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The report is one of the very first studies on the economic life of refugees and fundamentally challenges existing models of refugee assistance.

The concept of ‘refugee economies’ is used to represent the entire resource allocation system relating to a refugee economy. It looks at refugees’ economic lives holistically and from the standpoint of the people themselves. This report is based on participatory mixed methods, including 1,593 surveys with refugees in Uganda (Nakivale and Kyangwali settlements, and Kampala). Uganda is one of the few refugee-hosting countries in Africa that allows refugees the right to work and freedom of movement. However, it has wider implications for the emerging refugee crises around the world. 

Market in Nakivale. Credit: N. Omata

Far from being uniformly dependent, refugees are part of complex and vibrant economic systems. They are often entrepreneurial and, if given the opportunity can help themselves and their communities, as well as contributing to the host economy. This report challenges five popular myths about refugees’ economic lives. It contests common assumptions that refugee economies are:

  • Isolated;
  • A burden;
  • Homogenous;
  • Technologically illiterate; and
  • Dependant on humanitarian assistance.

The data shows that refugees are networked within settlements, nationally, and transnationally; often make a positive contribution to the host state economy; are economically diverse and have significant level of internal inequality; are users and, in some cases, creators of technology; and are often more dependent on social relationships than humanitarian assistance, with many creating sustainable livelihood opportunities for themselves.