The Impact of Refugee Presence on Host Populations in Tanzania: A Desk Review

Helidah Ogude

World Bank and UNHCR, April 2018


This literature review explores the impact of refugee presence on host populations in Tanzania, with a view to informing policy responses globally. There is a considerable body of relevant qualitative, mixed-methods and empirical literature, mostly analyzing the impact of refugee inflows from Burundi (1993) and Rwanda (1994) on host districts in northwestern Tanzania. The review begins with a brief history of refugee policy and practice in Tanzania, and an overview of some mediating factors that influenced impacts, including:

  • Pre-existing livelihood strategies in host communities, specifically, how differences in poverty, education, business/trade experience, and capacity for agricultural production can lead to varied capacity for hosts to take advantage of refugee presence.
  • Immediate policy responses to the refugee influx, such as camp locations, restrictions on refugee-host interactions, and limits imposed on refugees to engage in agricultural production.

The report then covers areas of research that have been more comprehensively analyzed, such as:

  • Labor market outcomes—jobs and wages. The presence of refugees led to an increase in farming/livestock activities and expanded agricultural production in host communities, due to increased demand for local produce and the availability of cheaper refugee labor. There was no impact on the likelihood of running a small business, possibly due to the entry of entrepreneurs from other regions. And there was a reduced likelihood of working outside the home as an employee, possibly because refugees took available agricultural jobs. Consequently, casual laborers were more likely to suffer from increased competition in the labor market and higher prices for several goods, while non-agricultural workers and self-employed farmers were more likely to benefit from the refugee presence. The entry of larger-scale entrepreneurs from other regions had a deleterious effect on existing small businesses. The presence of humanitarian organizations increased employment opportunities for hosts and increased salaries, however this led to large numbers of skilled workers leaving government jobs to take higher paying work with humanitarian organizations.
  • Labor market outcomes—gender and age. Impacts varied by gender and age. Women, in particular women aged 30 or younger, were less likely to engage in employment outside the home and more likely to engage in household chores relative to men (due to increased time spent collecting firewood because of deforestation and additional competition for water/firewood). More literate/numerate women were more likely to employ refugees for low wages to do household tasks, freeing them to pursue outside employment.
  • Labor market outcomes—casual labor. Casual wages fell significantly. Local farmers hired refugees to do agricultural work, build houses, tend livestock, and fetch water or firewood. Many of the locals who were casual workers before the arrival of refugees changed to other activities, including self-employment.
  • Local economy and food prices. The arrival of refugees effectively moved markets closer to villages, however border trading centers and border communities were negatively affected. The refugee influx improved market efficiency and trade dynamism, in part because of road investments made by international organizations.
  • Food security and prices: refugee and humanitarian impact. The prices of certain local crops popular with refugees, aid workers and hosts increased sharply (e.g. bananas), while the prices of food items in refugee rations fell (e.g. beans and maize).
  • Local infrastructure and services. Border area schools were damaged in the early weeks of the influx; local health facilities and referral hospitals became overstretched; and the criminal justice system was overburdened. Social services improved after the construction of infrastructure in the camps and the implementation of development projects in host communities.
  • Environmental impacts. The environmental impacts of refugees indirectly affected the food security of the host community through deforestation, soil erosion and land degradation, unsustainable water extraction and water pollution. Other scholars suggest that the depiction of refugees as “exceptional resource degraders” was emphasized along with human security issues as a way to justify encampment/containment policies, even though it was difficult to distinguish between the environmental impacts of refugees and local communities.
  • Security and social cohesion. One study found that crime rose sharply, but increases in crime were not fully attributed to the influx of refugees; refugees did not necessarily have a greater propensity to commit crimes. Refugees’ nationalities and previous localities of residence (city or rural dwellers and perhaps the accompanying preferred occupations), influenced hosts’ attitudes toward them and refugees’ opportunities.
  • Long-run welfare impacts While there is little literature on long-run impacts, one study found that the refugee presence had a persistent and positive impact on the welfare of the local population, possibly due to: (a) more efficient labor markets as a result of labor pooling; (b) investments to expand transport infrastructure (which reduced transport costs and lowered prices of goods); (c) increase in local tax revenue; (d) arrival of economic migrants from other parts of Tanzania; (e) improved management skills and institutional efficiency of local authorities due to dealing extensively with international organizations; and (f) following the repatriation of refugees, continued trade with the local population.


The report concludes with lessons learned, policy and practice options, and a brief taxonomy of areas for possible further research. Several lessons focus on the distributional impacts of refugee presence on host communities, implying the need to identify vulnerable groups (women, casual laborers, unskilled etc.), evaluate their vulnerabilities and coping strategies, and tailor responses accordingly. Other recommendations for policy and practice include:

  • Identify how refugees’ integration can contribute to the host country’s developmental objectives.
  • Devise responses in collaboration with host governments, and ensure their local political backing.
  • Government policies should be devised in a manner that benefits both refugees and host communities, with consideration for short-term costs and long-term benefits.
  • Humanitarian and development actors should be as concerned with refugee policies and practices.
  • Humanitarian and development organizations should try to mitigate the depletion of labor from public institutions.
  • Responses should be geared toward building the skills and capacity of local producers to respond to increased demand in food; and consider preexisting socio-economic conditions and policies that constrain and enable host adaptation mechanismssuch as road infrastructure and encampment policies.
  • Food security of host communities could be protected by: (a) no encampment policies; (b) using a settlement structure; (c) in the case of encampment policies, careful selection of camp location; and (d) environmental programs such as reforestation and soil conservation.
  • Humanitarian short-term assistance should pave the way for development interventions that support hosts in the gradual or sudden departure of refugees.
  • Local governments and development actors should prioritize road provision and maintenance to support the reduction in the cost of traded goods and transport costs.