Photo by Sam Tarling for Caritas, used with permission

Meeting the Challenges of the World’s Refugee Crisis: Policy Brief

Photo by Sam Tarling for Caritas, used with permission

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Executive Summary


More than 65 million people are displaced globally, outpacing the international community’s ability to respond. Violence and instability around the globe have led to millions of individuals fleeing for their lives. Not only are more people displaced today, but they are displaced for longer, with the average duration of protracted refugee situations at the end of 2014 being about 25 years.1 Refugees also increasingly live in host communities rather than refugee camps, with 60 percent living in urban settings.2 Host communities are primarily in developing regions, balancing the needs of their own people with those of the displaced living among them.

We need to make changes to the way we respond to the changing landscape of the displaced, particularly refugees. The current humanitarian system and legal frameworks around refugees and migrants were created to respond to needs in the aftermath of World War II. Humanitarian response, including to the displaced, is generally designed to be lifesaving, providing basic necessities of food, water, shelter and sanitation—intrinsically short-term in scope. While the humanitarian system has seen improvements with the creation of the U.N. cluster system and consolidated funding mechanisms, among other changes, we are now at another point of inflection, as the humanitarian community attempts to respond to the significant challenges before us.

Following May’s World Humanitarian Summit, two summits to tackle the issue of refugees will take place in September around the U.N. General Assembly. These summits will examine what systematic changes need to be made. Among the desired outcomes are pledges from host countries regarding education, livelihoods and resettlement that could provide longer-term solutions for the multitude of refugees.

Against this backdrop, CRS make the following recommendations:

To the U.S. government

  1. Design and fund humanitarian interventions that integrate refugees over the long term.
  2. Engage development actors.
  3. Bring market-based assistance to scale.
  4. Engage local actors as the norm.
  5. Boldly engage political solutions to end conflicts and other root causes of displacement.

To the United States and International Community:

  1. Recognize and respond to the needs of all vulnerable people, regardless of their legal status.
  2. Refocus the global humanitarian system to the local.


    1 UNHCR Global Trends: Forced Displacement 2014, p 11.
    2 UNHCR webpage.