Vulnerability and Refugees

Vulnerability and refugees

Refugees can often be thought of in a singular category as ‘just’ refugees. This can affect how their protection needs are addressed by relevant agencies. We need to rethink how we categorise refugees in order to fully understand the breadth of challenges they face.

Firstly, the vulnerability of refugees can be related to their reasons for leaving their countries of origin. For example, conflict. According to Pia Oberoi, where the refugee could face poverty, vulnerability is linked to a lack of access to the fundamental human rights which ordinary citizens in the host country have, such as Education, health care system, food and water.

Refugees who are new to their host countries find it difficult to get decent work to assist their families with. This can be due to not having the right connections or not being able to speak the language of their host country and so on as explained here by Pia Oberai, ‘Vulnerability related to the reasons for leaving countries of origin: The drivers for ‘non-voluntary’ precarious movement are multiple and often intertwined. They include poverty, discrimination; lack of access to fundamental human rights, including education, health, food and water, and decent work.’(2016).

In addition, as, Alula Pankhurst points out in his book Vulnerable Groups, any refugee who arrives in the host country with no money or possessions and asking for help and assistance should be considered as Vulnerable; ‘refugees arrive in their host country with a bare minimum of possessions, in this respect every refugee can be classified as vulnerable.’ (1984). This drives home the point that these people are in need of assistance for two reasons. One due to their situation as refugees, and secondly because their circumstances lead them to be considered as ‘vulnerable’ as well.

Refugees often go suffer through harsh conditions during the asylum seeking process and can be subject to abuse or exploitation by smugglers. The asylum seeking journey can be dangerous especially when there is deprivation of water or food or even a lack of medical care in transit countries. All of these harsh conditions allow us to classify refugees as a vulnerable group.

Understanding the vulnerability of refugees is crucial for responding efficiently to their protection needs. By rethinking and redefining the ‘boxes’ we put refugees in we can not only improve the response to their needs but also gain a fuller understanding of the humanitarian environment which they are a part of.


  • Pia Oberoi, 2016, Protecting the human rights of migrants in a time of fear.

OpenDemocracy; London [London]13 Sep 2016.

  • Alula Pankhurst, 1984, Vulnerable groups, Christ Church College Oxford, UK

Author: Kasem Khalil

Kasem is a Programs Intern at Trust

Editor: Laramie Shubber

Laramie is Director’s Assistant and Media Coordinator at Trust

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