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The Foundation's Program on Refugees and Forced Migration

1999 Annual Report

Carolyn Makinson
Program Officer for Population and Forced Migration

The main purpose of this report is to provide a comprehensive description of the Foundation’s activities in the field of refugee studies and forced migration.  The report begins with an explanation of the events surrounding the Trustees’ decision to establish a program in this field and with a summary of our earlier grants that drew attention to the needs of refugees for reproductive health services and established the Reproductive Health for Refugees Consortium.

It ends with a brief discussion of planned future changes in both the Foundation’s refugee and population programs.


In 1994, with encouragement from John C. Whitehead, then Chairman of the Board of Trustees, the Foundation began to explore the possibility of developing a program in the field of refugee studies and forced migration.  The Trustees made the decision to move ahead in mid-1995. Four major considerations influenced this decision:

  • (a) the problem of forced displacement had grown exponentially in scale during the preceding few years and seemed likely to remain significant in the foreseeable future (see Figure 1);

  • (b) despite the increased scale and importance of the problem, the field of relief and humanitarian assistance remained rather ad hoc in its approach, with high staff turnover, almost no professional training, scant attention to research, and virtually no established research and training institutions that could ameliorate this situation;

  • (c) the relief and humanitarian field in the US was dominated by a few key players (e.g., CARE, Catholic Relief Services, the International Rescue Committee [IRC], Save the Children Federation) and it therefore seemed feasible for the Foundation to strengthen the field by improving the policies, practices, and professionalism of these few organizations; and

  • (d) the Foundation was well placed to make a major contribution to the field by concentrating on its traditional areas of activity—namely, the development of university-based centers of research and teaching, and the building of a knowledge base for the field.


At the inception of the program, staff reviewed the past funding provided to the field by foundations and other potential donors. In contrast to the population field, which had always received substantial foundation support, the humanitarian field drew its assistance largely from governments and individual donors. And foundation support—such as it was—was concentrated in two areas:  meeting the needs of refugees and immigrants in the US and Israel (a variety of foundations), and studies of conflict resolution, world security, and international cooperation (chiefly the MacArthur Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation). Only the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Ford and Joyce Mertz-Gilmore Foundations had addressed the needs of the vast majority of refugees who remained in developing countries. (Note 1) The general absence of foundation interest was likely to prove an obstacle to raising standards in the field, since governments and individual donors wished their funds to be directed towards meeting the immediate needs of refugees, rather than towards the long-term goal of strengthening the capacity of institutions to generate and use knowledge to improve performance.

Another predisposing factor was the great interest that staff encountered from the major humanitarian organizations to improve their performance through applied research and training. Prior to the Trustees’ decision, staff had solicited the views of numerous representatives of humanitarian organizations, the UN, the US government, foundations, and research groups as to the needs they would like the Foundation to address. There was a remarkable degree of consensus, regardless of organizational sector, that the greatest need was for support to improve standards. Specifically, five somewhat overlapping priorities were identified: (a) strengthening the capacity of relief organizations in emergency preparedness and prevention, and in rapid response; (b) improving overall technical standards in the field; (c) development, implementation, and evaluation of relief programs that considered long-term aspects of refugee situations, and contributed to permanent solutions; (d) increasing the capacity of indigenous non-governmental organizations, and of refugees themselves, to develop and implement programs; and (e) policy studies to lay the groundwork for needed changes in the field in both policies and programs.

Of these five potential areas of focus, the Foundation’s program has so far concentrated on the first three. In brief:

  • The Foundation’s awards for revolving emergency funds were designed to improve emergency preparedness and rapid response.

  • A main thrust of the program to date has been improving technical standards.

  • Some initiatives are beginning to examine long-term approaches to refugee problems—for example, applied research on social and psychological programs, and on programs for refugee children and adolescents, described below.

  • In general, the Foundation does not believe it is well placed to provide direct support to organizations in developing countries, although it might play a role in the future in enabling US universities and humanitarian organizations to improve their collaboration with indigenous partners.

  • The Foundation has focused on the needs of practitioner organizations and has retained a strong field perspective. Research themes have therefore been selected because of their potential to improve either the technical quality of relief programs or the operational decisions of humanitarian organizations.  Very little support has been provided for studies designed to influence government policies or to educate the general public.

