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About the report

In the words of UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, we face ‘the most serious refugee crisis for 20 years’. Recent displacement from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, and Somalia has increased the number of refugees in the world to 15.4 million. 

Significantly, some 10.2 million of these people are in protracted refugee situations. In other words, they have been in limbo for at least 5 years, with an average length of stay in exile of nearly 20 years. Rather than transitioning from emergency relief to long-term reintegration, displaced populations too often get trapped within the system. 

Published on World Refugee Day, 20 June 2014, Refugee Economies: Rethinking Popular Assumptions aims to challenge the current model of donor state-led assistance, drawing on ground-breaking new research on the economic life of refugees in Uganda. By attempting to understand the economic systems of displaced populations, we hope to generate new ideas which can turn current humanitarian challenges into sustainable opportunities.

Our research findings are organised around five popular myths:

  1. that refugees are economically isolated;
  2. that they are a burden on host states;
  3. that they are economically homogenous;
  4. that they are technologically illiterate;
  5. that they are dependent on humanitarian assistance.

In each case, we show that our data challenges or fundamentally nuances each of those ideas. We show a refugee community that is nationally and transnationally integrated, contributes in positive ways to the national economy, is economically diverse, uses and creates technology, and is far from uniformly dependent on international assistance.

For all enquiries, please contact Dr Alexander Betts on 07975 681580 or 01865 281737 or email

Humanitarian Innovation Project (HIP)

HIP is a research project based at the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford. The initial focus of our work is on refugee livelihoods innovation. HIP is generously funded by a donation from Stephanie and Hunter Hunt.  The project has a cooperation agreement with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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Download the report

Refugee Economies: Rethinking Popular Assumptions


Refugee Economies infographic

Explore the data behind five common myths about refugees

Media coverage

The report has been covered by a number of media outlets including the Guardian, BBC, Voice of America and Thomson Reuters


Take a look at our report photo gallery!

Press release

‘Networked, online and trading’: Yes, we’re talking about refugees, says study