Who takes advantage of mobility? Exploring the nexus between refugees’ movement, livelihoods and socioeconomic status in West Africa
This article explores the nexus between mobility, livelihoods, and socioeconomic status of refugees in the Buduburam refugee settlement in Ghana. Currently, refugee livelihoods are increasingly characterized by multi-directional movement and multi-locality, coupled with complex social networks. Given the relative freedom of movement for refugees in Ghana and the subregion, certain groups in Buduburam were engaged in mobile livelihoods, including cross-border trading of cell phones, used clothing, and jewelery across West Africa. Given these ‘glorious’ examples, promoting refugees’ movement is seen by the UN refugee regime as an important means of enabling their access to sustainable livelihoods in the subregion. However, this research reveals that mobile refugee entrepreneurs were predominantly well-to-do individuals with a robust asset profile, primarily because engaging in mobile economic strategies requires substantial resources. Conversely, for the majority of ‘ordinary’ refugees, these kinds of mobile livelihoods were not feasible due to a lack of access to the necessary capital or assets; rather, these poorer refugees survived by combining sedentary subsistence within the settlement. Given the different degrees of access to mobility, the article highlights the risks of over-emphasizing mobility as a panacea for refugees’ economic plights.