Beyond rights-based social protection for refugees

The use of social protection measures has garnered increasing attention in recent years from academics and policymakers aspiring to unite the humanitarian origins and development ambitions of displacement governance regimes. Much of this attention has been focused on establishing and strengthening national systems of social protection provision. Analysis of policy approaches to social protection has become increasingly detailed, but typically does not extend beyond formal rights-based provision. This article seeks to address the paucity of literature on how refugees strategise around access to social assistance beyond Northern-mandated approaches. We review existing research on Syrian displacement in Lebanon to interrogate assumptions that refugees automatically seek institutionalised assistance. Drawing on postcolonial literature, we explore why modalities of social and humanitarian assistance offered through a rights-based approach represent only a partial mapping of the social protection that refugees avail themselves of. In doing so, we signal a move beyond the narrow and restrictive binary of formal/informal and attempt to consider the range of social protection opportunities from the perspective of refugees. Though unequal, we argue that both national systems of social protection provision and alternative approaches identified by displaced people are currently necessary, although a language of rights is only applicable to the former. Ultimately, greater coordination between the two is required. In conclusion, this article describes directions for future research aimed at a holistic understanding of how social protection is accessed in displacement and a more explicit interrogation of the impact of social protection measures in displacement settings.