Refugee entrepreneurship: context and directions for future research


This article provides an overview of future directions for research related to refugee entrepreneurship. It puts forward key concepts, explores the relations within the current broader literature on migration and entrepreneurship, and identifies several promising clusters of questions. We also introduce five papers in a special section of this issue, which offer nuanced findings and cues for further research.

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  1. 1.

    This definition of the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR; draws on the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which declared a refugee to be “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, national, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”

  2. 2.

    Azose and Raftery (2017) provide comprehensive estimates of emigration, return migration, and transit migration and find that the share of total migration as percentage of the global population is fairly constant since 1990: between 1.13 and 1.29%.

  3. 3.

    Migration Policy Institute 2017 data on top 25 refugee destination countries and refugee share of the total population by country of destination; see

  4. 4.


  5. 5.

    Fiddian-Qasmiyeh et al. (2014) argue that the multifaceted reality of displacement makes a bounded definition of refugeeness elusive. Scheel and Squire (2014: 190) note that a consensus in recent scholarship is on the impossibility of distinguishing voluntary from forced, and economic from political determinants of mobility.

  6. 6.

    Not all displaced people are refugees, as many flee due to economic crisis, climate, environment, or natural disaster. These are not encompassed in the UNHCR definition. Also, not all people who flee will cross a border. Large numbers of internally displaced persons flee their homes without fleeing their country. For instance, since 2008, an average of 24.7 million people has been internally displaced annually due to adverse natural events like floods, droughts, and earthquakes—more than the entire stock of refugees in the world (Cazabat et al. 2019). In 2018, there were 41.3 million internally displaced persons worldwide (UNHCR 2018). Some of the countries most affected have been Syria, Colombia, the DRC, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, South Sudan, and Nigeria.

  7. 7.

    Refugee arrivals and integration have featured significantly in the public discourse in many countries. In some cases, this can be disproportionate to the nature of inflows. For example, Alesina et al. (2018) find that most Europeans over-estimate the real number of immigrants in their country and often mistake their countries of origin and religious affiliations.

  8. 8.

    See the World Bank Doing Business Project:

  9. 9.

    Some countries have special allocations and procedures for different migration pathways, e.g. family- or skill-based. A high skilled individual in an unstable country that is forced to migrate might seek economic grounds if available to them, and there may be different speed or outcomes associated with different types of applications.


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We are grateful to Maksim Belitski, Johan Eklund, Besnik Krasniqi, and participants at the 2017 Transatlantic Policy Consortium meeting for discussions about this topic.

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Correspondence to Sameeksha Desai.

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Desai, S., Naudé, W. & Stel, N. Refugee entrepreneurship: context and directions for future research. Small Bus Econ 56, 933–945 (2021).

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  • Forced migration
  • Refugees
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Immigration
  • Self-employment
  • Labor markets

JEL classifications

  • J61
  • F22
  • L26
  • O15