Prior to implementation of the new program, the Foundation provided support for its program officer to spend six months in the field, gaining first-hand experience of refugee settings. The IRC and Save the Children hosted lengthy visits to Guinea, Mozambique, Rwanda, and the camps in Tanzania for Rwandan refugees.  The insights gained during these visits have proved invaluable in developing the Foundation’s program.

Reproductive Health for Refugees—the Foundation’s First Awards in the Refugee Field

Before the Foundation’s establishment of the refugee program, grants had been made in support of reproductive health for refugees through the Foundation’s population program. Indeed, it was in devising and monitoring the reproductive health grants that Foundation staff became aware of the very great needs in the field of humanitarian assistance that the Foundation could address.

Although the Foundation’s population program focuses mainly on university-based research, grantmaking initiatives are sometimes developed in relation to the delivery of services if areas of need are identified that are ignored by larger donors, such as USAID and the United Nations Population Fund. The IRC’s Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children first drew our attention to the virtual absence of reproductive health services in refugee settings and the great need for such services. Several factors were responsible for the absence of services: a mistaken belief that refugee situations were short-lived and chaotic—most refugees live for years in relatively stable, but impoverished, circumstances; a belief that refugees would themselves give low priority to reproductive health services, a view which has proven unfounded (although refugee groups differ in the specific services they most desire); and a reluctance on the part of donors and humanitarian organizations, many of which were religiously based, to deal with an area that was controversial and that could raise difficult philosophical and ethical questions.

In early 1993, a grant was made to the Women’s Commission to conduct a field assessment of the need for reproductive health services in refugee settings and to document what services were already being provided. A report was published, which received widespread attention. (Note 2) In August 1994, the Foundation invited several organizations, drawn from both the family planning and the humanitarian fields, to form a consortium to address this issue. In March 1995, the Trustees approved awards totaling $1.6 million to the Reproductive Health for Refugees Consortium, comprised of CARE, the IRC, John Snow International, Marie Stopes International, and the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children. A grant was also made to the World Health Organization to produce technical and managerial guidelines. (Note 3) Altogether, from 1993 to 1998, the Foundation appropriated awards totaling nearly $3 million in support of reproductive health for refugees. A recent report published by the Consortium documents the progress that has been made over the past five years, and the next steps that need to be taken. (Note 4)

The First Three Years of Mellon’s Program on Refugees and Forced Migration,

Since December 1996, grants totaling $16 million have been awarded in the refugee program. (Grants for reproductive health are not included in this total, since these were awarded in the Foundation’s population program.) Figure 2 shows the distribution of funds by sub-program.  The two largest categories (each slightly less than one-third of total dollars awarded) are support for university research and teaching programs, and for applied research and training conducted jointly by academics and practitioners. We expect the proportion allocated to these two categories to increase in the future since it is unlikely that additional awards will be recommended for revolving emergency funds.

It was intended that the various elements of the program would be mutually reinforcing: that the new academic programs would graduate both future analysts for the field and better trained practitioners; that the applied research and training programs would yield findings that would be incorporated both into teaching curricula and into the policies and practices of humanitarian organizations; and that the constant exchange between the academic and practitioner worlds would ensure that practice was grounded in sound theoretical frameworks and systematic empirical evidence, and that academic research and teaching would be relevant to the needs of policy and practice in the field.


Our general assessment is that the program has been a great success, in part because its timing was exceedingly fortuitous.  The Foundation’s entrance into the field coincided with a renewed commitment among practitioner organizations to improve their performance, and a new interest among universities to develop research and teaching programs in the field of humanitarian assistance. Despite the extreme time pressures under which they work, the practitioner organizations have remained eager to participate in the program and to find ways to forge closer alliances with academic groups. In the past few years, there have been several notable developments aimed at improving the standards of humanitarian assistance. The Sphere project was initiated in 1997 by two networks of practitioner agencies, InterAction and the European-based Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response. Its aim has been to develop a humanitarian charter and an associated set of minimum standards in sectors such as nutrition, water and sanitation, health, and shelter. (Note 5) InterAction itself is discussing among its membership whether to adopt formal procedures for certifying that member organizations are in compliance with its standards. And the US government is increasingly providing funds for the development of training curricula and the establishment of training programs.

