Inclusive Refugee-Hosting in Uganda Improves Local Development and Prevents Public Backlash

Yang-Yang Zhou, Guy Grossman, and Shuning Ge

World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, No. 9981 (2022)


This paper examines whether the presence of large numbers of refugees in Uganda affects the provision of public services in nearby host communities, and whether improvements in public services in turn shapes attitudes toward migrants and migration policies. Uganda hosts around 1.4 million refugees, making it the fourth-largest refugee-hosting country in the world and the seventh largest on a per capita basis.

The analysis draws on: (a) georeferenced data on refugee settlements from UNHCR; (b) geocoded Afrobarometer survey data; (c) novel georeferenced panel data on service delivery covering access to education, access to and utilization of health care, and road density; and (d) geocoded violent events from ACLED.

Main findings:

  • Access to education, health care, and roads significantly improved for Ugandan residents living near refugee settlements, particularly after the 2014 arrival of over 1 million South Sudanese refugees. This result is consistent across alternative measures of proximity to refugee settlements.
  • A larger refugee presence does not appear to increase (or decrease) support for restrictive migration policies (although in some years it is associated with a somewhat heightened sense of personal insecurity).

The authors conclude that, even if living near many refugees can make residents feel less safe (and may be associated with other negative externalities not examined in this paper), resource allocation policies that benefit nearby communities can reduce potential backlash against refugees and improve social cohesion between host communities and refugees.