Refugees: Asset or Burden?

By Ongpin, Patricia A. | Forced Migration Review, September 2009 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Refugees: Asset or Burden?

Ongpin, Patricia A., Forced Migration Review

Studying the impact that a refugee population has on its host country's economy is important when assessing and developing government refugee strategies, particularly in protracted refugee situations.

Between 1993 and 2000, Tanzania was host to almost 1.5 million refugees. Since the late 1990s, greater efforts have been made to repatriate refugees but even today there remain some 320,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Tanzania. Even with the presence of international agencies supporting the assistance efforts, such a high volume of refugees has inevitably had an impact on Tanzania's domestic economic situation. The government has publicly announced its displeasure with the stretching of resources caused by the refugee presence as well as with the threats that they are thought to pose to domestic stability.1 However, some counter these claims by outlining benefits that otherwise would not have occurred were it not for the presence of refugees. It is important to understand both claims and to use such knowledge to ensure that refugee policies support national economic growth.

Economic effects

The Tanzanian government attests that the refugee population it hosts has become a burden to the nation's development by exacerbating, if not creating, a scarcity of resources. They assert that the quality of national programmes such as welfare and the national poverty reduction strategy has been compromised by the reallocation of funds from government resources to refugee programmes. It is also argued that the sharing of common goods and infrastructure has strained not only resources but also relations between refugees and citizens who find themselves competing for those goods. This is most often seen in the use of grazing land, water sources and transport routes.

Contrary to the government's position, some researchers have claimed that the activity ensuing from the refugee population has stimulated the national economy. International organisations are said to have increased national financial capacity by providing funds to refugee projects as well as injecting much needed revenue via the tax and customs payments made for the aid and supplies brought into the country. Additionally, they have also invested in significant amounts of infrastructure development to enable efficient operations on the ground, thus further strengthening the sevices and infrastructure that are available to locals as well as refugees.2

Debate on this topic is further stimulated by the effect that refugees have shown on the labour sector and the pricing market. Refugees have provided a supply of cheap labour which can crowd out their Tanzanian counterparts from the employment market.3 Yet this has had a positive effect on opportunities for capacity building in communities, with a larger supply of workers for labourintensive industries such as mining and agriculture.4 Such a dichotomous effect is also evident in the prices of goods and services. The arrival of the refugees and the ensuing international relief agency workers caused an increase in the prices of staple foods and real estate, thus reducing the purchasing power of both refugees and locals. However, even with the rise in prices, the quality of social welfare also rose, thus allowing a relative improvement in the standard of living.5

A balance sheet

Despite the limited quantifiable evidence available and the difficulty in determining exact costs and benefits of the refugees' presence, it is possible to understand their relative impact through the use of a balance sheet. By summarising the evidence for benefits and costs, then weighing the arguments against each other, a positive or negative score on the economic impact can be hypothesised. Using this approach, a balance sheet emerges suggesting that the refugee population in Tanzania creates a negative economic effect on domestic security as well as access to food and shelter, a positive effect on government finances and business, and a neutral effect on labour, common resources and infrastructure.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Refugees: Asset or Burden?


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?