June 20, 2011 — As World Refugee Day draws attention to the plight of nearly 50 million displaced people, international donors need to continue to strengthen local organizations to handle the ongoing needs of individuals affected by civil unrest and other forces, Counterpart International says.

“In-country organizations are ideally positioned to help refugees and internally displaced persons. By leveraging the network of community organizations, international donors can be assured that assistance reaches people with the greatest needs,” says Joan Parker, President and CEO of Counterpart. “With additional resources and continued training, local organizations can both deliver relief then transition to rebuilding refugees’ lives and livelihoods.”

Of the 50 million displaced persons worldwide 15.4 million of those are refugees, according to the UN High Commission on Refugees. Another 27.5 million are displaced within their own countries, while the remainder are currently seeking asylum.

An even more worrying statistic is that approximately four fifths of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries, which places an additional burden on countries that are already struggling to support their own citizens.

Going home

One example where refugees are gradually returning to their homes is in the West African country of Mauritania. In 1989, then President Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya expelled black Mauritanians to neighboring Senegal due to ethnic clashes. After Taya was overthrown in 2006, newly elected President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi invited all Mauritanian refugees back into the country.

However, many Mauritanians were reluctant to return because chronic food shortages, malnutrition and drought. Some 80 percent of the country consists of barren desert.

In 2006, Counterpart began working to increase food security and improve livelihood opportunities in the Gorgol region of Mauritania using a community-based approach that have benefitted nearly 1,800 people. Activities focused on two main areas: developing agricultural production and generating income.

Counterpart has helped the villages of Tinaly, Bombiwol, Garly, Touldé M’Boma, Bowel, Civé and Gourel Goby to set up Village Development Committees. Each committee consists of eight to ten community members who have been trained in community management. These committees then distribute land and resources to returnee refugees so they can feed their families and generate income. It is funded by the U.S. State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

By February, 68 percent of returnee beneficiary households had fulfilled 100 percent of their yearly food requirements.

Along with receiving suitable land, returnee families can also obtained seeds, access to machinery, technical training and cash for work. After each harvest, families can make a seed deposit to provide for the following year’s planting season.

Counterpart also works closely with Mauritanian women’s cooperatives to encourage vegetable gardening and the commercialization of food produce. Through village development committees, women can participate in training where they learn how to market and sell the excess food they have grown. For communities who participate in rice production, each cooperative was furnished with a rice de-husker under the care of a returnee member.

By setting up and actively participating in the Village Development Committees and the women’s cooperatives, these communities can drive and sustain their own development long into the future.

These activities have been implemented through a partnership with the UNHCR, the National Agency for Support to the Refugees’ Reinsertion (ANAIR) and with the World Food Programme, which has provided nearly 90,000 tonnes of food as compensation for work done for the development of agricultural. ANAIR provided village mills to each community.

In addition to Mauritania, Counterpart has also assisted refugees in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan with vital facilities, including medical supplies, food, clothing, bedding and disaster relief packages.


Counterpart International helps people build better lives and more durable futures, community by community. For 50 years, Counterpart has been an innovator, changing the way people look at, and solve, global development challenges. Today, we are working with more than 3,500 local organizations, and more than 150,000 leaders — including women and youth — in 24 countries around the world. Learn more atcounterpart17.wpengine.com.

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