The integration and livelihood strategies of 'self-settled' refugees
: the case of Casamance refugees in The Gambia

  • Charlotte Ray

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Self-settlement is not a new concept but has been emerging over the past decade. Academic literature has varied on its definition and has often caused confusion. It has previously been related to ‘spontaneous’ settlement, undocumented migrants, IDP migration and has been blurred amongst the vast literature on local integration. Self-settlement in the context of this research concurs with later academic literature (Bakewell, Hovil, and Polzer) where refugees have greater freedom of movement and may or may not be officially registered. This research refers to refugees who have been externally displaced as a result of conflict and settle outside refugee camps and formal settlements. They negotiate the terms of their settlement directly with host communities who dictate the rate of integration and subsequent access to resources.

    The Gambia has hosted Casamance refugees fleeing from low-level civil conflict in Southern region of Senegal for nearly 30 years. It is West Africa’s longest running civil conflict. Official registration figures (although ambiguous) estimate 11,000 Casamance refugees are permanently located within 56 rural Gambian communities (WFP 2012). In this context, international legalities are clearly set out as in any other refugee situation. Casamance refugees have taken flight across an international border and until they are able to return they have been granted refugee status and protection in The Gambia under the 1951 Geneva Convention.

    However, the parameters of refugee terminology is thus confused as refugees are self-settled in host communities instead of formally settled within refugee camps. Refugee literature tends to investigate the impact of camp-based refugees have on local communities. Rarely does this literature investigate local integration through the solution of self-settlement. In addition, the historical, cultural, socio-economic and ethnic ties between The Gambia and Senegal has caused repeated mobilisation across the international border, prior to the conflict and colonialism, and this is further facilitated as the conflict escalates and subsides. As a result of increased demographic pressures, there is increased competition for community resources such as land, ii shelter, water, and natural resources which affect the sustainability of existing livelihood strategies.

    Adopting the capital assets model from the Sustainable Rural Livelihood Framework, a conceptual framework was devised to understand the integration of Casamance refugees and how they are able to access community resources. As a result, six villages were subject to environmental, socio-economic and livelihood assessments using an extensive multi-method approach over a two phase fieldwork period. This was to understand the impacts of integration, the challenges communities face, and how communities access resources to implement livelihoods.

    The results from this study indicate that there is relatively equal availability of resources for both groups. However there is differential access to resources, which is based on traditional community structures and the shared cultural heritage between host and refugee. Results also highlighted that tensions did exist between groups as a result of integration and access to resources but these were not necessarily primarily between host and refugee groups and also existed within groups. These tensions however, have been adequately mediated and resolved as a result of the traditional community structures in place within these communities.

    The thesis ultimately presents three themes of discussion from the results of this case study. Firstly, the theme of self-settlement will be revisited and argued that it can be considered a temporary and durable solution in refugee situations given an understanding of traditional community structures and common characteristics shared between host and refugee groups. Secondly, it re-engages with the SRL Framework and adapts the capital asset model for self-settled refugee situations. Finally, self-settlement will be considered in relation to various levels of policy and how it can be adapted in order to understand self-settlement and meet the demands of both host and refugee groups.
    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorHazel Barrett (Supervisor), Nigel Trodd (Supervisor) & James Bennett (Supervisor)

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