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Dignity in displacement: from rhetoric to reality

Dignity is a key concept in humanitarian action. It is referred to frequently as an outcome in humanitarian documents across all programmes and sectors, and featured in the United Nations Secretary-General’s Report for the World Humanitarian Summit which stated that ‘preserving the humanity and dignity of affected people in all circumstances must drive our individual and collective action’.

However, there is a dearth of literature analysing whether humanitarian interventions really do uphold and further – or indeed detract from – the dignity of crisis-affected people in displacement. Despite international norms and agreements, 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.

This project aims to investigate if, and in what ways, dignity has historically been promoted in responses to displacement. It will explore how responses have differed between international and local responders, and showcase different examples of the ways dignity has been achieved or not in displacement contexts to draw out key lessons from both. 

To do this, this project considers the following questions:

  • How has the concept of dignity been understood within the humanitarian sector?
  • How far, and in what ways, have international responses to displacement promoted dignity during programme implementation?
  • How far, and in what ways, have locally-led responses to displacement promoted dignity during programme implementation?
  • What are the implications of the findings of this study for programme design and implementation?

For more information about the project, see the HPG Integrated Programme 2017-19 proposal.


Irina Mosel, Francesca Grandi, Kerrie Holloway, Simon Levine, Margie Buchanan-Smith, Lilianne Fan and Kholoud Mansour

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