Working Paper by ODI.

Over the last ten years, Cameroon has admitted tens of thousands of refugees fleeing violence in the Central African Republic (CAR). Most have settled outside camps, with 70% living in rural, peri-urban and urban areas of eastern Cameroon. With an increasing gap between funding and needs and a growing crisis with Nigerian refugees in northern Cameroon, supporting CAR refugees’ self-reliance has become more urgent than ever.

This Working Paper examines the lives and livelihoods of CAR refugees, the challenges they face and the institutions, networks and individuals that shape the choices they make and the actions they take throughout their displacement.

Facilitated by a conducive legal framework and existing ties with local communities, CAR refugees in Cameroon have found an environment in which the majority feels integrated. However, many struggle to sustain themselves. From understanding their first priorities and their longer-term objectives, this study highlights the role of pre-existing networks – family, friends and trading partners – in supporting refugees in the first phase of their displacement, alongside individuals and institutions in host communities. It examines the role humanitarian actors and assistance play in refugees’ strategies to sustain themselves. By concentrating on the perspectives of refugees, the study brings out some of the less tangible challenges they face during their displacement, as skills may not be fit for purpose in their new environment and how they perceive the possibilities, risks and opportunities before them may limit their ability to achieve self-reliance.

This study is part of a two-year research programme designed to generate insights into the lives and livelihoods of refugees in protracted displacement. It adds to a growing range of evidence gathered through previous Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG) research on forced migration and livelihoods, including publications on urban displacement, protracted displacement, vulnerability and livelihoods (Crawford et al., 2015; Metcalfe et al., 2012; Haysom and Sarraj, 2012; Levine, 2014). The study is built on the assertion that efforts over many years to engage in more participatory ways with refugees have not succeeded in ensuring that interventions are planned and implemented so that they accord with their lives, perspectives and priorities.

Read the complete paper: Livelihood strategies of Central African refugees in Cameroon. Photo: Climatalk .in CC BY-NC 2.0