New Research Suggests Kenyan Government Isn’t Doing Enough to Support Economic Inclusion of Refugees

Greater labor market inclusion will help refugees and the Kenyan economy as a whole

Washington, DC—On the heels of Kenya’s positive news that the government signed the Refugees Act into law, a new report published today asserts that Kenya must do better to economically empower refugees. This Refugees International (RI) and the Center for Global Development’s (CGD) case study argues that Kenyan policies limit refugees’ right to work, freedom of movement, and access to financial services, which in turn increases food insecurity, vulnerability to violence, and poverty among refugees.

This case study from the CGD and RI’s “Let Them Work” initiative makes the case for greater economic inclusion of refugees in the Kenyan labor market. The report relies on compiled and qualitative research, and details actions that the government of Kenya, international organizations, NGOs, and the private sector can take to facilitate refugee economic inclusion and to improve everyday life for Kenyans.

“It is commendable that Kenya hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world, and has done so for decades,” said Helen Dempster, a policy fellow and head of the #LetThemWorkInitiative at the Center for Global Development. “But refugees in Kenya still face long-standing barriers to economic inclusion, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these challenges.”

From the case study:

  • Current government policies limit refugees’ right to work, right to move freely, and freedom to access financial services
  • These policies, in turn, lead to increased food insecurity, increased vulnerability to violence, and increased poverty.
  • The trends outlined in the report are worse among refugee women than their male counterparts.
  • Kenya has the potential to lead on refugee economic inclusion by improving refugee access to the labor market. International organizations can also do more to improve livelihood opportunities and services for host communities.

“We understand that Kenya’s real GDP growth rate has dropped rapidly during the pandemic, and many Kenyan citizens are also struggling,” said Jimmy Graham, report co-author. “Kenya needs a plan that helps facilitate economic progress for Kenyans and refugees, and economic inclusion is the best option for this progress to be made.” 

“At the same time, the international community must do their part and incentivize policy change with support,” said Sarah Miller, report co-author and senior fellow at Refugees International. “If the Kenyan government, international organizations, NGOs, and private sector all work together, they can make substantial progress toward refugee economic inclusion in Kenya.”


For further information or to arrange an interview with the report authors, please contact Aviva Shwayder at

Photo Caption: 33-year-old Apeleo Rose Ihisa makes jewelry at the business center in the Kalobeyei Settlement in Kenya. © UNHCR/Loduye Ghaisen