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Urban refugee economies, Ethiopia

This project breaks new ground in examining the economic contribution of urban refugee livelihoods to their host towns and cities.

Increasingly refugees tend to concentrate in urban areas – it is estimated that over 60% of refugees and 80% of IDPs now move to urban areas. Cities give refugees anonymity and the opportunity to work, but refugees in cities and towns face discrimination, exploitation and tend to be amongst the poorest urban residents.

Humanitarian assistance has focussed on the role of livelihoods in supporting refugee households, but the wider impact of the sectors within which refugees work – often informal ‘refugee economies’ – and their potential contribution to market development within the host community is underexplored.

Ethiopia has the largest refugee population in sub-Saharan Africa, estimated at 736,000 in 2015. Ethiopia’s largest refugee group is from South Sudan, with other communities from Somalia, Sudan, Congo, Uganda, Eritrea, Yemen, and Burundi (UNHCR, 2015). Around 650,000 refugees are accommodated in camps, and the rest live in Addis Ababa and other smaller cities. Their work and market contribution is examined through a case study of urban refugee communities in Addis Ababa.


IIED Urban Crises Learning Fund.