A greater surprise for us has been the enthusiasm for the Foundation’s program within the academic community. At the time of the original recommendation to the Trustees that the Foundation establish a program (March 1995), very few universities provided course offerings on refugees and humanitarian assistance, and there appeared to be relatively little interest in doing so. In the intervening years, programs have sprung up all over the place, often in response to demand from students. In contrast to our original expectation that we would have to "sell" the idea of refugee studies to universities, we have received more requests for assistance in establishing new programs than we can handle—and often from excellent universities. Almost without exception, the university programs that the Foundation has chosen to support have flourished—in terms of student enrollment, approval of teaching curricula and degree programs, research output, links to practitioner organizations, and growth in external funding. The main obstacle to progress to date has been the shortage of trained analysts in this field who can assist with all the training and research needs that are being identified—precisely the needs that our program is designed to address in the long run.  There has also been a notable—and gratifying—degree of collaboration among the various organizations supported in the Foundation’s program.

There follows a brief description of activities supported for each of the sub-program areas.

University Research and Teaching Programs

The Foundation has provided support for the establishment of three new university-based programs at Columbia, Tufts, and the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, and for the strengthening of the major pre-existing refugee studies program at Oxford University in England. All four programs have made major strides in the past three years; all four have strong links with practitioners.


Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre (RSC) was established in 1982 (and was known, until its recent name-change, as the Refugee Studies Programme). In January 1997, the RSC successfully navigated a difficult leadership transition when the founding director, Barbara Harrell-Bond, retired. It has continued to prosper under its new director, David Turton. It has acquired two permanent endowed academic posts and—with encouragement from the University administration—is seeking to raise endowment for two additional posts. In 1998, it received the first intake of students for its new, nine-month Master’s course in Forced Migration, which is receiving large numbers of applications from around the world. Its current research portfolio has attracted $1 million annually in external funds—50 percent more than four years ago. It has completely overhauled the curriculum and pedagogy of its well-known summer school for practitioners and plans to double the number of participants (to 80) over the next two years.

Tufts University’s Feinstein International Famine Center was established in July 1996 in the School of Nutrition Science and Policy.  From the outset, the Center has received very strong support from the President of the University and from the Deans of the School of Nutrition and of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.  Under the leadership of its director, John Hammock, the Center’s annual budget has grown from $200,000 three years ago, to $1.2 million in 1999, and a projected $1.8 million for the year 2000, and its sources of support are well diversified. It has already established two endowed chairs in humanitarian studies, raised an additional $2.5 million in endowment for the Center, initiated a joint Nutrition School /Fletcher School Master’s in Humanitarian Assistance, developed a research program in various areas of humanitarian assistance, evaluated field programs and policies, conducted training workshops at the request of USAID and UN agencies, and hosted visiting fellows sponsored by these agencies. The Center is currently discussing future collaborative activities with the University of the Witwatersrand, including exchange visits by faculty members.

Columbia University’s Program on Forced Migration and Health was established in 1997 with support from the Foundation.  Columbia has recruited two senior staff members to lead the program and has developed a new concentration on refugees and displaced populations in its Master’s of public health (MPH) program, in which 10–15 students enroll each year. It has been awarded a major contract by the US Office of Disaster Administration (OFDA) to provide the officially approved health training for practitioners working in emergency assistance, and has received awards from the Ford, Gates, and Packard foundations. It has been invited to join the Reproductive Health for Refugees Consortium (the first academic organization to do so) and has received a $3 million award from the Packard Foundation for research in collaboration with the Consortium. And it is the academic collaborator most sought out by US humanitarian organizations that offer medical and public health services. Columbia’s program has especially strong ties with the IRC, including the joint appointment of two medically trained staff members.  The director of the program, Ronald Waldman, is a leading participant in the roundtable on forced migration established by the National Academy of Sciences with support from the Foundation. In the future, the program hopes to expand its OFDA health training to additional sites outside the US, and discussions are proceeding with the University of the Witwatersrand to see if it might be an appropriate collaborator for the training of practitioners in Africa.

With Foundation support, the University of the Witwatersrand has established a Forced Migration Programme which is hosted jointly by the Graduate School for the Humanities and Social Sciences and by the Department of Community Health.  The University has recruited a coordinator for the program, Zonke Majodina. The program’s one-year Master’s degree has been approved by the University and is scheduled to begin in February 2000, and it has offered a weekly seminar series that has been well attended, especially by practitioners and the general public. Mechanisms have been developed to stimulate relevant research among faculty members and students, and the University is actively engaged in discussions with a number of institutions supported by the Foundation (e.g., Columbia, Oxford, Tufts, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) regarding possible collaboration in the future. The University of the Witwatersrand has also been asked to host the seventh conference of the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration, which will take place in January 2001.

