This article highlights findings from household surveys of Congolese refugees in three of the largest refugee camps in Rwanda (Gihembe, Kiziba and Kigeme) and of locals living nearby. The authors find that although Congolese refugees officially have the right to work, in reality their experiences in the local labor market differ considerably from that of local Rwandans. Specifically:
- Refugees are significantly less likely to be employed than locals. Major obstacles to employment include local employers’ lack of knowledge of refugees’ right to work, and high cost of transportation to local commercial hubs. These problems might be addressed by: (a) issuing identity documents to refugees that local employers recognize and accept; (b) an information campaign targeting employers to ensure that refugees’ legal rights are clear to all; and (c) providing cheaper transportation to make it viable for refugees to seek employment beyond immediate camp areas.
- Inside the camps, international organizations and NGOs employ many refugees, raising the question of refugees’ dependency on humanitarian organizations beyond basic protection and needs. Refugees with professions and qualifications are in a more advantageous position than those with fewer skills.
- Within host communities there is a shift away from subsistence agricultural activities. Working-age individuals within 10km of a camp are more likely to be engaged in wage employment than in farming or livestock production. Females living near a camp are more likely to be self-employed than those residing further away. It tends to be the financially better-off who engage commercially with refugees and who presumably benefit. Locals’ labor market activities do not seem to be negatively affected by refugees; rather, the more dynamic local economy provided increased opportunities for wage-earning jobs and self-employment. There was no evidence of either increased competition in the labor market or resentment from local people due to the presence of refugees.
The authors conclude that granting refugees the right to work is not sufficient to promote sustainable self-reliance, and a more comprehensive strategy is needed incorporating standardized identity documents for refugees, information provision for local employers, and better transportation provision outside the camps.