Forced Displacement: A Developing World Crisis

September 15, 2016

Rooted in 10 conflicts, majority of refugees have been hosted by 15 countries, says new World Bank report

WASHINGTON, September 15, 2016—Forced displacement is a crisis centered in developing countries, which host 89 percent of refugees and 99 percent of internally displaced persons, says a new World Bank report. At its root are the same 10 conflicts which have accounted for the majority of the forcibly displaced every year since 1991, consistently hosted by about 15 countries – also overwhelmingly in the developing world.

Forcibly Displaced — Toward a development approach supporting refugees, the internally displaced, and their hosts  is a groundbreaking study conducted in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which examines the role of development in resolving the challenge of forced displacement. It responds to the growing need to better manage these crises as an important development challenge, part of an overall effort to reduce poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The aim of development support is to address the longer term, social and economic dimensions of displacement, in close collaboration with humanitarian and other partners working in complementary ways.

While the current crisis is severe—with a reported 65 million people living in forced displacement—the report finds that over the past 25 years, the majority of both refugees and Internally Displaced Persons under UNHCR’s mandate can be traced to just a few conflicts in the following areas: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Colombia, the Caucasus and the former Yugoslavia.

Since people typically flee to neighbors of their countries of origin, the responsibility of hosting has not been shared evenly. About 15 countries have consistently been hosting the majority of refugees. At the end of 2015, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, Syria’s neighbors, hosted 27 % of all refugees worldwide; Pakistan and Iran, Afghanistan’s neighbors, hosted 16 %; and Ethiopia and Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan's neighbors, hosted 7%.

“Forced displacement denies development opportunities to millions, creating a major obstacle to our efforts to end extreme poverty by 2030,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “We’re committed to working with our partners to help the displaced overcome their ordeal and seize economic opportunities, while ensuring that host communities can also benefit and continue to pursue their own development.”

“The search for durable solutions for refugees, internally displaced and stateless persons is central to our mandate,” said United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi. “Enabling dignified and productive lives through development investment is key to this challenge. Working in a cooperative and complementary partnership, I hope humanitarian and development agencies can make a real difference in the lives of the world’s poorest and most marginalized populations.”

Unlike economic migrants who move to places where there are jobs, the forcibly displaced are fleeing conflict and violence, often suffering from a loss of assets, lack of legal rights, absence of opportunities, and a short planning horizon. They need dedicated support to overcome these vulnerabilities and regain confidence in their future -- so they can work, send their children to school, and have access to services. Left without support, the displaced may face hardship and marginalization, as do those who are negatively affected in host communities, which can hamper development efforts.  

The report identifies three phases of forced displacement where development institutions can intervene to help reduce the costs of the crisis.

1. Prevention and preparedness:

  • Help potential hosts prepare before large numbers of people arrive by planning for contingencies, developing instruments to transfer resources rapidly, and creating ‘surge capacity’ for service delivery. Forced displacement peaks at an average of 4.1 years after its onset, giving countries time to prepare.
  • Strengthen the resilience of those who stay behind, by financing investment in stable parts of unstable countries to maintain livelihoods. People weigh the risks of staying against the risks of leaving, and the majority stay, coping until they have exhausted all other options.

2. Mid-crisis action:

  • Support host communities in addressing long-standing development issues, such as improving the business environment and reducing inequalities, which the presence of forcibly displaced may exacerbate.
  • Strengthen and expand delivery of education, health, urban and environmental services to cope with the increase in population.
  • Encourage policies that enhance freedom of movement and the right to work for the displaced, which are in the interest of host communities as well.
  • Help the displaced move to places where there are opportunities, create jobs in hosting areas, or invest in skills and education that are in demand in the labor market

3. Rebuilding Lives:

  • Support successful return by creating jobs and opportunities in communities receiving returnees, and assist with recovery efforts.
  • Help those in displacement integrate locally, by providing development support for countries that are willing to provide adequate legal status to refugees.

Financing the global response will take significant resources. Development institutions can broaden financing approaches including contingent financing to support preparedness; policy or results-based financing; and guarantees to stimulate stronger private sector investment. Middle-income host countries need access to concessional financing, and low-income host countries require additional resources.

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