From Displacement to Development: How Kenya Can Create Shared Growth by Facilitating Economic Inclusion for Refugees

Kenya has hosted one of the largest refugee populations for decades and should be commended for this. But refugees in Kenya still face long-standing barriers to economic inclusion, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these challenges. These barriers, largely stemming from current government policies, limit refugees’ right to work, the right to move freely, and the freedom to access financial services. Kenya’s GDP would benefit hugely from facilitating better economic inclusion of their refugee population and our new case study, published today, outlines how they can do so.

- Helen Dempster, policy fellow and assistant director for the Migration, Displacement, and Humanitarian Policy Program

Since the early 1990s, Kenya has hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees from across East Africa. Despite instances of refoulement, restrictions, and repeated threats from the government to shut down camps and deny other rights, large numbers of asylum seekers have found refuge in Kenya; some 490,000 refugees and asylum seekers live there today. But despite Kenya’s relatively generous policy for providing refuge, refugees in Kenya face many barriers to economic inclusion. Overcoming such barriers could generate benefits for refugees and host communities alike. With greater economic inclusion, refugees could earn far greater incomes, which would in turn alleviate many of their protection needs. Greater inclusion and fewer regulatory restrictions could also lead to an expansion of economic activity in host areas, greater private-sector investment, and an increase in job opportunities.

This case study is part of the “Let Them Work” initiative by Refugees International and the Center for Global Development. It outlines the barriers refugees face in Kenya to economic inclusion, the impacts of these barriers, and the steps that the government of Kenya, international organizations, donors, and the private sector could take to overcome them.

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