In the current environment of rapidly expanded government-led social protection (SP) schemes, coverage of the most vulnerable has been a key discussion point especially in the SP and humanitarian cash transfers space. Seen as primarily a ‘humanitarian’ caseload, forcibly displaced have different underlying legal frameworks (and sets of dividends) with real consequences on their ability to access social protection systems.

With two-thirds of the forcibly displaced populations in protracted situations, the webinar (Missed) Opportunities? COVID-19 as an accelerator or blocker in inclusion of forcibly displaced in linking social protection and humanitarian cash transfers took place on June 18, 2020, and aimed to present an overall vision of inclusion in social protection systems via humanitarian and development efforts, where COVID-19 is being considered an additional accelerator, blocker or opening up new opportunities for inclusion. 

The presenters discussed cases from Mauritania, the Republic of Congo, and Brazil, explored funding mechanisms and started to look ahead from social assistance to possible labour market interventions that deploy the use of cash. Based on the framework presented in an earlier webinar on 16 June, this event brought in examples of other agencies and more in-depth exploration of linkages to social protection systems.

This event was organised by UNICEF, IFRC and DFID, in collaboration with the UNHCR. The discussion was moderated by Zehra Rizvi, with guest speakers Mamadou Dian Balde (UNHCR), Ferdila Ouattara (UNHCR Republic of Congo) and Thais Braga (AVSI Brazil).


You can watch the full recording and access the presentation slides.


COVID-19 Social Protection responses for the forcibly displaced

Mamadou started his presentation by sharing a global overview of forcibly displaced persons. Latest UNCHR data shows that more than 1% of humanity are forcibly displaced, and with millions not being able to return to home or integrate locally. In addition, more than three-quarters of refugees are in a situation of long-term displacement. Ensuring inclusion and self-reliance of displaced persons is, therefore, more crucial than ever if countries are to achieve Sustainable Development Goals and Leave No One Behind commitments.

Refugees and displaced persons are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic both in terms of health and socio-economic impacts. In the Americas, for instance, over 80% of the UNHCR people-of-concern live in urban areas and many have lost their jobs due to the outbreak and measures to contain the pandemic. Similar patterns are observed in countries and regions that host large numbers of refugees such as Lebanon and Jordan, and Eastern and Southern Africa. To ensure that displaced persons are protected against COVID-19-induced shocks, and that responses to the crisis accelerate the inclusion of forcibly displaced persons, three key measures need to be taken, building on the pre-COVID efforts, such as the New York Declaration and World Bank IDA18 Sub-Window for refugees and host communities:

  • Key Measure 1: Flexible enrolment/registration processes to access benefits: For instance, in Portugal and several other countries, refugees with valid documentation (e.g. status of asylum seekers) are now able to access social protection benefits temporarily.
  • Key Measure 2: Social assistance to meet basic needs and reduce protection risks: In Mauritania, the government has provided two rounds of cash support to refugee-hosting areas, and a top-up for food-insecure areas. UNHCR covered the gaps by providing additional support to around 2,500 households. 
  • Key Measure 3: Livelihoods and labour market support to boost income and self-reliance: For instance, refugees who are part of the MADE 51 programme – which supports and promotes products made by refugees – produced and supplied face masks and soap to their local communities in Cameroon.

With these measures, governments can help turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity to accelerate the inclusion of refugees and displaced persons.


Case study: Republic of Congo

Ferdila presented the case of how refugees were able to get included in the Lisungi safety net programme in the Republic of Congo (RoC).  She started by providing background: RoC has been hosting refugees from neighbouring countries since the 1970s, and with many of them settling in the country, and reduced support from the international community, a strong need to strengthen national and local solutions to respond to the needs of displaced persons emerged.

In 2016, UNHCR started working together with the World Bank, as part of the assistance provided under the sub-window. Together they identified Lisungi as a key programme that can provide concrete support to refugee populations and planned to expand it to the Northern part of the country. The preparation phase lasted from 2017-2019, with a plan to start the implementation in 2020. The pandemic, unfortunately, has postponed this process, but Ferdila noted that the government is already responding to the crisis through providing emergency cash assistance to affected communities, which automatically included refugee populations and asylum seekers - thanks to the preparation work done in the past two years. Building on this, UNCHR will continue working with the government and the World Bank to scale up the Lisungi cash transfer programme, to improve access to education, health and livelihood opportunities for refugee communities.


Case study: Brazil

Following Ferdila’s presentation, Thais provided her insights based on the experience of AVSI in Brazil. AVSI has been partnering with UNCHR since 2018, to support the Venezuelan refugee population in the state of Roraima, in the north of Brazil. Within a few days of arriving in Brazil, refugees are provided documentation that gives access to many of the services granted to citizens (including social protection). As COVID-19 hit, the government has expanded existing social protection programmes, such as Bolsa Familia which already covers refugee populations, through easing eligibility requirements and providing top-ups to current and new beneficiaries. This illustrates the critical importance of well-designed and responsive social protection systems in cushioning the impact of large-scale shocks on vulnerable populations. Thais noted that AVIS, UNHCR and partners are advocating for the inclusion of refugees and migrants through raising awareness of their needs and situations, supporting access to documentations, and improving access to employment opportunities to protect them against the medium and long term economic impacts of the pandemic.


The webinar concluded with a rich Q&A session, accessible here. You can also join the Q&A discussion here. 


This blog post is part of the Linking Social Protection with humanitarian cash webinar series, which brings together the summaries of webinars organized by IFRC, UNICEF and DFID on the topic. To set the scene, don’t forget to watch the foundational webinar on this topic: Demystifying the entry points for humanitarians. If you have any thoughts on this webinar summary or the whole series, we would love to hear from you. Please add your comments below! 

This is was also part of the “Social protection responses to COVID-19” webinar series. The series is a joint effort initiated by the IPC-IGGIZ, and DFAT in collaboration with the platform, and in cooperation with partners from different organisations. Join our online community ''Social protection responses to COVID-19 [Task force]'' to learn more about the initiative and the future webinars.

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • All programmes - General
Social Protection Topics: 
  • Governance
  • Social protection systems
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Disasters and crisis
  • Social inclusion
  • Global
  • Republic of the Congo
  • Brazil
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not's