The assimilation of refugees into their host community economic structures is often problematic. The paper investigates the ability of refugees in rural South Africa to accumulate assets over time relative to their host community. Bayesian spatial–temporal modelling was employed to analyse a longitudinal database that indicated that the asset accumulation rate of former Mozambican refugee households was similar to their host community; however, they were unable to close the wealth gap. A series of geo-statistical wealth maps illustrate that there is a spatial element to the higher levels of absolute poverty in the former refugee villages. The primary reason for this is their physical location in drier conditions that are established further away from facilities and infrastructure. Neighbouring South African villages in close proximity, however, display lower levels of absolute poverty, suggesting that the spatial location of the refugees only partially explains their disadvantaged situation. In this regard, the results indicate that the wealth of former refugee households continues to be more compromised by higher mortality levels, poorer education, and less access to high-return employment opportunities. The long-term impact of low initial asset status appears to be perpetuated in this instance by difficulties in obtaining legal status in order to access state pensions, facilities, and opportunities. The usefulness of the results is that they can be used to sharpen the targeting of differentiated policy in a given geographical area for refugee communities in rural Africa. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.