In addition to these major investments, the Foundation has provided support for Brown University’s Humanitarianism & War Project(which is moving to Tufts University in July 2000), and for the Inter-University Committee on International Migration at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (whose members include Boston, Harvard, and Tufts Universities, and Regis and Wellesley Colleges).  These programs have been very successful in generating research and collaboration with practitioner organizations, and with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The Foundation has made very recent awards to two other promising groups. Georgetown University has recently established an Institute for the Study of International Migration, which is based in the Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service and is affiliated with the Georgetown University Law Center. It intends to focus on refugee law and protection and, in collaboration with the Brookings Institution, on the welfare of internally displaced populations—which are not generally accorded the same recognition and assistance as refugee populations displaced across a national boundary. The American University in Cairo (AUC) has established a one-year postgraduate diploma in forced migration and refugee studies. It also intends to collaborate with AUC’s Social Research Centre to conduct research on the many Sudanese and Somali refugees who live in urban areas of Egypt.


Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre has assembled the most comprehensive library collection on refugees and forced migration in the field. In 1996, the Foundation made an award of $500,000 for the digitization of the RSC’s documentation center. Our intention was to ensure that emerging academic centers, including those in the developing world, would have access to RSC’s collection.  The project is now the largest digital library project at Oxford University and has attracted additional funds from the European Union. There has been excellent cooperation among the centers supported by the Foundation. Oxford, Tufts, and Columbia are discussing how best to develop a joint approach to the acquisition of materials, digitization, and production of a unified database; the University of the Witwatersrand expects to gain access to the digitized database as it becomes available; and Tufts and Oxford recently collaborated in holding a workshop at Tufts on digital libraries. As well as the digitized library, Oxford also intends to make available over the World Wide Web distance learning packages (including some being produced with Foundation support), and multi-media archives of images, film video and sound.

Applied Research and Training Projects

Awards have been made to bring together academics and practitioners around various topics within humanitarian assistance.  Topics have been chosen, in consultation with humanitarian organizations, for a variety of reasons:

  • because they were important spheres of activity in terms of UN and government funding but lacked serious evaluation research (health and psychosocial programs);

  • because humanitarian organizations expressed a need for greater technical training of staff (health and international law); or

  • because there was a clear need for new approaches in designing policies, procedures, and/or interventions (refugee demography, international law, and refugee children and adolescents).

Refugee Demography. With support from the Foundation, the Committee on Population of the National Academy of Sciences has established a roundtable on forced migration, which brings together investigators and practitioners from the fields of demography and humanitarian assistance. For a variety of reasons, estimates of stocks and flows of refugees and other forced migrants are known to be inaccurate. Moreover, the estimates that exist are of the most simple kind. Little is known about the typical age and sex structure of refugee populations; even less about their birth and death rates. Without this information, it is hard for relief workers to plan programs, monitor the condition of refugees, and allocate resources effectively.

The roundtable is expected to develop a research agenda and stimulate research to achieve a better understanding of population dynamics before, during, and after emergency situations. A meeting on mortality and morbidity in refugee settings has already been held. Future meetings may be held on topics such as fertility and reproductive health in refugee settings, age and sex composition of refugee populations, and patterns of flight and resettlement.

An award has also been made to the Johns Hopkins University to develop a field manual to help humanitarian workers collect and analyze basic demographic data in humanitarian settings. Demographers and health specialists at Johns Hopkins have already worked together to conduct a study of mortality in North Korea, which has recently been published in The Lancet.

Refugee Health. Public health and medical programs are among those most frequently undertaken by humanitarian organizations and certainly those that require the most technical expertise. In recent years, there has been growing recognition that very large numbers of refugees have died needlessly because incorrect medical decisions have been made—for example, because of failures to set priorities among health tasks, stockpile appropriate supplies, and follow best practices. Spurred on by this recognition, InterAction obtained support from OFDA to develop a health training curriculum for practitioners. As noted above, Columbia’s program on forced migration and health has been awarded the OFDA contract to conduct training courses using the new curriculum. Despite shortcomings in current practice, refugee health has been the sector with the greatest university-based capacity to absorb Foundation funds for research and training.

