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There has been an increasing shift away from hallmarking refugees based on their persecution experience and instead viewing them as economic actors and agents of development. This is particularly the case in protracted refugee situations where historically the humanitarian response system is not designed or funded to understand livelihood strategies that displaced persons are pursuing and the general development opportunities that may be available to them. As a result, different actors have been welcomed into the fold such as the private sector, which is well positioned to expand markets, deploy a variety of business models, create employment opportunities and integrate into value chains in forced displacement contexts. This study primarily uses a mixed methodology and charts the burgeoning literature that defines the private sector, its emerging role and, in some cases, its concrete contribution. It considers the current barriers faced by refugees in accessing economic systems and the conditions required for the private sector to enter this sphere. The paper also reviews overarching themes and identifies key questions that might advance our understanding of the most recent trends in relation to private sector development in refugee settings. In particular, the capacity of multi-national corporations and international financial institutions to provide solutions to displacement, and the emerging role of private sector actors in the digital economy which may help us reconsider opportunities for refugee inclusion. Finally, the paper highlights some examples of concrete access for refugees to labour markets and avenues for refugee entrepreneurship. Despite the growing literature on the private sector’s contribution in forced displacement contexts, there remain additional questions which the authors highlight in the hope that it may inspire others to pursue further research in this area.



Working paper


Refugee Studies Centre

Publication Date



RSC Working Paper Series 141

Total pages