Increasing Opportunities for Refugees

25 million people are currently asylum-seekers or refugees (McKinsey Global Institute, 2016). An additional 34,000 people are forced from their homes every day (UNHCR, 2016). The purpose of this webpage is to summarise current practice and understanding about how to help such people become more self-reliant, through increased economic opportunity or employment.

In the last decade, fostering self-reliance has come to be seen as a more sustainable and desirable solution to displacement than humanitarian assistance. There is a growing recognition that refugees have an important role to play in the economy. Donors are increasingly trying to facilitate this role. Alex Betts, director of Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre, summed this up in a recent TED talk (embedded below): “rather than just providing long-term humanitarian assistance in camps, we must provide opportunities for human flourishing… education, connectivity, electricity, transportation, access to capital, and the right to work” (2016).


This objective represents a major challenge and opportunity for donor agencies. Those displaced from their homes continue to participate in markets and other economic activities. Indeed, there is a large body of literature noting that refugees are active, capable and resilient actors (Macchiavello 2003; Omata, 2012; Collier and Betts, 2016).

However, many questions remain about how best to utilise the private sector to assist refugees. Although refugees and IDPs participate in economic activities and markets in their new contexts, their economic lives are markedly different from those who were not forced to leave their homes. They therefore require special attention within private sector development (PSD) efforts. This page aims to bring together resources that focus on the unique circumstances that face PSD practitioners working with refugees.

Synthesis Note on private sector development for refugees

For a summary of key research on using private sector development to assist refugees, download the DCED Synthesis Note.


Key overview documents


Addressing the root causes of displacement


Livelihood assistance


Diaspora communities and reintegration


Leveraging the private sector to help refugees


Specific country studies

Photo credits

Photo credit: UN Women/Joe Saade (Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)