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Protracted Displacement

Approximately 74 percent of refugees under the mandate of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are in protracted displacement, meaning they have been living in exile for five or more years in a given asylum country.1 UNHCR describes protracted refugee situations as those “in which refugees find themselves in a long-lasting and intractable state of limbo. Their lives may not be at risk, but their basic rights and essential economic, social and psychological needs remain unfulfilled after years in exile.”  Refugees in protracted situations are often deprived of freedom of movement, identity documentation, access to land, and legal employment.  The same challenges presented by protracted displacement can often exist for internally displaced persons (IDPs) as well, even if access to national documentation and other services may not be a primary issue. Access to durable solutions remains limited for the majority of refugees, asylum seekers, and others in need of international protection, with very few able to voluntarily return home be resettled to third countries, or integrate locally in their country of asylum.

Protracted displacement not only creates significant personal hardship on those who are displaced but can pose additional challenges for the development and poverty reduction strategies of the primarily low and middle-income countries that host refugees.  The duration of crises today therefore lends even greater urgency to the call for enhanced coherence between humanitarian and development activities, a U.S. government priority.

U.S. Government Strategy

Addressing protracted displacement by enhancing access to durable solutions and inclusion is a U.S. foreign policy goal and a humanitarian priority, in line with the objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees.  The U.S. government supports programs that address protracted displacement in every part of the world, including in the U.S.  The Department of State has sought to strengthen U.S. diplomatic engagement on these issues, improve coherence between humanitarian and development assistance for refugees, other forcibly displaced populations, and stateless persons, explore complementary pathways for qualified refugees, and offer resettlement for some of the most vulnerable refugees.  In most situations, making a positive difference means achieving durable solutions (voluntary return, local integration, or third country resettlement), or complementary pathways to resettlement, which provide additional avenues for qualified refugees to access third country solutions.

In 2023, the U.S. government launched Welcome Corps , a new private sponsorship program enabling Americans to directly sponsor refugees arriving through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).  The program aims to mobilize Americans to step forward as private sponsors and help welcome refugees from around the world.  As part of Welcome Corps, PRM also intends to establish a new labor mobility pathway pilot program for skilled refugees to enter the United States.  This program would identify skilled refugees to be referred to the USRAP, match them to employment offers, and organize private sponsor groups to support their initial resettlement in the United States.

Where solutions remain elusive, supporting protracted populations often means enhancing the protection of refugees and other populations of concern and improving their overall protection and living conditions by promoting social, legal, and economic inclusion.  Development programs and expertise can complement humanitarian efforts and facilitate refugees’ inclusion in the labor market through jobs, access to education, healthcare, social protection, and other basic rights and services.  At the community and national levels, development assistance can strengthen and expand public services, reinforce infrastructure, and grow local economies, which benefit refugees as well as host communities.  Development actors support refugees and other protracted populations through a variety of means, including technical advice and support to host government and assistance programs.

In the absence of opportunities for durable solutions, increasing the economic security and dignity of refugees, particularly through opportunities for self-reliance, is critical.  Although not the only contributors to self-reliance, employment, education, and freedom of movement play a key role in advancing self-reliance and are further described below.


Promoting the ability for refugees to support themselves and their families through access to employment in every phase of their displacement is paramount.  Economic inclusion allows refugees to: retain dignity; contribute to the economy of their host country; reduce pressure on direct aid programs; and retain, or even build, skills, that can be used in their host communities, upon return home, or in a third country.  Allowing refugees or other protracted populations to pursue livelihood activities can also improve their safety and reduce their vulnerability, enhancing overall protection.


When families flee their countries for asylum or are internally displaced, they not only leave their homes, but their schools.  Access to education is a human right and is proven to contribute to poverty reduction, peace and stability, economic growth, and better health and wellbeing for children, families, and communities. Education increases opportunities for refugee and other displaced children to contribute to the welfare of their communities, whether in their host country, country of origin, or future country of resettlement.

Freedom of Movement

Freedom of movement is enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol as well as in human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  When refugees have the ability to move freely within countries of asylum, they are more likely to be able to pursue legal work opportunities, attend school and university, and be contributing members of their host society.

[1] UNHCR (2022). Global Trends Report 2021. [back to 1]

U.S. Department of State

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