Community Participation in Refugee & IDP Camps



It is worth mentioning at the outset that in camps and camp-like settings (collective centers), the management methods and principles positively or negatively influence the well-being of residents whether refugees or internally displaced people (IDPs). One aspect of camp management is the level of community participation which is a fundamental human right as confirmed in article 27/1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Participation should efficiently be incarnated in the camp population for a strengthened and well-balanced functionality with an ultimate goal of developing a sense of ownership. It is crucial for residents, including men, women and children, to speak out and be heard by the various actors (state, NGOs, UN) and other service providers to maximize optimal results and ensure equitable access. The methodology and approaches of such involvement is defined and articulated by diverse factors (social, religious, ethnical, political and economic) including, but not limited to, convections, values, cultures, affiliations and power relations.

Definition and Elucidations of Participation and Community Involvement

“Community participation is a planned process whereby individuals and groups from among the displaced community identify and express their own views and needs, and where collective action is taken to reflect those views and meet those needs” (Norwegian Refugee Council 2008).

Participation is a key and critical building block to the Camp Management House, whereby protection and assistance services and activities are delivered in partnership with refugees/IDPs for a robust and effective response.

It is essential to ensure the involvement and equal participation of all social groups within camps and camp-like settings including women, elderly, people with disabilities and other vulnerable and marginalized groups usually ignored along the decision-making process. It is also important to take cross-cutting elements, such as gender, age and psychosocial issues, into account.

Participation may take various degrees and forms through diverse involvement methods and mechanisms along the camp-life cycle (planning, setting up and closing) with dynamic integration in all services, activities and projects. It starts with passive participation, in which residents are not engaged in the process and result of decisions and actions, and concludes with the level of ownership at which the decision-making process is carried out by the camp population.

It is important to assess the existing social structures at the camp setting since the population is hardly homogeneous; people may come from different territories, languages, cultures, manners and other backgrounds. Hence, in order to ensure optimum engagement, variable participatory structures and inclusive representation forms may be wielded. This includes community groups, focus groups, project groups and camp committees in addition to paid and unpaid employment of residents.

Elaborating these representation entities and procedures is indispensable to promote ownership, dignity and accountability and decrease dependency, indifference and vulnerability. Yet, it will unequivocally involve critical challenges and entail significant efforts and resources. Besides, potential abuse and misuse of power must be monitored and tackled adequately; they may occur in diverse forms such as nepotism, moral depravation and opportunism.


It is substantial to plug the gaps naturally existing between camp managers and staff on one hand and camp population on the other one. This can be achieved by means of incremental processes and procedures through which Awareness Raising and Capacity Building form a substrate for effective and productive community participation.



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