Urban Refugees: Resilience, social networks and policy implications lessons from Nairobi

As part of the Lunchtime Seminar Series, the African Centre for Migration & Society invites you to a seminar titled Urban refugees: Resilience, social networks and policy implications lessons from Nairobi, Peshawar and Gaziantep presented by Caroline Wanjiku-Kihato (Associate Professor, Graduate School of Architecture, University of Johannesburg).

This is part of a three-country study that explores the role of social capital and social networks in urban refugees’ quest for self-reliance in Nairobi (Kenya), Peshawar (Pakistan) and Gaziantep (Turkey). Using survey data and in-depth interviews conducted with refugees in Nairobi, this paper outlines the nature of social relationships in refugees’ home and host countries and examines the ways in which social relationships shape their socio-economic capabilities. The study used both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Our survey comprised of 1074 interviews with refugees from twelve countries, now living in Nairobi. In addition to the survey, we held one-on-one interviews with twenty-two respondents (with an equal number of male and female respondents) from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somali, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan, Uganda and Burundi. Urban refugees in Nairobi are income and asset poor, living mostly from hand to mouth. With few income generating opportunities, low and irregular remittance transfers, less than half are able to meet even basic needs such as clean drinking water or sanitation. Overall, the research finds that few respondents have social networks in Nairobi. In fact 75% of our sample said that they did not have any contacts in the city before arriving. What emerges is a picture of a population that is socially isolated. Although the survey shows that primary kin connections provide some support to newly arrived refugees in Kenya, these too are tenuous and provide erratic support in the medium to longer term. In fact in some cases, these ‘strong’ social connections result in weak or negative forms of social capital causing greater individual isolation. In-depth interviews show that refugee households that experience external economic shocks, rely increasingly on weak ties – strangers or well wishers – for assistance. Overall, men are more economically resilient than women – they are more likely to earn more and find work than their female counterparts. Our research shows that the most important indicators of employment are language skills, gender and the age of the respondent. Further, Somali and Eritrean refugees have better economic outcomes than other refugee populations, while Ugandan and Burundi refugees appear to be the most vulnerable.


Caroline Wanjiku Kihato is an Associate Professor at the University of Johannesburg’s Graduate School of Architecture. In 2011, she received a MacArthur award on Migration and Development and spent a year as a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM), Georgetown University, Washington DC. Her career has involved both teaching and conducting research in the academy and the non-profit sector in South Africa. Since 2006, she has worked with Urban LandMark as its southern African program coordinator. She was previously a Policy Analyst at the Development Bank of Southern Africa and a Senior Lecturer in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand. She worked for six years as a Policy Analyst at the Centre for Policy Studies. Her research and teaching interests are migration, governance and urbanization in the global South. She holds a MSc in Development Planning (University of the Witwatersrand) and a PhD in Sociology (University of South Africa). She is the co-editor of Urban Diversity: Space, Culture and Inclusive Pluralism in Cities Worldwide (Johns Hopkins). During her year at ISIM at Georgetown University, she completed a manuscript entitled, In Between City: Migrant Women’s Experiences in Johannesburg, which will be published by Palgrave Macmillan this year. Her current work looks at the dynamics of migration, gender, and land markets in Maputo, Zambia, and Nairobi.

Date: Tuesday 10 October 2017

Time: 12.30 -13.30

Venue: ACMS Seminar Room 2163, South East Wing, Second Floor, Solomon Mahlangu House, University of the Witwatersrand East Campus