The Foundation has provided support to two universities—Columbia and Johns Hopkins—to develop research and teaching programs on forced migration and health.  Two additional awards have been made for partnerships between a university and a medical relief organization (Columbia and the IRC; and MERLIN, a UK medical group, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine). In both cases, the partners proposed to make a joint appointment of a medical practitioner who would conduct experimental research in emergency settings, help the practitioner organization to incorporate research findings into its policies and programs, and offer training to staff members.  Awards were also made to enable three other practitioner organizations (CARE, International Medical Corps, American Refugee Committee) to seek technical assistance from the US Centers for Disease Control and university-based groups, and for Columbia to conduct a review of research findings in the refugee health field.

Social and Psychological Programs for Populations in Crisis. There is growing recognition of the need for humanitarian agencies to concern themselves with the psychological well-being of those they seek to assist and with the rebuilding of social institutions that will be necessary for any kind of "normal" life to resume. Before reaching safety, survivors are likely to have witnessed atrocities, to have suffered violence themselves, and to have lost close family members. They are then faced with rebuilding their lives—whether in a camp or elsewhere—in impoverished circumstances and without the economic and social structures to which they were accustomed. Children as a group are of special concern: many have lost their parents and some have been recruited as child soldiers and forced to commit atrocities themselves. Settlement in another country requires a process of adaptation that can be difficult enough when it is voluntary and accomplished under the best of circumstances. Repatriation to the country of origin brings with it constant reminders of what has been lost and often necessitates some kind of reconciliation or accommodation with the erstwhile enemy.

The focus of social and psychological programs has changed over the past 60 years. Until recently, research had been conducted primarily among refugee populations who had resettled in industrialized countries, first after World War II when refugees were presumed to share the same cultural background as the host population, later after the conflicts in Southeast Asia when greater attention was paid to the need for cultural adjustment. In the last few years, the focus has shifted to the needs of the much larger populations, usually from developing countries, who remain in the regions of conflict and require assistance under the most difficult circumstances.

Donors have shown increased willingness to provide funds for what are known as psychosocial programs; one survey identified 185 such projects within Bosnia and Croatia alone. Yet there are several problems associated with programs currently implemented in this field. Many programs use concepts, measurement instruments, and approaches that have never been validated and tested in the settings in which they are now being applied. Few of the practitioners who devise and implement the programs have adequate training. And there is seldom any systematic evaluation of the outcome of program interventions. Moreover, progress in establishing a firmer base of knowledge for the field is being impeded by its polarization between proponents of two different approaches—one emphasizing individual mental health, the other emphasizing social reconstruction and community-based programs. The first approach builds on the concepts, diagnostic tools, and practices of Western psychiatry and psychology. Proponents of the second approach point to the limitations of such interventions, which may be inappropriate for non-Western cultural settings, and are unlikely—on practical grounds—to reach the large numbers of people who need assistance. Very little rigorous research has been conducted among refugee populations to substantiate the strongly held views of proponents of either approach.

To date, the Foundation has provided support for three initiatives to ameliorate this situation.

  • The University of Pennsylvania has established a center for the study of ethno-political conflict within its psychology department. The center aims to stimulate research in this area within the field of psychology, and to train a new generation of scientists and practitioners to study the causes and consequences of ethno-political conflict and to work in complex emergencies, initially through a postdoctoral training program. The center has run its first summer training program with support from the National Institute of Mental Health. Five graduates of the summer program are spending a year as research fellows at Penn and are conducting field research at sites in South Africa, Israel /Palestine, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka. The center has recently been awarded $1.5 million for use over four years by anonymous donors, which will support the center’s director and 3–4 postdoctoral fellows a year.

  • Oxford’s RSC has developed a module to train practitioners in three areas: (a) theoretical understanding of trauma across different cultural settings; (b) evaluation of psychosocial programs through measurement of specified and measurable outcomes; and (c) planning and implementing programs in the field, based upon emerging best practice. Parts of the module have already been tested in RSC’s summer school and in Sri Lanka through a Sri Lankan federation of mental health organizations. The final module is expected to be ready for dissemination this year (2000), and will be placed on the RSC’s Web site.  The RSC intends to form a collaborative network of seven institutions that will train practitioners using the module, including Columbia and the University of the Witwatersrand.

