Spatial analysis supports advocacy for refugees

Spatial analysis supports advocacy for refugees


Evie Pless, Annie Siders, Lauren Steinbaum, Aiga Stokenberga
Stanford University
United States

Assanke Koedam
Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS)

A spatial profiling of refugees in Delhi supports advocacy for these refugees by humanitarian and development actors, which can be used as an entry point to engage with policy makers on selected problems facing refugee communities


India is host to refugees from all its neighbouring countries, and in New Delhi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), assists over 24,000 urban refugees and asylum-seekers originating from Myanmar and non-neighbouring countries such as Afghanistan and Somalia.

In 2013, the Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS) and the Feinstein International Center (FIC – Tufts University, US) worked to support UNHCR and the Development and Justice Initiative (DAJI) to conduct a profiling exercise of Afghan, Somali and Myanmarese refugee households along with their Indian neighbours. The profiling was designed to supplement UNHCR’s existing knowledge with new information that will continue to more effective programming an advocacy, in particular UNHCR’s work on promoting self-reliance.

The main outcomes from the exercise were a comprehensive profiling report analyzing the main findings of the study from a livelihoods security/vulnerability perspective. In a second phase, Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS) partnered with students from Stanford University to conduct an in-depth spatial analysis in order to better identify and understand geographic patterns related to refugee livelihoods, access to services and security.

Methods used

The study used mixed research methods, including 1,063 quantitative household surveys conducted in 14 areas, 12 focus group discussions and several key informant interviews. Data collection and analysis were conducted by JIPS and FIC, with the assistance of DAJI. The exercise took a comparative approach, analysing multiple aspects of the living conditions of each of the refugee groups, and of Indian nationals residing in the same neighbours.

Afghan, Myanmarese and Somali enumerator teams helped to revise and translate the survey questionnaire and were trained in the use of mobile data collection (using Android-based phones and Open Data Kit tools). This not only improved the quality of the data collected and saved time in terms of data capture, but it also allowed to geocode the locations of all households surveyed through GPS coordinates (i.e. latitude and longitude).

Figure 1: Countries of origin of refugees and asylum-seekers,and location of surveyed households in New Delhi, India (purple area in the inset).

Students from Standord University used the geocoded profiling dataset, and complemented with community-level information of various types of services related to livelihood and physical security. Locations (vector or points) for each of the services were identified and digitized using Google Maps, and the data was converted to shapefiles on ArcGIS.Spatial analysis techniques (hotspot analysis, buffer analysis and statistical regressions) were used to assess household level livelihood security and perceptions of physical safety and compared them to infrastructure within Delhi.

Findings of the profiling exercise
The profiling exercise showed that each refugee community faced different challenges in terms of access to employment, housing and finances as well as in relation to physical safety. Refugees from Myanmar and Somalia faced the most discrimination and harassment, affecting their access to the job market and their housing security and education situation. Afghans experienced less discrimination from the local community; however they lacked the intra-community support enjoyed by the other two groups.

Contribution of geospatial analysis

Spatial analysis capabilities were added in order to better identify and understand geographic patterns related to refugee security. A Livelihood Index score was calculated for each household, based on responses covering the four key components of livelihoods (employment, housing, financial and physical security/safety). This enabled to carry out a spatial analysis of the distribution of households with high living standards (scoring high in the Livelihood Index) and low living standards (scoring low) with respect to one another, ethnicity, and proximity to public services.

Results from hotspot analysis showed that areas with high living standards (defined by the livelihood index scoring system) tended to be clustered, and that there were larger areas with highly clustered livelihood scores than areas with highly dispersed values.

Complementarily, results from buffer analysis combined with statistical regressions showed that proximity to public services (police stations, hospitals, schools, markets, and religious sites) did not significantly correlate with higher living standard, suggesting that physical distance to services may not be the most important barrier for urban refugees. Finances, lack of mobility, or discrimination may play more significant roles in living standards. Stand-alone elements of the Livelihood Index may be a better way of analysing the importance of physical access to services. For instance, refugees who live closer to police stations reported higher perceptions of safety and lower rates of assault.

Figure 2: Example service buffer of 0.5 miles around markets in western Delhi

The impact
The study served to enhance the research capacity of refugee groups by training their members in methodology, tool development and data gathering. The exercise also enabled refugee groups, who had not mixed with one another to work together, learn from each others’ experiences and build inter-community understanding.

The report provided data that compared the experiences of three refugee communities in matters such as school dropout rates, housing conditions and access to services. This information will inform programme development by identifying areas of vulnerability which can help decide how and where to allocate programme resources. The report allowed UNHCR to include the findings when planning for 2014.

The profiling information supports advocacy for refugees by humanitarian and development actors in Delhi, which can be used as an entry point to engage with policy makers on selected problems facing refugee communities.

The study demonstrated the problems faced by refugees without valid visas, which negatively affects their ability to find decent employment. The report will be shared with Indian members of parliament next year in order to contribute to the debate over whether to issue long-term visas to refugees.


  • The analysis proves beyond anecdotal evidence that refugees in Delhi face unique challenges compared to Indian citizens, and that spatial analysis can contribute to a better understanding and supporting urban refugee populations.
  • The Livelihood Index is useful as a general measure of the well-being of refugees, but in order to determine important associations and predict future outcomes, the four dimensions—employment security, housing security, financial security, and physical safety—should be consulted independently.
  • The results helped to outline recommendations for future spatial analysis, such as revising the livelihood index and developing a predictive capability for the model, suggesting further developments of UNHCR’s work in this area and ways to enhance understanding of urban refugee situations in Delhi.