The effects of refugees’ camps on hosting areas: Social conflicts and economic growth

Nicola Daniele Coniglio, Vitorocco Peragine, and Davide Vurchio

World Development, Volume 168 (2023), Article 106273


This article investigates the effects of refugee camps on the occurrence of social conflicts and on economic growth in the Africa region. The authors investigate the effect of 140 refugees’ camps listed in the UNHCR Camp Mapping Database in 22 African countries, located within 100 km from a border. Most of the camps are in Ethiopia (26 camps), Sudan (22 camps), Chad (22 camps), South Sudan (9 camps), and Cameroon (9 camps).  

The authors employ a counterfactual approach, comparing 50 x 50 km geographical cells that host a camp with other similar cells that do not host a camp but are equally exposed to shocks in neighboring countries, and conduct a panel event study (difference-in-difference approach). The analysis draws on geo-referenced panel data covering 54 African countries for the period from 2000 to 2014, including: (1) data on the frequency of protests, armed conflicts and other organized violence events from Google Global Database for Events, Language and Tone (GDELT) and UCDP Georeferenced Event Dataset (GED) databases; and (2) data on the location of camps from the UNHCR Camp Mapping Database.  

Main results: 

  • Refugee camps increase the occurrence of protests, but the effect is short-lived. On average, there is an increase in the incidence of protests in the two years following the establishment of a camp. In subsequent years, there isn’t any evidence of an increase in social conflict or organized violence events. Looking only at the most severe conflicts, i.e., organized violence events resulting in casualties, there isn’t any evidence of a significant increase in conflicts in areas with refugee camps at any time. 
  • The establishment of camps boosts the growth of host localities. On average, areas hosting camps (within 10 km of the camps) experienced higher growth of built-up areas compared to areas further away with similar distance from the border and a similar infrastructure endowment. However, there is a high degree of heterogeneity across host localities, with the least-performing areas being highly marginal areas with low population density. 

The authors conclude that a sudden population shock initially increases social tensions with host communities. Over time, however, the easing of tensions might be related to the increased socioeconomic interactions between refugees and hosts and the diffusion of benefits stemming from the proximity of a ‘camp-economy’ to host communities.