  • Awards have recently been made to several academic and practitioner organizations with a variety of viewpoints (Queen Margaret University College, Edinburgh; Oxford and Columbia Universities; Christian Children’s Fund; the IRC; and Save the Children) to begin the following tasks: (a) the development of a unifying framework setting out what is known about major stressors in situations of forced migration and the characteristics of those most likely to be vulnerable to trauma, the assessment of psycho-social needs among displaced populations, and the kinds of interventions that might be implemented either through the health-care system or through community-based programs; (b) an inventory and assessment of what already exists in the field in terms of training materials, manuals, instruments for data collection and analysis, and reports on field interventions; (c) the identification of priority areas for research; and (d) the implementation of a few small-scale pilot studies to assess the appropriateness in specific situations of particular kinds of approaches.

Refugee Children and Adolescents. Given that most refugees originate in developing countries, which have young populations, at least half those displaced by conflict are children and adolescents. Yet, little attention has been paid to the special needs of refugee children and adolescents. And even those programs specifically aimed at children—for example, programs to trace and reunite separated children with their families—have rarely been subject to serious evaluation.

Some needs of children will be addressed through research on health, psychosocial programs, and refugee education. But awards have also been made for research on other issues related to children. Save the Children received support to hire a senior staff person, previously a faculty member at Duke University, to strengthen Save the Children’s capacity to conduct and use research, and to offer technical assistance to field programs. Academic-practitioner partnerships (between Duke University and Save the Children, and Randolph-Macon College and the IRC) are conducting research, respectively, to evaluate different interventions to help demobilized child soldiers return to their families and communities, and to analyze a database in southern Sudan that was used to reunite unaccompanied children with their families and to monitor their welfare. Oxford University has received support for two initiatives: a two-year research fellowship to review the thinking behind current policies and programs and to explore academic research on children for relevant new perspectives; and a comprehensive research study on the situation of Palestinian children and adolescents throughout the Middle East.

As a recent study by the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children points out, (Note 6) adolescents are often the most neglected group of all. Less obviously in need of protection than younger children, their transition to adulthood has nevertheless been interrupted, and they are especially vulnerable to despair and exploitation, in the worst cases as soldiers and prostitutes. Education programs rarely cater to adolescents, and they are generally excluded from micro-credit programs aimed at adults.  With Foundation support, the Women’s Commission surveyed donors, practitioner organizations, and academics, produced an inventory and assessment of past and current policies and programs that serve adolescents displaced by conflict, and created a comprehensive bibliography. The study describes trends in five key sectors that affect refugee adolescents (education, livelihoods, health, psychosocial programs, and protection) and summarizes the relevant international conventions and the activities of the main organizations responsible for adolescent welfare. The results of the study will be used to appeal for greater attention to adolescents affected by war, and to develop an agenda for applied research.

International Law, Human Rights, and Humanitarian Assistance. Since the end of the Cold War, the nature of international conflict has changed and so, too, have the conditions in which humanitarian agencies attempt to protect and assist refugee populations. Formerly, such agencies were regarded as neutral, their autonomy was respected, and they were generally granted safe access to assist noncombatants. Other than the International Committee for the Red Cross, they usually assisted refugees in camps in neighboring countries at a safe distance from the conflict. Currently, conflicts are primarily internal, civilians are often the intended victims and are manipulated for military purposes, humanitarian principles and human rights norms are violated with alarming regularity, and humanitarian organizations are often perceived as—and sometimes become—parties to the conflict.

Increasingly, such organizations have to weigh whether their presence causes more harm than good—for example, by introducing large-scale material resources that often reach the wrong hands, providing legitimacy to factions or governments that fail to respect human rights, or providing palliatives that lessen the impetus for decisive international political action. In dealing with such dilemmas, humanitarian organizations have, until now, reacted in an ad hoc fashion and have often been unable to agree among themselves as to the wisest course of action. Recently, several practitioner organizations supported by the Foundation (for example, CARE, Save the Children, and the IRC) have begun to take explicit account of international humanitarian, human rights and refugee laws in their operational decision-making. In this venture, they have sought the advice and collaboration of legal and human rights organizations.

The Foundation has provided full or partial support for a number of activities in this area:

  • York University in Toronto has designed and implemented a training module for refugee law judges in countries that have only recently begun to adjudicate cases of asylum seekers (for example, in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and many parts of Africa), and has assisted UNHCR in developing policies and procedures to safeguard the human rights of refugees under its protection.

