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Social protection

UNHCR’s assistance around the world has been performing the same role as social protection for many years.

UNHCR has been implementing or contributing to activities that replicate or support national programmes for newly-arrived populations in emergencies and for populations in situations of protracted displacement.

However, most refugees are in protracted situations and a small percentage of those are realizing durable solutions. Therefore inclusion in social protection systems, backed by international development investments, can contribute to more predictable alternatives to humanitarian assistance.

UNHCR increasingly works with governments and international actors to promote access to national social protection systems for forcibly displaced and host populations. 

Social protection is a set of Government-led policies and programmes aimed at preventing or protecting all people against poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion throughout their life-course, with emphasis on vulnerable groups' (Social Protection Interagency Coordination Board).

The inclusion of forcibly displaced persons in Government-led social protection programmes can greatly contribute to the improvement of protection and solutions outcomes, particularly in situations of protracted displacement.

UNHCR's role in social protection

UNHCR works to support national protection and solutions strategies by:

  • progressively aligning UNHCR assistance with social protection programmes and setting up referral processes that prepare and accompany the inclusion of forcibly displaced people in national systems
  • helping governments, humanitarian and development actors to strengthen national social protection systems and support inclusion of displaced persons – where conditions allow;
  • leveraging national systems for emergency preparedness and response (including shock-responsive social protection) to scale-up assistance for newly arrived populations and manage the impact of disasters on people in protracted displacement
  • ensuring coordinated and coherent action by all actors across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus in support of government-led transition action plans
  • ensuring continued relevant support where governments cannot fully meet the needs of forcibly displaced persons.

How UNHCR supports national social protection systems

UNHCR Country Operations are working to align and link their activities to government social protection programmes, supporting the following actions where relevant and feasible:

  • Feasibility of inclusion in social protection systems – UNHCR assesses the capacities and gaps of national social protection systems, identifying the status of legal and effective access to social protection by forcibly displaced people, conducts data collection, analysis and modelling for inclusion in social registries and eligibility determination processes, determining the scope for alignment with and inclusion in national social protection systems
  • Support to the inclusion in government social protection programmes – UNHCR helps to adjust programme design to the needs of refugees, strengthens capacity of government and international agencies’ country teams, facilitates transition action plans and referral processes (including meeting identification criteria) and helps to monitor the protection environment and the impacts of inclusion on displaced people.
  • Alignment and transition from cash-based interventions to social assistance – UNHCR sets up transitional safety nets for forcibly displaced people who fall behind; aligns Cash-Based Interventions (CBI) with government social assistance programmes, and promotes the use of CBI to mitigate the impacts of shocks, maintain assets and promote self-reliance; works with regulators and Central Banks to enable refugees and others of concern access to mobile connections, bank accounts or mobile money wallets.
  • Access to national health insurance schemes – As part of an overall approach to promote Universal Health Coverage, UNHCR works with the ILO to identify opportunities for inclusion of refugees in national social health protection schemes, assess their capacity to contribute to their healthcare costs on par with nationals of similar socio-economic status, and catalyze support for additional financing for inclusion of refugees through donor and/or development agency support if domestic capacity is not possible.

Further resources on external websites