Refugee-Host Relationship

Refugee-Host Relationship

Conceptual model on Environmental Conflict between Refugees and Host Communities is worth considering.[1] This work shows that influxes of refugees into an area can place considerable stress on natural resources, leading to both environmental and social impacts.

Resource demand can dramatically increase following the creation of settlements, leading to accelerated conversion of forest agricultural land, collection of firewood, extraction of surface and ground waters, fishing and hunting. That is why many case studies argue that large numbers of refugee presence place stress on fragile local resources in the reception areas and this leads to over-exploitation of common property resources such as wood, charcoal, water to mention but a few.

Refugees are increasingly perceived as burden creating recipe for bad refugee-host relationship as most refugee experiences have shown. Certainly refugees would depend on the forest to find fuel-wood for energy and building materials. This eventually leads to serious deforestation which has direct and indirect consequences for the host community.

In direct terms as her conceptualization observed, local host population had to adjust to and cope with shortages of fuel and construction wood. This imposed an extra burden on particularly women and children in the local communities who had to travel much longer distances to collect wood and water for household use at the expense of other activities such as farming or going to school.

The indirect impact on sustainability of local farming systems is equally substantial as the depletion of forest resources leads to increased soil erosion, pollution and damage to water resources of the host community. Hence, population increase, especially when it occurs suddenly and in a protracted manner like refugee situations, undoubtedly places additional stress on local resources.

The concept of “refugee-host communities as ‘Hidden Losers’”[2]  which examines the impact of rural refugees and refugee programmes on poorer hosts throws more light on this theoretical discussion. Chambers particularly identifies impacts of refugee situations on people or different groups among host population. His model argues that in rural refugee-affected areas, the better-off and more visible hosts usually gain from the presence of refugees and from refugee programmes.

In contrast, the poorer among the hosts can be hidden losers. This is more so now than in the past, especially where land is scarce and labour is relatively abundant. The poorer hosts can lose from competition for food, work, wages, services and common property resources.[3]

Development programmes in refugee-affected areas and refugee studies will therefore, do a disservice if they neglect adverse effects of refugees on vulnerable hosts. These effects further strengthen the case for development to benefit the whole population in refugee affected areas.

In general, Chambers states that, the host-refugee relationship appears to be multifaceted with those hosts who already had access to resources and power being able to exploit the refugee situation and capitalize further while the most disadvantaged hosts struggle to maintain access to the most basic resources.[4]

Burdens and Benefits of Refugees on Host

The sudden presence of refugees can bring social and economic opportunities for host communities in both negative and positive ways. For instance, the local hosts who already had access to resources, education, or power positively benefit from the refugee presence as some local hosts take advantage of changing opportunities for their own benefit, especially with increased local upsurge in business and trade.

The changing dynamics associated with refugee presence in a community also creates different impacts on host based on the socio-economic conditions, and some of the benefits and burden the presence of refugees include but not limited to:

Internal Peace and Security

The vast majority of refugee situations are found in the world’s poorest countries, which are often neglected by regional and international actors amid declining donor support. Trapped in these forgotten situations, the refugees cannot return home because of continuing violence or persecution.

Life in the refugee host communities is marred by a certain degree of personal, interpersonal and inter-group conflicts which impacts negatively social integration. Conflict occurs between refugees and their hosts as well as among refugees themselves.

Refugee-host conflict arises as a result of competition over resources as well as from socio-cultural differences. Insecurity plays a negative role in the psychology of the local host population. Conflict among refugees tends to cause anxiety and insecurity in the refugee settlements as well as the host communities.

Food Security

The influx of armed conflict refugees, which sharply shoot up the population in the community seriously, affects food security. This is due to the huge demand for the farm produce such as sweet potato, beans, maize, rice and vegetables. This refugee influx results in price increase of local food items and this obviously affects the purchasing power of the poorer hosts.

Aside the burden placed on the local hosts, with regards to price increase of food items, food crop farmers’ benefit positively from the price increases by making huge profits. Hence whereas this price situation was a negative to some hosts, it was an opportunity for those in business. This could have both short and long-term effects. The income that is accrued from the price increases in the short-term can accelerate economic growth of the area.

Public Health

The most common reported causes of death among refugees have been diarrheal diseases, respiratory infections, measles, malaria and other infectious diseases. The refugee presence in Nigeria placed a marked pressure on the insufficient health facilities and this has added more caseload to the already health challenges in the country generally. Health facilities and services in the settlements are insufficient as well as poor.

The local health personnel in their effort to accommodate an expanded number of ailing refugees in addition to host populations, medicines available to the health sector are always depleted and the health sector professionals are often over-worked. Vulnerable refugees (women, children and the aged) arrived in poor physical conditions.

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The common diseases often experienced in the settlement areas are malaria, cholera and guinea worm. Hence the host communities are faced with a big problem of diseases as a result of unsafe environmental practices. The areas are overcrowded and sanitation is very poor. Medicines are not sufficient and where they are available the people are unable to pay for the medicine. In order to get a solution to this problem majority of community members resort to traditional and herbal medicines for the treatment of common ailments.


The refugee situation also had some implications for the educational sector in Nigeria. Many educational institutions in Nigeria are already faced with serious bottlenecks including lack of text books, furniture, teachers and other educational logistics. In certain areas infrastructure is lacking and children sit under trees.

The refugee influx therefore had an added burden on the existing predicament. The arrival of large numbers of refugees in the country has impacted on the educational system. The need for refugee education, technical and vocational training places more strain on the few educational resources available including manpower for hosts communities.

The outcome of this situation is poor performance by teachers due to the enormous pressure with regards to numbers of school children. The presence of the forced migrants has also positively impacted on the communities.

It has facilitated the establishment of permanent nurseries, primary schools, Junior Secondary Schools, Senior Secondary Schools and vocational schools in the refugee settlements. There is therefore evidence that there are many refugee students in all cycles of education in Nigeria


[1]Martin Adrian, Environmental Conflict between Refugees and Host Communities. Journal of Peace Research, 42; 329, 2005, published by: SAGE Publications on behalf of International Peace Research Institute, Oslo.

[2] Chambers, Robert, ‘Hidden Losers? The Impact of Rural Refugees and Refugee Programs on Poorer Host’ [1986] (20) (2) International Migration Review, Special Issue: Refugees: Issues and Directions, pp. 245-263.

[3] Ibid

[4]  Ibid

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