Expatriate refugee administrators could more fully understand the people whom they are serving by systematically utilising information provided by social anthropologists concerning refugees' social and economic problems, coping strategies, and indigenous knowledge. The potential of social anthropological contributions to refugee administrators is explored in three case studies from the Somali refugee experience. A study of firewood shortages suggests that important problems could be discerned before reaching crisis proportions by routinely talking with refugees about their problems and investigating these at an early stage. Examination of an official document indicates that anthropological information would clarify basic problems in food needs assessment and other matters relevant to policy formation. Without systematic information from the refugees' perspectives, the article contends, administrators are working with a basic ignorance about the people whose lives they affect.