The Global Refugee Work Rights Report

The report is the first study of cross-comparison of its kind, shedding light upon the laws, policies and practices impeding work rights in 15 different countries. Warranting concern, nearly half of the 15 countries examined in the report completely bar refugees from working or starting a business. In many countries where refugees are legally allowed to work, practical barriers make safe and lawful employment extremely difficult. For example, some countries require that refugees remain in internment camps, effectively preventing them from accessing the job market. Other countries charge prohibitively expensive fees for work permits.

Refugee response, traditionally, has failed to acknowledge the crucial role that work rights play in the restoration of refugee and dignity and stability. With the average time of refugee displacement now a staggering 19 years– it is no longer appropriate to adopt approaches to deal with refugee situations that only serve the immediate needs of these populations. The report urges stakeholders to therefore re-conceptualize refugee response, pursuing approaches, programs and advocacy that facilitate solutions to long-term solutions to displacement, which, importantly, includes the right to work.

By permitting refugees to access formal labor markets, refugees are able to become controllers of their own destiny and provide for themselves without the substantive assistance of humanitarian agencies. In addition to lessening dependency on transitional aid, refugees with realized work rights go on to make vibrant economic contributions to the host country — despite widespread beliefs to the contrary. The Global Refugee Work Rights Report advances evidence supporting this assertion, drawing upon research conducted in Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia.

In short, refugees who have access to the formal labor market catalyze local job growth, create new markets, and expand existing markets. Likewise, there is also no evidence to show that permitting refugees to work legally generates a pull-factor. Refugees are fleeing from persecution or war, not seeking economic opportunity.

The myths about refugees’ work rights have overshadowed the facts; and the report seeks to break down these myths. It is now the responsibility of every actor in refugee response to continue to dismantle these myths, supporting refugee self-reliance and autonomy. Without this, the legal right to work is unlikely to manifest and entrenched patterns of exclusion and discrimination will persist.

To learn more about our work rights campaign and how to get involved, contact

Written by Global Policy Officer Anna Wirth