This study focuses on refugees’ livelihood strategies in a context of long-term encampment. It looks at this phenomenon through the case of the Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi by investigating camp residents’ strategies as well as intersecting barriers to livelihood attain-ment. Initially intended as a temporary emergency measure to host refugees fleeing conflict and genocide from East Africa’s Great Lakes Region in the late 90s, it has been operating for more than twenty-eight years. Due to the government’s encampment policy, all refugees in the country are obliged to reside in the Dzaleka camp. Through an interdisciplinary con-ceptualisation of livelihoods, this paper draws on different schools of thoughts to account for a comprehensive understanding of livelihood strategies. The eight-week in-situ research was conducted in the Dzaleka camp during August and September 2022 and twenty-two interviews were held through a collaborative life history method. By using an intersectional lens and thematic analysis, it finds that relations are at the core of camp residents’ livelihood strategies. These relations can both benefit livelihoods through mutual support and impede them due to social hierarchies based on gender and ethnicity. Findings highlight that camp residents face intersecting barriers to livelihood attainment based on multiple systems of op-pression, mostly disadvantaging refugees from Rwanda. There is a need for humanitarian and development actors to take these systems into account when designing policy and live-lihoods programmes. Findings also underline that the concept of refugee ‘self-reliance’, as promoted by the humanitarian and development nexus, needs to be revised as this is not equally attainable for all refugees. Whilst other studies on the Dzaleka refugee camp have looked at specific livelihood strategies, this study is the first of its kind to address livelihoods from an intersectional perspective and to include strategies that do not operate within market structures.

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Rodrigo Mena Fluhmann
Governance of Migration and Diversity (GMD)
International Institute of Social Studies

Lea Maria Liekefedt. (2022, December 16). Refugees’ livelihood strategies in a setting of long-term encampment: the case of the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi. Governance of Migration and Diversity (GMD). Retrieved from