape, might also have a signigicant negative impact on the longer term for all concerned. Living in camps, says UNHCR, can cause dependency and weaken the ability if refugees to manage their own lives, which perpetuates the trauma of displacement and creates barriers to solutions. Furthermore, camps can also distort local economies and development planning, while also causing negative environmental impacts in the surrounding area.
The policy shift has been received as a positive breakthrough, although much is dependent on its implementation. According to the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI), this will be a considerable challenge. UNHCR acknowledges itself as well that creating effective alternatives to camps requires a permissive policy environment, and national legislation in many countries of asylum continues to require encampment. Furthermore, with governments becoming increasingly exclusionary in their politics regarding refugees, convincing them to allow refugees to move freely is going to be difficult.