• Refugee Economics

    A story on the economic contribution refugees can bring to local host communities in Africa

Local governments, humanitarian agencies and the media often depict refugees living in protracted situations – groups of 25,000 people or more who haven’t been formally resettled – as a burden on host communities; they are said to distort local markets, put a strain on already weak governments, cause environmental degradation, live in isolation and be dependent on humanitarian assistance. But recent research and anecdotal evidence from new humanitarian programs show local populations largely benefit from the flow of aid, as well as increased consumption and new business opportunities brought by refugees.

This project seeks to portray refugees living in protracted situations as productive contributors to local host communities. This will be done by casting a light on the most recent research, showcasing individual and collective stories of economic empowerment, and discussing the future of humanitarian assistance. While putting the refugees’ stories at the forefront, with an emphasis on entrepreneurs, the project will translate complex academic research into relatable terms. We also speak with leading humanitarian organizations to hear about innovative livelihoods programs that help foster economic self-sufficiency.

Along the way, we discover that helping refugees achieve their full economic potential will involve blurring the traditional lines between humanitarian assistance and development. First we head to Uganda, where permissive laws allow refugees to seek employment and create small businesses. In Kampala, we talk to Congolese and Rwandese female hawkers who unsuspectingly contribute to international trade flows and sustain a wide range of Ugandan SMEs from which they purchase their stock. We also visit some of the new social innovation incubators that cater to the entrepreneurial spirit of refugee youth. In the Nakivale camp, we look at how refugee farmers and entrepreneurs have set up their own economic infrastructure, from investment groups to inter-regional trading centres. In both rural and urban settings, access to Internet and mobile phones plays a crucial part in economic sustainability.

Then we head to Kenya, first to Kakuma, a large camp that has become a substantial source of income for the host community. There, the UNHCR is exploring new ways to foster economic cooperation between the host and refugee communities, notably through an innovative approach to the camp’s design, which involves sharing access between services such as hospitals and schools. New livelihoods programs are designed to encourage economic self-sufficiency as well as promoting well-being and preventing environmental degradation; this highlights how the future of humanitarian assistance will inevitably involve a holistic approach to sustainability.

We finish the trip in Nairobi, exploring the thriving economy of Eastleigh, a neighbourhood populated by Somali refugees, where shopkeepers and traders coexist with real-estate investors. This project is designed around an innovative transmedia structure that focuses as much on real-time storytelling during the reporting phase than on the production of a series of multimedia features published by our European and African media partners. The social media component will be supported by partnerships with leading humanitarian organizations to build attention around the project and ensure a high impact, while maintaining editorial independence.

Photo copyright: Flavie Halais

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Project information

  • Locations
    Kampala - Uganda, Nairobi - Kenya
  • Duration
    6 months
  • Release date
    May 2016
  • Budget
    € 15000
  • Round
    round6