Bringing together three studies, on Halba (Lebanon), Delhi (India), and Thessaloniki (Greece), Making Lives offers a critical perspective on self-reliance as a conceptual and programmatic framework that privileges economic aspects of refugee well-being and market-based interventions by humanitarian organisations. Economic self-reliance through employment becomes an unachievable goal for humanitarian organisations when access to the formal labour market is restricted for refugees by political and legal barriers. Therefore, humanitarian livelihoods interventions focused on self-reliance end up providing a form of distraction through leisure activities, and, at best, supporting refugees’ own coping strategies. The authors propose that, if it is to inform efforts to support the well-being of urban refugees, ‘self-reliance’ should be imagined as an abstract and perhaps ultimately unachievable status, dependent on structural changes, but to which humanitarian programmes might in some way contribute; and as multi-dimensional (not just an economic concern, but also a political, legal, social, and cultural one), multi-scalar (a challenge for individuals, households, and communities, with their mutual dependencies), and multi-temporal (dependent on conditions in the short term and long term).

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