Dignity is a key concept in humanitarian action. Throughout the past two decades, the term ‘dignity’ has appeared in most humanitarian policy and programme documents and donor requirements. It has also been listed among the key project goals and used widely in advocacy campaigns. Yet, the reality is that most humanitarian agencies do not know what the affected community’s idea of dignity is, nor do they provide their own definition or evaluate if and how they are supporting in.
This is particularly apparent in responses to displacement. Despite international norms and agreements such as the recently signed New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, there are various cases where displaced people’s dignity has clearly been undermined, from the housing of refugees in camps to the conditions faced by refugees arriving in Europe.
Over two years, the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has analysed if – and in what ways – dignity has historically been promoted in responses to displacement. From the displaced Rohingya in Bangladesh, to the Syrians in Lebanon, as well as internally displaced people in Colombia, the Philippines, Afghanistan and South Sudan, the research indicates that there is often a disconnect between how humanitarian organisations and refugees perceive dignity. Where are we at with our efforts to communicate better with affected populations? Who is local in a displacement context and does it matter? How can the humanitarian community be more honest about what is feasibly achievable?
The results of this research, titled ‘Dignity and humanitarian action in displacement’ where shared at the ICRC Humanitarium, where panellists engaged in discussion around the ways that humanitarian actors could better support the affected populations’ expectations of the response.