Facing the realities of crisis on World Refugee Day

Today, June 20, is World Refugee Day. This is an opportunity to reflect on the global state of refugees and internally displaced people, celebrate their resilience — and resolve to put forth long-term solutions.

For over seventy years the world has recognized June 20 as a special day to celebrate the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution. At BOMA, we see World Refugee Day, and every day of the year, to not only stand in solidarity with refugees, but to also take concrete actions to advance solutions that can be applied to the diverse challenges facing refugees and host communities around the world.  

Since the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees took place in 1951, we have seen an almost continuous increase in the number of refugees year over year. In 2023 this number reached a historic mark of 110 million people, with Africa hosting almost a third, or 30 million, of the world’s refugee population (UNHCR). Only halfway through 2024 and we have already surpassed last year’s number of people displaced due to countless conflicts and climate disasters. This year an estimated 120 million people have already been forced to flee their homes, pushing refugee/IDP support systems to their breaking point (BBC News).  

It may be tempting to focus on the colossal numbers and seemingly insurmountable barriers. However, at BOMA we have seen a different side of the refugee crisis: one that prioritizes integration, engagement with host communities, and mutual respect and understanding above all else. This way forward is currently a reality for a small group of our program participants. But there is potential for millions more. A future where individuals and entire communities are given the tools, knowledge, and most importantly, the opportunity to thrive and take back control over their own lives and futures.  

As a founding member of the refugee-centric Poverty Alleviation Coalition convened by the UNHCR and World Bank, BOMA has adapted our poverty graduation model to develop a solution known as REAP for Refugees. This uniquely adapted model is specifically suited to the needs and challenges of refugee/IDP populations in the drylands of Africa. In partnerships with organizations like the UNHCR, IKEA Foundation, DanChurch Aid (DCA), Caritas Switzerland, Danish Refugee Council, Whole Planet Foundation and more, we have been able to respond to the refugee crises facing many of the countries located in Africa’s dryland regions. While no one context looks the same, by layering specifically designed interventions on top of the globally validated poverty graduation approach, we can meet the complex and ever-changing needs of the almost 10,000 refugees, internally displaced people, and host community individuals that have been enrolled in REAP for Refugee programs across Burkina Faso, Uganda, Chad, Cameroon, and Kenya. The two-pronged goal of these programs is to build the socio-economic resilience of individuals and families as well as integration (when possible) into the host communities so they can become self-reliant and productive members in their adopted communities.

Doreen Brown proudly stands in front of the grocer business she was able to establish as part of the LIFT-NK program at Kakuma Refugee Camp (BOMA 2023)

Of the three “durable solutions” for refugees, local integration may be the most realistic for the Arid and Semi-Arid Land (ASAL) region, as protracted conflict and ongoing weather-related disasters like drought and floods often prevent refugees from a successful return home to their country of origin. Resettlement is equally difficult given the economic status of many countries and the limited support their governments can provide (86% of refugees live in low- to middle-income countries). While national and local laws and sentiments may initially serve as roadblocks for integration, the process is a gradual and multidimensional one. It begins with a right to work (economic empowerment), freedom of movement, and access to financial services (like savings groups and bank accounts). This approach to integration has been further supported by a recent Oxford University recent study that highlights the importance of a multi-dimensional integration model that coalesces both sides of the community structures to ensure participation and long-term success at all levels. 

BOMA’s refugee-focused programming in Kenya, Uganda, Burkina Faso and Cameroon is focused on creating a more holistic solution to address the specific needs of both refugee and host community populations. This means a greater focus on increased knowledge of human rights, building mutual trust and respect among community members, inclusion of men into all program interventions, the establishment of savings mechanisms to build resilience, and creating connections to additional support and training from international aid organizations. It also means having the room and forward thinking to plan for other crises that may disproportionately affect this already vulnerable population.  

The impacts of accelerated climate change are one such addition to the equation that is creating a compound crisis for many refugee populations who have already experienced upheaval and unimaginable hardship. Throughout the ASAL regions of Africa, unpredictable weather patterns, years-long drought, and sudden flooding threaten communities already on the brink. To meet the realities of this new normal, we have leveraged our adapted REAP for Climate Resilience model to fill gaps that our refugee-focused model may not account for. Last year we saw our largest enrollment to date of participants into our climate-focus program Livelihoods and Inclusion for Transformation in Northern Kenya (LIFT-NK). Funded by the IKEA Foundation, over ten thousand individuals across Turkana (Kakuma/Kalobeyei), Marsabit, and Samburu counties were enrolled, which includes 3,200 refugees and 1,750 members of the host community (30% of total program participants). The overarching approach to this model is to work with communities to co-create and implement climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies alongside the promotion of “green” entrepreneurship to exit extreme poverty. This enabling environment supports refugee rights, sustainable natural resource management, and green enterprises that build resilience to future shocks. By working together with BOMA to scale their innovative approach to helping vulnerable communities in Northern Kenya withstand climate change and build their own resilience, we can support refugees and host communities to create sustainable livelihoods while protecting the planet,” says Patrick Obonyo, Programme Manager at the IKEA Foundation.

Stronger and more long-term solutions to the refugee crisis are proving their effectiveness through the graduation-based model. However, the continued increase in numbers this year alone, makes it clear that refugees need our solidarity now more than ever. This means keeping our doors open, celebrating their resilience, strength and determination, and continuously reflecting and reassessing the challenges they face. We must also be realistic in what we can and cannot control. That means leaning into areas where our approach has shown to be most effective and sustainable and revisiting, revising and improving in the areas where our efforts fall short. On this World Refugee Day, let us all continue to work towards a world in which refugees are not just welcomed, but supported so that they, and future generations, may enjoy safe, productive, and meaningful lives. 


You can make an impact in the fight to end extreme poverty in Africa’s drylands and improve the lives of refugees and internally displaced people via our REAP for Refugees programming.