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Towards solutions for protracted refugee situations

An aerial view of Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya © IOM / UNHCR / B Bannon / 2011
An aerial view of Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya

Protracted refugee situations (PRS) are situations in which refugees have lived in exile for five years or more and where there is a low likelihood of resolving their situation in the near future. In 2011 there were approximately 30 protracted refugee situations worldwide, accounting for two-thirds of the world’s refugee population – over seven million people

Refugees facing protracted displacement often suffer from a lack of physical security, legal status and protection of their fundamental human rights. Their presence can also lead to tensions with the local population and to the exacerbation of regional conflicts. Protracted refugee situations thus can have negative effects both on the human security of refugees and on the national security of states that host them. 

The PRS Project, directed by Professor Gil Loescher and Professor James Milner, was based at the Refugee Studies Centre and the Centre for International Studies, University of Oxford, from 2005 until 2010. The objectives of the project were to provide a clear and comprehensive analysis of protracted refugee situations, develop a more effective policy framework for addressing the problem, and to consider the issue within the wider context of peacebuilding, human rights and sustainable development.

Presenting the findings

Professor Loescher and Professor Milner undertook research missions to Thailand, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Guinea during the project and presented their findings to policymakers and practitioners not only in some of the most refugee-affected areas in the global South but also in the major capitals of the world. In collaboration with the UN University in Tokyo the project brought together over 20 key actors (governments, UN agencies, NGOs, and researchers from the global North and South) to further develop a policy framework for implementing comprehensive solutions to prolonged displacement.

During 2005–2008 Professor Loescher and Professor Milner delivered keynote addresses at the UNHCR–NGO Consultations in Geneva (2005) and at the UNHCR tripartite meeting on resettlement in Geneva (2007) as well as addressing the High Commissioner’s Forum on protracted refugee situations and working with the director of UNHCR’s Asia Bureau to develop a ‘solutions-oriented’ approach to Burmese refugees in the region. In December 2008 Professor Loescher and Professor Milner presented the project’s findings in Geneva at the UNHCR High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protracted Refugee Situations.

Driving real changes

The PRS Project also worked closely with the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Professor Loescher and Professor Milner encouraged the development of an inter-departmental group within the Canadian government to focus on protracted refugee situations and briefed this group at its inaugural meeting in early 2007. The government supported the PRS Project’s efforts, financially and politically, to bring the issue to the attention of the UN Peacebuilding Commission (UNPBC) and its Peacebuilding Support Office, and it has played an extremely active role in promoting the project’s goals at the UNHCR Executive Committee. 

With the generous support of the Ford Foundation, the US Peace Institute, the British Academy and the Canadian government, the PRS Project helped to drive real changes in perception, understanding and action on protracted refugee situations among national and international policymakers, providing them with the tools to more effectively address the key issues involved. Finding solutions to some of the world’s long-staying refugee policies is now a priority for UNHCR and several of the world’s major governments and continues to be a research priority at the Refugee Studies Centre and at other institutions.

The team

  • James  Milner
    James Milner

    Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Carleton University

Selected publications