Refugee volunteering and responses to displacement in Uganda: navigating service-delivery, work and precarity

Matt Baillie Smith*, Bianca Fadel, Frank Ahimbisibwe, Robert Turyamureeba

*Corresponding author for this work

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This paper critically explores the role of voluntary labour in refugee-led responses to displacement. Despite the wide celebration of volunteering in response to crises and community needs, refugees and displaced populations tend to be depicted as passive beneficiaries of support. This paper engages with critical literatures challenging this assumption and provides an analysis of refugee volunteering experiences in Uganda, critically interrogating the uneven spaces of articulation between dominant humanitarian thinking and action on displacement, and volunteering by refugees. The analysis draws upon data collected as part of a large mixed methods investigation of volunteering by young refugees in Uganda, exploring its impacts on their skills, employability, and experiences of inequality. We explore narratives of volunteering in relation to service-delivery and self-reliance, and how different understandings of voluntary labour emerge from and against the precarities experienced by refugees navigating employment and livelihood strategies. We conclude by arguing that volunteering connects with responses to displacement in ways that are shaped by refugee subjectivities and livelihoods in particular places, and that its potential to de-stabilise existing systems is ambivalently situated between self-reliance strategies and the perpetuation of dependencies.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Humanitarian Affairs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 29 Feb 2024

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