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Gap narrows on economic welfare of refugees, hosts

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As the world marks World Refugees Day on Wednesday, focus will be on improving their economic welfare and that of host communities.

A shift towards economic inclusion has helped more than 4,300 refugees and host community members, the report by Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre discloses a picture where neither refugees nor hosts inevitably do better in key welfare areas of livelihoods, living standards, and well-being.

“The analysis has a range of implications for policy-makers. First, even in a restrictive regulatory context, a range of interventions are available to promote economic participation and market-based approaches to assistance,” the Oxford report says.

There are, however, exceptional cases where the living standards of refugees were better than those of local communities, including Kakuma in Turkana.

At the Kakuma camp, refugees are generally better off than the host population. For example, the report says, even though they have comparable employment levels, working refugees’ self-reported median income is higher than the hosts Turkana people (around Sh5,555 monthly compared to under Sh2,525). Refugees also have better diets, higher consumption and more assets.

The study where 4,355 people were surveyed shows that 62 per cent of Congolese earn an average monthly income of Sh5,467, 38 per cent Somalis (Sh6,000), and 19 per cent South Sudanese (Sh5,500), compared to 48 per cent of Turkanas earning paltry (Sh1,647).

For the Congolese and South Sudanese, more than half of those employed work for United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partner NGOs, 20 per cent of Somalis are more likely to be self-employed and run their own shops compared to more than 40 per cent of the Turkana who sell firewood or charcoal to the refugees and neighbours.

The refugees in Kakuma also enjoy remittances and jobs that help bolster the economic well-being. The report showed that in Kakuma 35 per cent of Somalis receive remittance of about Sh63,000, 32 per cent of South Sudanese (Sh26,000), and 17 per cent of Congolese (Sh12,000), compared to 19 per cent of Turkanas (Sh6,000).

In Kakuma, refugees have better education levels than the hosting Turkana community. 8.2 years for Congolese, South Sudanese (6.6), and Somalis (5.7), compared to 2.7 years for the hosts.

Notwithstanding the gap, the host community in Turkana immensely benefits from the presence of the refugees whom they supply with items, including charcoal and foods. Organisations handling the refugee programmes also provide jobs for locals.

Meanwhile, among the refugees who reside in Nairobi, 43 per cent of Somalis receive annual average remittances of Sh252,000 annually compared to 36 per cent of the Somali Kenyans (Sh120,000), and 23 per cent of Congolese (Sh60,000) compared to 28 per cent of the host community (Sh24,000).

In Nairobi, the host community has slightly better education levels than refugees (10.4 years for Congolese compared to 12.4 for hosts; eight years for Somalis compared to 10.1 for Somali Kenyans in Eastleigh).

In Nairobi, refugees are less likely to have an economic activity and more likely to earn less than Kenyan nationals.

In Eastleigh, 44 per cent of Somali refugees are employed or are self-employed, compared to 60 per cent of ethnic Somali Kenyans, with the former earning a median income of 15,000 month and the latter Sh20,000 monthly.

For Congolese refugees in Nairobi saying in Umoja, Kayole and Embakasi, the figure is 55 per cent compared to 73 per cent among the local hosts, with a median income of Sh7,000 compared to Sh12,650 monthly.

“Our model seeks to explain economic outcomes across three dimensions — livelihoods, living standards, and subjective well-being — based on four main sets of explanatory variables including regulation, networks, capital, and identity,” the Oxford study says.

The report explains that one of the main reasons for different economic outcomes between refugees and hosts is that the former face a restrictive regulatory environment, are not allowed to own livestock, meaning that 29 per cent of Turkana own large animals compared to less than one per cent of refugees, and are subjected to police harassment.

For instance, in Kakuma, refugees are required to apply for and pay a fee for a Movement Pass in order to leave the camp. Consequently, 40 per cent of Turkanas have left Kakuma in the last year compared to 17.5 per cent of Somalis, 13 per cent of Congolese, and eight per cent of South Sudanese.

Refugee entrepreneurs are disproportionately likely to incur ‘business tax’ — 30 per cent for Somalis businesses compared to 10 per cent for Turkana businesses. They also claim police bribes: 10 per cent of the Turkana, compared to 54 per cent of South Sudanese, 43 per cent of Congolese, and 23 per cent of Somalis.

Nairobi and Kakuma are economically interconnected; refugees who travel regularly from Kakuma to Nairobi for business have an average income 78 per cent higher, and intra-ethnic brokerage networks often import commodities into Nairobi and Kakuma.

The host community regard refugees in Kakuma as making a positive economic contribution, as do Kenyans living in Eastleigh.

However, these findings also require some nuances. In and around Kakuma, there are different relationships between refugees and the Turkana and non-Turkana.

“Comparison of refugees and hosts offers important insights into the ‘development gap’ between refugees and hosts, with implications for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (and their ‘leave no one behind’ principle) and the integration of refugees into national development plans, the report states.

“The ‘refugee outcomes’ model highlights the areas in which advocacy, programming and policy should focus in order to enhance economic outcomes, and improve relationships between refugees and hosts: regulation, networks, identity, and capital.”

A court of law last year blocked the government’s bid to close Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world and forcibly repatriate refugees living there. However, voluntary repatriations have been ongoing.

A recent report by the UNHCR shows that registered refugee and asylum seekers in Kenya as of May 31, stands at 468,910.

Kakuma hosts 186,088, representing 40 per cent, Dadaab 208,616 (44 per cent), Nairobi and other urban areas 74,206 (16 per cent).

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