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The economic lives of refugees are often viewed as relatively homogeneous, and sources of within-group variation remain largely unexplored. We describe the socio-economic diversity of refugees in one particular region: East Africa. Drawing upon first-hand quantitative and qualitative data collected in Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia (n = 8,996), the article systematically compares 12 refugee subpopulations living in seven refugee camps and the three capital cities. In order to identify sources of variation, we examine three main questions: (1) What variation is there in socio-economic outcomes? (2) What strategies and resources do refugees rely upon, and how do these vary? (3) How are opportunities and constraints shaped by differences in institutions and identity? Overall, we show that, although the economic lives of refugees have some distinguishing and common features, they are also heterogeneous by host country, urban/camp context, nationality, and household. We explain why describing and understanding sources of within-group variation matters for research and policy.

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Refugees, Livelihoods, Economic lives, East Africa