In 2021 the UN reported that 82.4 million people were forcibly displaced; since then 7.1 million Ukrainians have become refugees. One in every ninety-five people on the planet has been forced to flee their home, more than ever recorded.
Global refugee policy, known as the three durable solutions, were designed to find a permanent place for refugees. These policies were developed more than 70 years ago to enable refugees to either 1) return home through voluntary repatriation, 2) stay where they fled through local integration, or 3) be resettled to a third country.
The world’s collective response is woefully inadequate. Last year, fewer than two percent of refugees found their way to any of these solutions. This study investigates how these policy solutions are being implemented and how they can be improved.
This study applies a comparative case study method to analyze global refugee policies. The comparative case study method is well established for cross-national policy analysis (Geva-May et al., 2018) and has been applied in social work research (Kamerman & Kahn, 1997). The analytic approach uses rights-based social policy analysis (Gatenio Gabel, 2016) and the dimensions of social welfare framework (Gilbert & Terrell, 2013).
Data was collected via semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and ethnographic participant observation from 236 individuals (152 refugees from ten countries of origin; 26 policymakers from six countries; 58 professionals across six countries providing education, employment placement and skill training, healthcare, housing, humanitarian aid, language training, and legal services). Secondary data from the UN, government statistics, nongovernment reports, and research literature was analyzed alongside the primary data to produce nuanced cases (Betts, 2013).
The case study of voluntary repatriation analyzes the Somali voluntary repatriation program which returns refugees from Kenya’s large refugee camps to Somalia. The program is a mixed success regarding refugees’ consent, self-determination, and reintegration.
The case study of local integration analyzes the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement which uses a market-based approach to benefit host and refugee communities alike. This is a new model of socio-economic integration based on sustainable development with innovative programs, such as e-voucher food aid and cash for housing.
The case study of third-country resettlement analyzes the Arizona Refugee Empowerment Project which delivered technical assistance, capacity building, community organizing, social entrepreneurship, and leadership development to resettled refugee communities via a participatory approach. This case study showed how sustainable development of refugee-led non-profit organizations resulted in increased cultural adaption, integration, and social entrepreneurship.
These case studies reveal the need for significant policy reforms to promote refugee rights. Implications for voluntary repatriation include reintegration programs that offer sufficient assistance for returnees, and programs that emphasize peace and reconciliation. Implications for local integration include increased socio-economic integration incorporating sustainable development, rather than narrow legal integration. Implications for third-country resettlement include reconceptualizing self-sufficiency, facilitating social entrepreneurship, and expanding capacity.
In addition to reforming the specific durable solutions, this study has implications for the global refugee regime, which include strengthening asylum and protections against nonrefoulement, prioritizing integration, and increasing international burden-sharing.