  • The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights has designed and implemented a training module for African humanitarian organizations on human rights and refugee law. It has also conducted field research and legal analysis on the practical application of the exclusion clauses in the 1951 Refugee Convention, which exclude from legal protection individuals who have committed serious international crimes such as genocide.

  • In consultation with outside experts, CARE is examining its relief and development programs in the light of humanitarian and human rights legislation. It is developing guidelines to assist headquarters and field staff in future decision-making, and to train them in their use. It is assembling a comprehensive human rights and legal training module, elements of which have already been incorporated into CARE’s standard training on disaster response. CARE’s materials are also being incorporated into a Sphere project humanitarian charter training module.

  • The IRC has established a protection team, based at its New York headquarters, in order to integrate protection issues fully into its programs and to facilitate cooperation with other agencies in this endeavor. Like CARE, the IRC intends to raise awareness of protection and human rights issues among its staff, to provide training, and to pay greater attention to protection and human rights in devising its field programs and policies.

  • The Humanitarianism & War Project has convened a number of meetings that bring together practitioners, staff of human rights organizations, and legal scholars to discuss the role of international humanitarian, refugee, and human rights legislation in humanitarian assistance, and has produced an excellent guide (Note 7).

  • The Social Science Research Council is undertaking five case studies that will examine current problems in humanitarian assistance in which human rights issues play an important part. Each case study will be conducted by a research team comprised of a practitioner and an academic social scientist. The project, which will focus on sub-Saharan Africa, is expected to result in five reports and a book.

Career Development and Training

In 1998, awards were made to six humanitarian organizations (CARE, the IRC, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, International Medical Corps, and American Refugee Committee) to encourage use of the new academic programs and other forms of staff training.  These organizations intend to experiment with a variety of approaches: development and implementation, usually in collaboration with outside experts, of internal training courses or manuals for use in the field; short-term external training courses covering specific technical or managerial skills; small grants or loans to exceptionally promising staff who wish to obtain a relevant postgraduate qualification and who commit to return to the organization for a specified period; mini-sabbaticals (usually in an academic setting) for field staff to write up "lessons learned," analyze data collected in the field and publish the results, or familiarize themselves with key findings in a new program area; and opportunities for field staff to visit model programs implemented in other countries or by other organizations.

InterAction, a US coalition of 160 agencies engaged in international development and humanitarian assistance, also received support to design and maintain an electronic database containing information on relevant courses and course materials, including those adapted for distance learning, evaluations of these courses by participants, and rosters of practitioners who have completed particular degree or non-degree training courses.

In November 2000, the Humanitarianism & War Project will organize a meeting on behalf of the Foundation to bring together staff of both humanitarian organizations and university programs to discuss the results of the grants to date. The meeting will also explore more broadly ways in which practitioner and academic programs may best work together, and how the Foundation may support these endeavors.

Revolving Emergency Funds

Several key humanitarian organizations drew the Foundation’s attention to the great need for funds to permit an immediate response in the first few days of emergencies. Emergencies now occur with unprecedented rapidity and scale, as illustrated by the exodus from Rwanda in 1994 and by the subsequent mass repatriation to Rwanda. Thousands of lives may be lost before relief organizations can raise the necessary funds to respond. Although donor agencies accept briefer, more flexible proposals for emergencies than for regular activities, they usually still require a formal written request. And donations from individuals tend to flow in once an emergency has received widespread coverage in the media. Humanitarian organizations therefore must rely on their own unrestricted funds to finance the first few weeks of activities. Yet unrestricted funds may constitute a very small proportion of their operating budgets (as low as five to ten percent).

In March 1997 and December 1999, the Trustees approved one-to-one matching awards totaling over $3 million to five humanitarian organizations (CARE, the IRC, Save the Children, the American Refugee Committee, the International Medical Corps) to establish revolving emergency funds. The Foundation’s intent is to establish a permanent corpus at each organization that could be drawn down in an emergency, then topped up by subsequent appeals, annual contributions, or project funding that could cover some expenses retroactively.  The 1997 awards were made in honor of John C. Whitehead, on his retirement as Chairman of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees.

The grantee organizations themselves have been surprised both by the number of times they have drawn on these funds over the past three years and by the relative ease with which they have been able to raise money both to meet the Foundation’s match and to replenish expenditures from the corpus. It is hoped that the funds will contribute to the speed and quality of emergency assistance in several ways: by increasing the scope for emergency preparedness, including stockpiling of medicines and commodities; by enabling a very rapid response to crises, given that mortality rates are often exceptionally high during the first few days of mass flight; and by ensuring that organizations—such as these—with a strong commitment to the quality of their work are well-positioned to obtain large-scale funding when the crisis gains public attention.

