Informing the Refugee Policy Response in Uganda: Results from the Uganda Refugee and Host Communities 2018 Household Survey

World Bank, 2019


Uganda hosts about 1.3 million refugees in 13 districts, the majority from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This report analyzes the socio-economic profile, poverty, and vulnerability of refugees and host communities in Uganda based on data from the 2018 Uganda Refugee and Host Communities Household Survey (a collaboration between the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), Office of the Prime Minister, and the World Bank). The survey is representative of the refugee and host population in Uganda, as well as the refugee and host population in the West Nile and South West regions, and the city of Kampala. The 2014 Population Census provided the sample frame for hosts, while UBOS constructed a new sample frame for refugees. Data was collected from 2,200 households in all 13 host districts in Uganda.

Key findings:

  • Demographic characteristics of refugee households contribute to their vulnerability. Refugees are younger on average, with 57 percent of refugees below the age of 15 compared to 48 percent of hosts. One in two refugee households is female-headed, compared to less than one in three host households. The dependency ratio is higher among refugee households (1.7 dependent members for every non-dependent member, compared to 1.2 for hosts).
  • There is widespread poverty among refugees. Almost half of refugees (46 percent) are living in poverty, compared to 17 percent of hosts. Poverty is highest in the West Nile region where 57 percent of refugees and 29 percent of hosts are poor. A household is less likely to be poor if the household head has some secondary education or is employed. Factors contributing to poverty include a larger proportion of children under 15, being a refugee, and residing outside Kampala, particularly in the West Nile region.
  • Food insecurity is high for both refugee and host households. Seven in ten refugee households and five in ten host households experienced severe food insecurity.
  • Ownership of assets is lower among refugees, particularly outside Kampala. Overall, refugees have fewer productive assets (livestock, land, and solar panels) than hosts. Refugee households also own less non-agricultural land compared to hosts, but there is little difference in the ownership of homes or appliances. Unlike asset ownership, dwelling conditions depend more on the household’s region of residence than its refugee status.
  • The incidence of agricultural shocks is high for both refugee and host households outside of Kampala. Most households, irrespective of refugee status, relied on savings, the help of family/friends, and changed cropping practices when faced with an agricultural shock.
  • For some services (water, improved sanitation, electricity, health care), refugees have better access than host communities, reflecting the significant humanitarian response. Among refugee households, 94 percent have access to improved water (compared to 66 percent of host households), 39 percent have access to improved sanitation (compared to 26 percent of host households), and 52 percent have access to electricity (compared to 49 percent of host households). With the exception of Kampala, health care centers are slightly more accessible to refugees, both financially and in terms of geographical proximity.
  • Uganda’s policy of providing education to refugee children is leading to equitable school enrollment rates for primary school-age children. Refugee children are enrolled in primary schools at a similar rate to that of hosts (net primary enrollment rate of 65 percent and 68 percent, respectively). However, primary completion rates are low for both populations, particularly for refugees (only 14 percent of refugees between the ages of 15 and 17 completed primary education, compared to 34 percent of hosts in this age group). Moreover, net secondary enrollment rates are low (9 percent for refugees and 27 percent for hosts) and secondary completion rates are low for both populations (14 percent for refugees and 34 percent for hosts). Both refugees and hosts identify cost as the main constraint to staying in school.
  • Aid dependence among refugees is high, particularly among recent arrivals. 54 percent of refugee households report aid as their main source of income. While aid dependence declines with duration in the country, aid is still the main source of income for 37 percent of refugees who arrived five or more years ago.
  • 72 percent of refugees are unemployed, compared to 36 percent of hosts. Unemployment rates decline with duration in the country (77 percent for refugees who have been in Uganda for less than two years compared to 54 percent for refugees who have been in Uganda for five years or more), suggesting that, with time, refugees are better able to integrate into the labor market. Unemployed refugees are more likely to be young (average age of 25 years), have low levels of education (70 percent have no formal education or have some years of primary education but did not finish), and come from agricultural backgrounds (45 percent previously worked in agriculture and around 23 percent previously worked in services and sales). Only 8 percent of refugees have received skills and job training.
  • Self-employment is more prevalent among refugees, except in Kampala. In Kampala, three quarters of refugees are in wage employment (compared to 55 percent of employed hosts), while outside Kampala only a quarter of refugees are in wage employment (similar proportion to hosts). Among the wage employed, refugees earn wages that are 35 to 45 percent lower than the wages earned by hosts, even when considering the workers’ observable characteristics. For both host and refugee communities, agriculture is the main sector of employment followed by small trade (services). Half of employed refugees (including self and wage employed) changed occupation after arriving in Uganda. One in five refugee households owns a non-agricultural enterprise.
  • Agricultural productivity is low among refugee and host communities. On average, half of refugees have access to land. The large majority of refugees with access to land grow crops for their own consumption and a little more than half sell some of their crops. Almost 100 percent of refugee and host households in agriculture are engaged in rain-fed agriculture, which leaves them vulnerable to weather shocks. There is almost no adoption of improved inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Refugees are part of and contribute to local economies. In the West Nile and Southwest regions, approximately 20 percent of refugees purchase their non-durable goods, and 17 to 18 percent purchase their durable goods in local markets outside refugee settlements. Refugee enterprises generate jobs for Ugandan nationals. About 1 in 5 employees of refugee enterprises were Ugandan nationals. In Kampala, the proportion is much higher: around 3 in 4 employees of refugee enterprises are Ugandan nationals.
  • There are positive signs of social integration between refugees and host communities, particularly in Kampala. Around 60 percent of refugee households in the West Nile and Southwest regions and 84 percent of refugee households in Kampala report that their children have Ugandan friends with whom they share recreational spaces. Most refugees feel secure and welcomed in Uganda, a reflection of the country’s overall openness towards refugees.
  • With the exception of refugees in Kampala, refugees participate in social groups. Around 13 percent of refugees participate in agricultural or livestock associations, 14 percent participate in savings groups and 9 percent participate in women’s associations.


  • Uganda’s progressive approach to hosting refugees has contributed to refugees having good access to basic services, such as primary education and health care, as well as feeling safe and welcome in the country. In addition, refugees participate and contribute to the local economy, and help create jobs for Ugandan nationals.
  • Despite feeling secure and welcome, the refugee population in Uganda lives in precarious conditions with high rates of poverty and food insecurity, particularly among new refugee cohorts. It is necessary to continue programs aimed at alleviating poverty and food insecurity, particularly among recent refugees.
  • Ensuring the self-reliance of refugees and reducing aid dependence should be at the core of policies and programs.
  • Refugees are an untapped source of labor, which could contribute to Uganda’s economy. Skills formation and training of unemployed refugees should consider their characteristics in terms of education, occupational background, and access to land. It is vital to stimulate labor demand in both agricultural and non-agricultural activities.
  • Enhancing agricultural productivity and investing in water management may increase the wellbeing of refugees and hosts.
  • Investing in access to basic services in host communities will contribute to their development and peaceful coexistence of both populations.
  • Social groups and associations represent a tool in implementing refugee initiatives, outside Kampala.