Social Cohesion as a Humanitarian Objective?

The vast majority of the world's refugees live in low- and middle-income countries of the Global South, where local communities often experience economic hardship and socio-political exclusion even before the arrival of displaced populations. As recognised in the 2016 New York Declaration as well as the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees, refugees may face hostility if they are perceived as a burden to the communities that host them. In response to this, a variety of programmes have been implemented to promote “social cohesion” between refugees and their host communities.

However, there is little policy coherence across this broad ‘social cohesion’ agenda. Some programmes incorporate vulnerable members of the host community as aid beneficiaries, others contribute humanitarian resources to local development, and yet others facilitate community dialogue and dispute resolution mechanisms. Moreover, the evidence base upon which many programmes are designed is largely economic – based on measures of the burdens and benefits of hosting – with fewer anthropological and sociological studies.

This project applies ethnographic methods among both humanitarian organisations and affected communities in two countries that host large refugee populations: Lebanon and Kenya. Our goals are to document the variety of programme objectives encompassed by the “social cohesion” banner, the metrics used to monitor and assess these programmes, and the political consequences of bringing local communities under the remit of refugee aid providers.

Cory Rodgers
Senior Researcher
Dr Michael Owiso
Maseno University, Kenya
Professor Nasser Yassin
Issam Fares Institute, American University of Beirut