Refugee Rights News



IRRI Calls for Freedom of Movement for all Refugees

On the 3rd of October, IRRI launched its “Freedom of Movement”  campaign to support refugees in their right to choose where they both travel and live, as guaranteed under Article 26 of the 1951 Convention, and to encourage implementation of the recently released policy from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees’ (UNHCR) on alternatives to refugee camps.

For over a decade, IRRI has criticised the encampment of refugees and asylum seekers as a curtailment of their right to freedom of movement and an obstacle to successful and durable solutions. Underscored by a significant body of research on the negative effects of refugee encampment, the evidence against encampment cannot be over-emphasised. Refugee camps and/or settlements reinforce the marginalisation and exclusion of refugees and asylum seekers, restricting them to environments that are basic, insecure, physically and psychologically unhealthy, and marked by deprivation.

IRRI believes that freedom of movement for refugees and asylum seekers is a central pillar in the effort to leverage alternatives to camps. Where the encampment policy is strictly enforced, refugees and asylum seekers are denied freedom of movement, in contravention of Article 26 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and in many cases in contravention of regional and national law. This restriction on movement undermines livelihood systems, economic and educational opportunities, and family and social networks, and reinforces long term dependence on humanitarian assistance. This increases refugee vulnerability and stigmatises refugee populations.

Where refugees are able to move freely, mix with local communities and work, they are able to show that they can be an asset, rather than a burden, to host communities. Refugees and asylum seekers are best placed and able to make creative and informed decisions regarding their own lives. Far from being passive victims, refugees and asylum seekers can take control of their lives, contribute to local economies, integrate better at a local level, and benefit host countries and communities.

For decades, the UNHCR and national governments have supported refugee encampment despite overwhelming evidence that it does not facilitate durable solutions. However, this stance is finally changing: UNHCR’s recently released policy on alternatives to refugee camps recognises that the “defining characteristic of a camp… is typically some degree of limitation on the rights and freedoms of refugees and their ability to make meaningful choices about their lives.” The policy goes on to say that pursuing alternatives to camps means working to remove such restrictions so that refugees have the possibility to live with greater dignity, independence, and normality, as members of the community, either from the beginning of displacement or as soon as possible thereafter. IRRI welcomes this shift in policy and believes that the alternatives to camps policy has the potential to make a significant contribution to the realisation of refugee rights.

Initially focusing on three countries in the Great lakes region – Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda - the campaign will also provide other activists with information that can be used to start or feed into campaigns in their own countries. We encourage you to support our campaign and to push for the alternative to encampment in your own country.

For more information on how you can get involved, please contact:  or sign up for updates.


Anonymous, "In Ethiopia's Gambella region, refugee encampment policies meet a complex reality on the ground," December 2015

Sophie Chiasson, "Refugee freedom of movement restricted in Zambia," 1 November 2015.

Sophie Chiasson, "The State of Freedom of Movement for Refugees in Tanzania: An Overview," 1 September 2015.

Themba Lewis, "Zambia shouldn't make integration and freedom of movement contingent on registration with Rwandan authorities," 17 June 2015.

David Kigozi, “Refugee economies: misplaced extrapolation”, 2 June 2015.

David Kigozi, "Congolese 'Refugees' and 'Freedom of Movement' in the Kampala Urban Space," 1 May 2015.

Themba Lewis, "Anyone who thinks refugee camps are a good idea has never lived on one: The importance of recognizing refugees' right to freedom of movement." 25 March 2015.

IRRI Intern, "Changing the face of refugee protection? The Kenyan High Court affirms the right to dignity and freedom of movement of refugees," 26 February 2015.

Lucy Hovil, With camps limiting many refugees, the UNHCR’s policy change is welcome 2 October 2014.

UNHCR, Policy on Alternatives to Camps, 2014.

IRRI, "From refugee to returnee to asylum seeker: Burundian refugees struggle to find protection in the Great Lakes region - A Briefing Note," November 2013.