There is a wealth of evidence that suggests granting the right to work to asylum seekers and refugees boosts the local economy and reduces refugee reliance on state resources and charitable supports for basic welfare.

A number of African countries provide refugees with employment rights while their migration status is being determined – harnessing the potential of  refugees as drivers of development.


Refugees Boosting African EconomiesAbdul Karim Ali, Uganda. Photo: BBC


Business is booming in the refugee camp” – Abdul Karim Ali, Ugandan citizen


Abdul Karim Ali, a 25-year-old Ugandan entrepreneur, visits the refugee settlement in Northern Uganda from his local town, Arua, to buy charcoal “cured” by South Sudanese refugees. Abdul transports it back to Arua to sell at a profit. This is one of many examples of trading between South Sudanese refugees and Ugandan locals that is boosting the Ugandan economy.


Adul Karim Ali’s trading activities with South Sudanese refugees demonstrate how granting the right to work to asylum seekers has benefited both refugees and host communities. Research on the Ugandan government’s settlement approach for refugees in border areas has shown that 1) Refugee households have some independent income-generating source; 2) Dependency on the government is low; 3) Twenty per cent of refugees in Kampala run a business that employs at least one Ugandan; 4) Refugees are buying goods from local supplies and are paying taxes and rents.


Research in Zambia also suggests that refugees who are able to work are providing a positive contribution to the Zambian economy. Refugees are engaging in farming, running small businesses such as trading shops, animal husbandry, working as artisans and providing services through formal and informal employment. The refugees and former refugees are also employing local Zambian nationals. Forty percent of urban-based refugees employ people from outside their households. Refugees are also transferring skills to locals, as evidenced by the new farming and consumption patterns of growing cassava and rice in the settlement areas as well as the handcrafting of clay roofing tiles, commonly practiced by the Rwandans and Burundians in Zambia.


In addition, IDC partners in Zambia have flagged that the repatriation of Angolan refugees from Zambia back to Angola has left the formerly thriving border towns now seem like ghost towns. The repatriation has had a negative impact on the economic development of the local area as refugee and host communities used to engage in trade.


A review of Zambia’s Refugee Control Act 1970 is currently underway. The government also plans to dissolve Zambia’s reservations on the right to work in the 1951 Refugee Convention.


There is a growing body of evidence that suggests providing migrants and refugees with the right to work boots the local economy. From the administration of work permits for Syrian refugees in Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and reduction of barriers to employment in Jordan, to the 10,000 Syrian owned-businesses creating jobs for locals in Turkey and refugee’s $330 million contribution to the Turkish economy since 2011, providing asylum seekers, refugees and migrants with the right to work while their immigration status is being determined benefits both new comers and host communities.