Public Education and Policy Analysis

Although the Foundation’s program has not emphasized the production and dissemination of policy research, support has been provided to five key organizations: the US Committee for Refugees (USCR), Refugees International, the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, and the Council on Foreign Relations. These organizations provide information on refugees to policymakers, the press, and the general public, and conduct policy analysis on refugee crises and humanitarian assistance. USCR is the main source of refugee statistics; both USCR and Refugees International identify emerging refugee crises and provide early field reports aimed at mobilizing humanitarian organizations and donors to give appropriate assistance; the Women’s Commission investigates and draws attention to the special needs of refugee women and children; the Lawyers Committee provides analysis and training on the practical application to displaced populations of the various international laws and agreements that deal with human rights, refugees, and humanitarian assistance; and the Council on Foreign Relations is instrumental in drawing attention to, and encouraging analysis of, refugee crises among policymakers and other influential groups.

Future Directions in both the Population and Refugee Programs

The annual report provides an ideal opportunity to signal the Foundation’s future directions in both programs. A number of major changes are planned.

First, the Foundation intends, in the near future, to disengage from the fields of reproductive biology and contraceptive development. Since 1977, the program has consistently provided support to junior investigators in reproductive biology at university centers and to key contraceptive development programs, such as the Population Council’s International Committee for Contraception Research, and the CONRAD Program’s Consortium for Industrial Collaboration in Contraceptive Research. Given the great expansion of these fields since 1977, and the many other opportunities for grantmaking with which the Foundation is now confronted, we have concluded that support for biomedical fields is best undertaken by foundations that have this as their major focus, or are willing to appoint dedicated staff with a biomedical background. This Foundation’s comparative advantage lies elsewhere—in fields that draw on our traditional expertise and interest in the humanities and social sciences. (Note 8)

The Foundation’s demography program has recently undergone a major shift in emphasis. The previous program focused substantively on the determinants of fertility in developing countries. The new program (the first awards were made to nine centers in March this year) will focus on urbanization and internal migration in developing countries, and life in urban settings with poor infrastructure. It will provide support for activities similar to those in the past program: dissertation fieldwork, postdoctoral fellowships, seed money for faculty research, and collaboration with centers in developing countries.

In the refugee program, we expect to continue the current directions—namely, building university-based applied research and training centers, and bringing together academics and practitioners to conduct research in significant areas of humanitarian policy and practice. We do not expect to add large numbers of new institutions to the program, nor do we expect to tackle new substantive fields. Rather, our approach will be to deepen, extend, and improve research and training in the areas already selected. The one exception to this general intention is the area of refugee education and training in which we hope to develop a program in the near future.

Over time, it seems likely that the distinction between the population and refugee programs will become increasingly blurred. The Foundation is seeking to engage demographers in the study of forced migration: the estimation of stocks and flows of forced migrants and of their characteristics, and research on the causes and consequences of forced migration and on its historical as well as current manifestations. And in many developing regions, especially sub-Saharan Africa, mass migrations—whether forced or not—are likely to have a profound effect on the prospects for economic and social development.

We plan to continue, or develop, initiatives that will be common to both fields: programs to encourage greater minority participation in demography and humanitarian assistance; support to encourage greater use of information technology in research and teaching, especially for the benefit of institutions in developing countries; awards to US universities and practitioner organizations to strengthen counterpart organizations overseas; and support for research and training networks that would bring together grantee organizations around substantive themes (for example, urbanization in sub-Saharan Africa, or psychosocial programs for displaced populations) or shared training goals (for example, analysis of census data in Africa, or training of practitioners on the international legal framework governing refugees and humanitarian assistance).

Concluding Remarks

Refugee flows—and the civil and ethnic conflicts that cause them—are likely to remain among the most severe and intractable problems faced by the international community.  The ultimate challenge is to identify those aspects of the causes of refugee flows that may lend themselves to feasible and effective policy interventions.  A more modest—but important—goal is to learn how best to assist those forcibly displaced, both in the immediate aftermath of the crisis, and in laying the groundwork for an enduring solution.  We hope the Foundation’s forced migration program will continue to contribute to this endeavor.


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