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Public Seminar Series, Hilary term 2019

Series convener: Dr Naohiko Omata

Seminar held on 13 February 2019

About the seminar

This seminar explores refugee economies in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The economic activities of refugees are typically understood as a means of household survival, but this seminar will adopt a new approach to explore the concept of ‘refugee economies’, broadly defined as the economy created by urban refugees through their work, entrepreneurship, consumption and support networks. Despite UNHCR policy, host governments often do not provide refugees with the right to work or a resident’s permit, limiting their ability to work or achieve stability in their new environment and this is certainly true in the Ethiopian case. Thus many refugees remain in ‘grey space’ (Yiftachel, 2009), positioned between legality and illegality and marginalised in urban policy. This seminar presents the findings of nearly 200 interviews with owners and workers in Ethiopian-owned businesses and refugee-owned businesses; focus groups with refugees from five different countries; and key informant interviews. The seminar will claim that the impact of refugee economies, and their contribution to market development within the host community is significantly underestimated, and argue the economic case for more inclusive urban refugee policy.

About the speakers

Alison Brown is a Professor at the School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University. She is Course Director for the MSc in International Planning and Development.  She is a chartered town planner with extensive professional experience in the developed and developing world, in both consultancy and academic research. Her areas of research expertise include international planning practice, urban informal economies, social inclusion, China-Africa trade, public space and the right to the city. She has overseas experience in 22 different countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Alison is involved in two major research projects funded by ESRC/DFID, as Principal Investigator for a major multi-country study of law, rights and regulation in the informal economy, and Co-Investigator for comparative research on micro-finance regulation for the informal economy.  She is Co-Investigator to smaller research projects on street trade in Latin America and North Africa. She has researched and written extensively on the right to the city debates and their implications for city management.  Read more at:

Dr Peter Mackie is a Senior Lecturer at Cardiff University in the School of Geography and Planning, where his research and teaching focus on two broad themes. Firstly, he is a leading expert in the field of housing and homelessness in a developed world context. His research in this area has focussed on examining rights-based approaches as a potential solution to housing poverty. His work in this field has had a significant impact on government homelessness policy in the developed world. Secondly, he has a keen and long-standing interest in urban livelihoods and the informal economy. Within this broad theme he has explored issues of child labour, rights to public space, access to microfinance, and livelihoods during conflict and crises. In all of Peter’s research he has sought to understand the experiences of people in poverty from their own perspectives by adopting and developing participatory research methods. He is also increasingly engaged in data linkage with administrative data sets.  Read more at:

Photo: Over 80% of refugees in Jordan live in urban areas, such as Amman - pictured. © UNHCR/Mohammad Hawari