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Economic Empowerment and Self-Reliance

Urban Livelihoods: Leveraging What Works in the Local Community

Half of the world's 10.5 million refugees now reside in cities. They often have few assets, limited support networks, and are constrained by legal, cultural and linguistic barriers. To date humanitarian efforts have focused primarily on camp-based refugees, leaving the needs of urban refugees poorly understood.


The Women's Refugee Commission conducts research to assess the situation that the urban displaced poor face and to develop guidance to improve their lives. We are making their self-reliance and protection a priority.

Urban refugees face multiple challenges to achieving self-reliance; nevertheless, they are industrious and hard-working. They want to stand on their own two feet, to support their families, educate their children and build a better future. Many come to cities looking for work, better opportunities and security. However, they often do not have access to basic services, such as healthcare, education, or credit. They lack the necessary legal rights to participate in the formal economy and are often pushed into the informal sector. There, they face extortion, exploitation, abuse and arrest. With few options, women and girls, in particular, often rely on risky activities to survive, such as commercial sex work. Youth are rarely in school or employed, which has resulted in a lost generation.

The Women's Refugee Commission conducts desk and field research to advocate for policies and practices that will make a difference in the lives of urban refugees. We go into the slums, to learn of needs directly from displaced women, men and youth. We go into the markets to learn of the challenges and opportunities of doing business. We use an evidence-based approach to design innovative, market-based livelihoods programs, and ensure that refugees gain skills in non-saturated markets. We then test these models within local marketplaces, monitor the results and share what we've learned through reports, trainings, practical tools and advocacy.


Economic Empowerment and Self-Reliance