European Commission, UN agencies and governments to call for increased social protection for millions of people displaced by protracted crises

28 September 2017

Brussels, 28 September 2017 – A two-day conference beginning today in Brussels will focus on sharing innovative and practical solutions to meet the needs of millions of people caught up in humanitarian crises around the world.

The International Conference on Social Protection in Contexts of Fragility and Forced Displacement, will examine how direct assistance – including cash transfers and similar measures targeting the displaced – contributes to effective crisis response and helps build resilience against future emergencies. 

The global conference – hosted by the European Commission, United Nations agencies (FAO, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP) and donor governments (Germany, Finland, Sweden, UK) – takes place at a time when a mounting number of protracted crises around the world are outstripping the capacity of humanitarian action to respond effectively. 

Worldwide, in 2015, an estimated 65 million people were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or other human rights violations – an increase of almost 6 million compared to 2014. The number is projected to keep growing. According to figures from the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, the percentage of the world's poor living in fragile situations is expected to grow from 43 per cent today to 64 per cent by 2030.

“Humanitarian needs today outpace anything we have seen before, stretching our response capacity to its limit. We cannot continue to think only short-term; tackling humanitarian basic survival needs is essential but not enough. We have to act together to deliver on the promise of leaving no one behind. Social protection has the potential to achieve this. It can put the humanitarian-development nexus into practice. By working hand in hand, humanitarian and development actors can offer the most vulnerable people everywhere a perspective of hope, and a dignified future," said European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides.

The experience of recent years has shown that social protection policies can foster self-reliance and resilience in vulnerable and displaced people and can even help pre-empt crises, by reducing poverty and addressing root causes of displacement, such as food insecurity.

However, in many of the worst-affected countries, protective systems are non-existent, weak or not fully available to displaced persons. The conference will examine the best way to strengthen social protection systems in a way that also enables displaced people to both benefit from and strengthen local economies.

“It is alarming that today global inequality between people is at its highest level in history. This is why I am actively promoting employment and social inclusion to reduce inequalities, particularly between men and women." said Neven Mimica, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development.
The conference will bring together experts and aid specialists from almost 40 countries, including Afghanistan, Ecuador, Iraq, Lebanon, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Turkey and Uganda.

“There’s growing evidence that social protection – providing cash transfers and other direct assistance during emergencies – not only protects children and families during crises.  It also helps them and their communities to get back on their feet and build their futures. Social protection is especially important for families and children who have been displaced from their homes and homelands, helping them provide for their children without draining their very limited resources,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.” 

Social protection success stories include:

  • Turkey: The country hosts over 3 million refugees, nearly 1 million of them supported by the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net programme (ESSN). The ESSN, a collaboration between the UN World Food Programme and Turkish government, provides cash assistance to the most vulnerable refugee families so they can purchase the things they need – whether food, rent, school supplies or other basic necessities.
  • Iran: The Universal Public Health Insurance (UPHI) is an initiative led by the Iranian Government, supported by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the private sector (Iran Health Insurance Organization). It offers all registered refugees (an estimated 951,142 from Afghanistan and 28,268 from Iraq) the possibility to enroll and benefit from a comprehensive health insurance similar to that available to Iranians. UPHI covers hospitalisation, para-clinical and out-patient services.
  • Yemen: In 2017, the World Bank and UNICEF launched a new social protection partnership to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where conflict is endangering the lives of millions of children and families. The $200 million Emergency Cash Transfer programme will benefit approximately 1.5 million poor and vulnerable households in all 22 governorates of Yemen.

Participants in the conference will learn from the experience of European and other countries that have operated child support, maternity protection, pensions and other social protection schemes for decades. These lessons can be applied more broadly in the context of global efforts to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, as governments and the international community strengthen the link between humanitarian and development work.


Note to the Editor:

Social Protection is the set of policies and programs aimed at preventing or protecting all people against poverty, vulnerability, economic risks and social exclusion throughout their lifecycle, with a particular emphasis towards vulnerable groups.

Resilience: resilience is the ability of individuals, households, communities, national institutions and systems to prevent, absorb and recover from shocks, while continuing to function and adapt in a way that supports long-term prospects for sustainable development, peace and security, and the attainment of human rights (in UNHCR, 2017).

Global Compacts on Refugees and Migrants: the United Nations General Assembly adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants on September 19, 2016 directed at improving the way in which the international community responds to large movements of refugees and migrants, including protracted refugee situations. The Annex I to the New York Declaration sets out a comprehensive refugee response framework (CRRF), with specific actions needed to ease pressure on host countries, enhance refugee self-reliance, expand access to third-country solutions, and support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity.  The New York Declaration calls on the High Commissioner to propose a global compact on refugees in his annual report to the General Assembly in 2018. The compact will be based on the lessons drawn from the implementation of the CRRF in various refugee situations.

The conference is organized by UNICEF and the European Commission (Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations – DG ECHO, and the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development – DG DEVCO), together with key partner UN agencies and governments including: FAO, Finland, Germany, SIDA, UK aid, UNHCR, World Bank and WFP.

For more information:

Christophe Verhellen, United Nations Regional Information Centre (UNRIC), +32 475 90 63 60,

Carlos Martin Ruiz De Gordejuela, European Commission, +32 2296 53 22,

Daniel Puglisi, European Commission, +32 2 296 91 40,

Rebekka Opfermann, UNICEF Brussels, +32 492 93 37 43,

Media contacts

UNICEF Media Team
Tel: +1 212 303 7984


UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

Follow UNICEF on Twitter and Facebook