Seyfert et al (2019) Unbundled: A Framework for Connecting Safety Nets and Humanitarian Assistance in Refugee Settings

In this World Bank discussion paper, Seyfert et al. present a typology of options for linking social assistance and humanitarian systems specifically in refugee contexts. Their typology is a modified version of the options popularised by the OPM-led research on shock-responsive social protection, with the earlier options of Design Tweaks, Horizontal and Vertical Expansion grouped into a ‘national systems led’ category and an additional option of an entirely standalone or ‘parallel system’ humanitarian response. They emphasise that the four resulting options (parallel, alignment, piggybacking and national systems led) are not mutually exclusive. Instead of framing the humanitarian-social protection links as an 'either-or' choice, their proposed framework includes a more granular analysis of how collaborations may emerge around select programmatic 'functions', as well as the 'degrees' of possible connections between national and international support within a given function. It recognises that a national systems-led approach might be used with regards to certain aspects of delivery (e.g. the governance and payments systems), while piggybacking in other aspects (e.g. outreach and registration) and maintaining a parallel system for other elements (e.g. targeting and protection).

While still work in progress, such a 'pick and mix' approach is useful to help unstuck the debate on if and how to connect humanitarian assistance for refugees with national social protection systems. As the authors note, this debate can elicit polarizing views. It is not unusual to observe country-level approaches getting somewhat ‘stuck’ – especially where refugees represent a sizable share of the population: from a donor perspective, the question is how can governments be persuaded to be more inclusive; from a government standpoint, it faces disproportionate political and economic risks from “being left with the bill”; and from the international humanitarian agencies viewpoint, there might be quandaries on how to reconcile commitments to neutrality and independence with those to respecting the primary responsibility of governments. The framework laid out in this paper attempts to facilitate the identification of workable pathways for progress among actors.

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