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Housing, Land and Property (HLP)

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Key points
  • Encourage local authorities to take measures to ensure that displacement does not cause the loss or destruction of land and property registries, cadastral records or personal documents that can prove ownership or rights of tenancy or use
  • The land tenure arrangement(s) within a given locality should be clearly understood before land is utilized for emergency shelter or associated activities (e.g., for livelihoods, etc.). Different types of land tenure systems (statutory, customary and religious) may overlap and/or conflict with each other
  • Traditional justice mechanisms should be utilized to the extent that they are accessible and effective at resolving disputes promptly and reliably – this of course is with the understanding that their decisions may not be legally enforceable or entirely impartial. Applying them in the wrong contexts could perpetuate or instigate discrimination
  • Consideration should always be given to the local experiences of men, women, boys and girls with respect to housing, land and property. In many localities and traditions, women’s access to housing and land is often subject to the authority of a male relative, while female-headed households may either be restricted from accruing the full range of rights otherwise ascribed to male counterparts or may be prohibited from inheritance altogether
  • HLP information should be collected as early as possible. Attention should be given to customary and statutory land regimes (including laws and local customs); occupations or contested land claims tied to return; and HLP assets that forcibly displaced persons may have lost or been forced to abandon

Post emergency phase

HLP issues can be root causes, triggers or effects of violence or conflict. In most emergencies, respect for HLP rights deteriorates quickly, delaying and complicating responses and solutions. Actors involved in an emergency response should be aware of local HLP practices and history (in both the area of origin and the area of refuge) in order to avoid doing harm. They should look for HLP solutions from the start.

In many situations, ensuring that forcibly displaced persons have access to shelter and land facilitates humanitarian action – whether by way of feeding themselves over the short and medium term or becoming self-reliant over the longer term.

Providing assistance without taking account of HLP rights can prevent or delay solutions. For example, a response can address issues of restitution, compensation and occupation more easily in the early recovery phase if it has already documented temporary tenure arrangements, abandoned HLP and violations of HLP rights during the emergency phase.

Responses to emergencies affect local land tenure and settlement arrangements. If humanitarian actors are aware of HLP issues in the emergency response phase, they are less likely to inadvertently cause or worsen HLP-related disputes. (To illustrate, disputes are likely to arise if local authorities allocate privately-owned land for use as camps without consulting or properly compensating the owners.)

Protecting HLP rights can promote gender equality and can ground cultural identity in societies in which the custodianship of land is intimately associated with a community's identity, religion, and social relationships. 

The objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees emphasize alternatives to camps, self-reliance and access to national systems – in the context of safe and dignified returns and easing the pressure on host countries – thereby placing HLP rights at the center of the solutions agenda.

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