Refugees and the choice between cities and settlements: Evidence from Uganda

In 2018, Uganda hosted approximately 1.2 million refugees from various countries such as South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The country’s refugee policy, which has been praised internationally, entitles refugees to a small plot of land to cultivate, food ratios and rights to access the same health and education services like the ones offered to nationals. Also, refugees have freedom of movement and the right to work outside the camp.

However, the quality of life in refugee settlements and on migration to urban areas constrain refugees from fully using their rights. Moreover, the areas where refugee settlements are located offer few work opportunities.  Taken together, these constraints suggest that by living in settlements, refugees may not be able to fully reach self-reliance.

While it is known that some refugees decide to leave the camps to search for better opportunities in towns, little is known about:

  • What the characteristics of these people are;
  • How they make internal migration decisions;
  • What their job search and finding rates are; and
  • How towns are able to absorb the arrival of large influxes of refugees from rural areas?

To answer to these policy questions, the researchers aim to design and implement an extensive baseline survey on African refugees in a developing country. They will collect detailed information on refugees’ demographics, migration history, perceived discrimination and labour market participation. The survey will be addressed to refugee households living in settlements (camps under the jurisdiction of the government of Uganda), refugee households living in major urban areas and small, medium and large firms active in these areas. The researchers will test how constraints to movement outside the camps affect labour market participation of refugees using labs in the field, aiming at measuring willingness to accept to migrate to urban areas. Moreover, the researchers will also use labs in the field to measure whether stereotypes affect firms’ willingness to hire refugee workers.

It is of global policy relevance to understand the mechanisms behind refugees’ integration within a country. Uganda provides a case study for studying constraints to full integration in absence of relevant legal constraints. Therefore, this project aims to understand these issues to later tackle the most pressing ones with its randomised controlled trial.