According to the UNHCR, Kenya has one of the largest refugee populations in Africa, hosting over 520,000 refugees and asylum seekers. This includes more than 278,000 people from Somalia and close to 133,000 from South Sudan, some 47,000 from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and 29,000 from Ethiopia. The country also hosts persons of concern from other nationalities including Sudan, Rwanda, Eritrea, Burundi, and Uganda. Kenya’s location in one of the most conflicted parts of the world means that a persistence of insecurity in the region is likely to contribute to the continued presence of refugees in the country.(1) This situation calls for the creation of durable solutions that ensure refugees and other displaced persons eventually break free from the need of specific assistance and protection, and can enjoy access to socio-economic rights without discrimination on account of their status. Market-based livelihood activities represent one such example of a durable solution that can empower displaced persons to cater for their own basic necessities such as food, water, shelter, and clothing(2), thus enabling such vulnerable persons to reduce or break free from reliance on external assistance over time. Ultimately, they also create opportunities to include refugees in the local economy.

In Kenya, a challenging policy environment, which includes mobility restrictions requiring refugees to reside in camps, poses a barrier to refugee economic inclusion. However, this situation also creates an opportunity to find alternative and tailored approaches to creating employment for, and promoting entrepreneurship among, refugees and their host communities.

Digital livelihoods are a viable pathway for leveraging this opportunity. The potential of digital livelihoods to advance refugee economic empowerment and inclusion in Kenya is underpinned by the global rise of the gig economy and the digitalization of work through online platforms. These platforms enable organizations and firms to source freelance work from around the world, thus creating an opportunity for displaced persons to participate as freelance consultants working from remote locations, including refugee camps.

This report outlines recommendations geared towards increasing private sector awareness of the opportunity to hire refugee freelancers, expanding visibility for refugees and their skills, and strengthening the entrepreneurship ecosystem. The recommendations are further designed to address digital barriers such as a lack of access to digital devices and affordable internet for refugees, while tackling the restrictive policy environment in Kenya.