Refugee and displacement crises | ActionAid UK

Refugee and displacement crises

rohingya refugees

Rohingya refugees making their way to displacement camps in Cox's Bazaar in Bangladesh after fleeing from Rakhine, Myanmar.

Photo: Md. Sariful Islam/ActionAid

ActionAid's approach to supporting refugees and displaced people

We support refugees and dispalced people in the immediate aftermath of a humanitarian crisis and also over an extended period of time to help them rebuild their lives. 

In the short-term we provide humanitarian aid, including food, safe drinking water, shelter and hygiene kits that contain clean underwear, soap and sanitary protection. At displacement and refugee camps we set up safe spaces for women where they can breastfeed in private, seek counselling and access emotional support. We also set up Watch committees to monitor and prevent violence against women. We also provide cash transfers to empower women to decide and buy what they need the most.

In the long term, we help to rebuild communities and strengthen their resilience. For example, ActionAid trains women in leadership skills and disaster preparedness so that they are better equipped to lead their communities in times of crises.

Displacement and climate change

Increasing threats to food security and damage from weather-related disasters forces people to leave their homes and look for refuge elsewhere.

Climate-induced displacement occurs when rising temperatures cause sudden-onset, extreme weather-events such as floods and cyclones or influence long-term, slower-onset environmental changes such as droughts. 

These in turn affect natural resources such as availability of water and farming land for the world's poorest people, threatening their safety, food security and livelihoods.9

However, the majority of the climate-related displacement is internal, with those affected remaining within their countries.10 Of the 28 million people who were internally displaced in 2018, 16.1 million relocated due to weather-related disasters such as extreme storms, floods and droughts.11

Migration caused by climate change occurs in a wider context, howeverwith pre-existing socio-economic and local governance exacerbating people's movements.

For example, climate change may impact the availability of resources which may lead to conflict or violence causing further dispersement of people.12 

Conversely, those who have moved due to conflict or persecution may end up in regions that are climate change 'hotspots' and may suffer from secondary displacement.13

Displacement of women and girls due to climate change

Future climate-related disasters are inevitable14 and will drive women and girls away from their homes. 20 million of the 26 million people currently estimated to be displaced by climate change, are women.23 

Women and girls are at an increased risk when disaster strikes.

  • Women and girls are more likely to miss out on educational opportunities when they are displaced
  • They are more likely to experience loss of income and livelihood.
  • They are more vulnerable to violence, early marriage, adolescent pregnancy, rape and trafficking.15 

Furthermore, displacement affects social support networks and community ties that are valuable to women and girls.16 

Some women are reluctant to move to camps and shelters due to fear of violence and may risk staying in their disaster-prone regions.17

  • 9.
  • 10.
  • 11.
  • 12.
  • 13.
  • 14.
  • 23.
  • 15.
  • 16.
  • 17.

Climate-related displacement 

Internally displaced people in Somaliland

A severe lack of rain since 2011 has created and worsened the drought in Somaliland. Families and communities have been forced to leave their homes in search of food and water as crops are failing and livestock are dying. 

There are 1.1 million internally displaced people in the region of Somaliland.

This climate crisis is affecting women and girls the hardest. Due to gender expectations, women and men in different contexts are forced to migrate for work or to displacement camps. In settings where it is dangerous for women and girls to travel on their own, this exacerbates their anxieties and risks of experiencing violence.

In the oppressive heat, with little protection from the sun, some women and girls prioritise the health of men and children, leaving themselves exposed to severe health consequences. There is limited, basic food and no toilets. Water is difficult to access, and every night girls go to sleep fearing an attack by strangers and wild animals.

ActionAid's work to support internally displaced people in Somaliland

ActionAid has had a long-term presence in Somaliland to help relieve the effects of climate-induced events. 

In 2017, ActionAid reached over 232,000 people through our drought response in East Africa.

In 2019 ActionAid is working closely with women and girls in the displacement camps. 

  • We are providing cash transfers which women are using to buy food, water and medicine for their families.
  • We are also providing survival kits which contain clothes, underwear, soap, torches, baby lotion and whistles. We have distributed 800 women’s survival kits in total so far. 
  • We have helped set up one women’s coalition in each camp, where women are trained in leadership skills and given opportunities to identify their greatest needs.
  • There are also plans to train women and girls in livelihood skills, to help them earn an income and gain financial independence. 

We are putting women at the forefront of our response because we know that women are resourceful and play a critical role in the survival of their families. They bring strong knowledge of their communities and are often best-placed to identify the needs of their communities during crises. 

Conflict-related displacement

The Syrian refugee crisis

The war in Syria, which started in 2011, has claimed over 400,000 lives and injured more than 1 million people.

Violence and horrific human rights abuses, deepening poverty and the destruction of healthcare and education services has forced millions21 to cross treacherous waters and travel hundreds of miles in search of safety for themselves and their families.  

As a result of this brutal conflict, 6.3 million people have been internally displaced and almost 4 million people are registered as refugees abroad, making this the biggest displacement crisis in the world. 

The majority of refugees who have fled Syria are living in neighbouring countries, including more than a million registered Syrians in Lebanon and 660,000 in Jordan.

  • 21.

Girls are 2.5 times more likely to drop out of school in conflict-affected countries than those in conflict free countries.18

17 m
More than 17m girls have been displaced from their homes.19

1 in 5
1 in 5 refugees or displaced women are estimated to have experienced sexual violence.20

  • 18.
  • 19.
  • 20.

ActionAid's work to support refugees in Jordan and Lebanon

ActionAid Arab Regional Initative works with women's groups in Jordan and Lebanon to support both refugee women and local women. 

These groups focus on ensuring women have economic independence through establishing a weekly market for goods produced by women, helping them set up small businesses, and also provide gym facilities so that women are able to exercise. They have also received training in how to tackle and report violence agaisnt women from our local partner NGOs.

ActionAid’s work in refugee camps in Athens

ActionAid Greece started responding to the refugee crisis in September 2015 on the island of Lesvos, providing women friendly spaces and supporting some of the most vulnerable women and children in the refugee camps of Moira and Kara Tepe. 

In the women friendly spaces, women were able to breastfeed in private, change their clothes, access hygiene kits including soap and sanitary towels, and get information in their own language from our cultural mediators

The EU-Turkey deal

In March 2016, European leaders struck a deal with Turkey that meant refugees arriving in Greece would be sent back to Turkey if they did not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected. As a result, border control was tightened and many of the refugee camps in Greece became closed camps.

ActionAid Greece responded by changing their focus from people on the move, to vulnerable people who would remain in Greece. Our teams in the camps of Schisto and Skaramaga in Athens provided pyschosocial support, information to refugee women about their rights in Greece and the EU, and they also run activities that the women requested, from learning English to keep-fit classes. 


Page updated 13 August 2020