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This article draws upon grey literature and archival materials to compare and contrast refugee livelihoods assistance in the interwar period (1919–39) and the post-war period (1945–79). It argues that the interwar period featured ‘bottom-up’ policies and practices of the League of Nations, while the post-war period was characterized by technocratic, authoritarian approaches to refugee livelihoods and development by institutions such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Refugee livelihoods were incorporated and accommodated for as a central element of League relief efforts before World War II, but the implementation of similar assistance practices in the following period excluded refugees’ own livelihoods strategies and skills. The article concludes by discussing the relevance of further historical research in Refugee Studies as the current use of the term ‘innovation’ is ahistorical, and many contemporary livelihood practices operating under the auspices of ‘innovation’ have in reality been employed since the beginning of the international refugee regime.

More information Original publication



Journal article


Oxford University Press

Publication Date





412 - 436


Refugee livelihoods, refugee assistance, League of Nations, refugee history