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Between 2013 and 2015 we conducted a pilot study across four sites in Uganda:

  • Kampala, an urban context;
  • Nakivale settlement, a protracted refugee camp;
  • Kyangwali, a protracted refugee camp; and
  • Rwamwanja, an emergency refugee camp.

Working closely with refugee community leaders, we undertook a survey of over 2000 refugees across these four sites and built deep relationships of trust with the refugee communities, initially through community leaders in the Somali, Congolese, Rwandan, and South Sudanese communities.

This research pioneered our participatory approach based on training refugees as peer researchers and enumerators to build and develop an in-country research team. This comprised of three Ugandan research coordinators and 42 refugee researchers, to whom we provided employment and research methods training. We also developed strong in-country collaborations with UNHCR, the Government of Uganda, and Makerere University.

On World Refugee Day in 2014, we published our initial findings in a report, Refugee Economies: Rethinking Popular Assumptions. The report draws upon our qualitative and quantitative data to challenge five common myths that refugee economies are: isolated, a burden, homogenous, technologically illiterate; dependent on humanitarian assistance. Click here to learn how our initial research brought significant international attention to the ‘Ugandan model’, and led to notable impact on policy and practice. 

This research was published most notably in a book-length study entitled Refugee Economies: Forced Displacement and Development (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

In 2018, we returned to Uganda to undertake follow-up research as part of the new Refugee Economies Programme. This time, we decided to focus on both refugees and hosts, and to focus on just Kampala and Nakivale.

Drawing upon quantitative and qualitative research, including a survey of over 8,000 refugees and host community members in urban and camp contexts, we identified four major advantages to Uganda’s regulatory framework: greater mobility, lower transaction costs for economic activity, higher incomes, and more sustainable sources of employment.

Nevertheless, our research revealed some important limitations to Uganda’s assistance model, notably in relation to the viability of its land allocation model in rural settlements, the inadequacy of access to education in the settlements, and the ineffectiveness of urban assistance. It highlighted the need to avoid overly-romanticising the ‘success’ of the Ugandan self-reliance model.

The initial findings of this research can be found in: Refugee Economies in Uganda: What Difference Does the Self-Reliance Model Make?