Background guide

Ockenden International believes that all refugees and displaced people have a right to live with dignity and to be supported in seeking to achieve self-reliance. We recognise that self-reliance can be promoted in many different ways and we seek to make our support similarly flexible. Ockenden’s resources are deployed in two key ways:

  • The Ockenden Prizes Ockenden seeks to support locally-based and/or refugee-led organisations that work directly with refugees and displaced people to advance self-reliance. Small-scale local organisations have the ability to be agile, well-targeted and highly cost-efficient. However, external funding can be hard to access, and is often tied to a particular project. Refugee experiences are varied and complex, so Ockenden seeks to allow prize-winners to direct the award according to their own priorities rather than ours. The prizes are unrestricted grants and will be awarded on the basis of initiatives that promote self-reliance among refugees and/or displaced people, with measurable evidence of outcomes that have led to real improvement in the lives of refugees or displaced people. Sound financial governance will also be a factor.
  • The Joyce Pearce Junior Research Fellowship Ockenden sponsors the Fellowship in partnership with the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre and Lady Margaret Hall. The aim is to support research, expand expertise in refugee studies and enhance the international understanding of refugee self-reliance. In this way Ockenden can, in a small way, act locally and think globally.

Ockenden’s history of supporting self-reliance

Ockenden International has been through many phases in its long history. It has been a major refugee reception agency and played a leading role in the UK‘s Vietnamese reception programme. From the late 1990’s, Ockenden built its purpose around overseas work and long-term responses. Thus the focus of the organisation became “self-reliance” for refugees – the term still used to guide Ockenden’s activities. However, the concept of “refugee self-reliance” requires some clarification.

Refugees and other forced migrants

Ockenden was founded to provide support to refugees.  Refugees are defined in international law as people who have crossed an international border and are unable to return to their country of origin for fear of persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group. However, this definition excludes many forced migrants, including people who have not crossed an international border and people displaced by environmental change and natural disaster. These groups may have similar experiences and needs to refugees, but are not officially recognised as refugees.

Ockenden’s scope, therefore, is not limited to those who have been formally recognised as refugees but extends to all forced migrants. Furthermore, refugee flows often have a major and long-term impact on host communities. Ockenden also recognises the importance of supporting host communities as a means of supporting displaced people.

What do we mean by ‘self-reliance’?

The term “self-reliance” suggests characteristics of self-sufficiency and independence: the ability to rely on one’s own resources and/or to make decisions for oneself. In terms of international development and refugee protection, it may also be associated with living independently of aid.

Ockenden supports a concept of self-reliance that recognises the agency, dignity and autonomy of refugees and forced migrants.  However, we also recognise that nobody is truly self-reliant. We all rely on others for support, whether that is family, faith, community, or government.  Displaced people often have particularly acute needs for support, because they have lost their previous resources. Our understanding of “refugee self-reliance” therefore recognises that displaced people are likely to have a continuing need of support from local, national and international agencies, but that this is not incompatible with the pursuit of self-reliance.

How is self-reliance achieved?

There are multiple dimensions to achieving “self-reliance”, including:

  • Skills for coping and adaptation Coping with displacement requires skills, knowledge and access to information. This might include language skills, cultural understanding of the host society, an understanding of legal and other rights and information about available sources of support. These skills and sources of information help displaced people access shelter and basic subsistence in the immediate aftermath of displacement. But they are also essential for securing employment and longer-term life opportunities in a context of protracted displacement.
  • Access to services Displaced people need access to basic services, particularly education and health care. Without these basic services, it is very difficult to achieve any further self-sufficiency or self-reliance.
  • Status, security and protection Access to refugee status determination can be an important component of promoting self-reliance, by providing a recognised status, a defined package of rights and (in some contexts) pathways to durable solutions.  More broadly, displaced populations’ capacity for self-reliance is affected by the availability of effective policing, legal aid and access to justice.

Ockenden considers programmes in any of these areas to be consistent with a goal of promoting self-reliance, even if the recipients of these services do not immediately become self-reliant. Other programmes consistent with promoting refugee self-reliance include the provision of skills-training, capital, access to markets and other income-generating projects.