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PRESS RELEASE December 17, 2020

Deepened and Prolonged Poverty Affects Syrian Refugees and their Hosts, Requiring Bold Action

New Report: An estimated 4.4 million people in host communities in Jordan, Lebanon and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), in addition to 1 million Syrian refugees and 180,000 Iraqi IDPs have been pushed into poverty due to COVID-19

December 17, 2020: The impact of COVID-19 on poverty levels among Syrian refugees and host communities in Jordan, Lebanon and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) has been severe and profound in 2020. An estimated 4.4 million people in host communities, close to 1 million Syrian refugees and 180,000 internally displaced Iraqis in KRI were newly affected by poverty after the beginning of the crisis, according to a new joint study by the World Bank and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Households who are reliant on the informal labour market and who have significant debts and few assets have been particularly hit hard. 

The study entitled “Compounding Misfortunes - Changes in Poverty since the Onset of COVID-19 on Syrian Refugees and Host Communities in Jordan, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Lebanon” simulates the extent to which Syrian refugees and their hosts have fallen further below international and national poverty lines. The study aims to help better inform the COVID-19 responses of governments, international agencies and others.

In Jordan, the COVID-19 crisis is estimated to have increased poverty by around 38 percentage points (p.p.) among Jordanians, and by 18 p.p. among Syrian refugees, noting that the majority of refugees were already living below the poverty line before the pandemic. In Lebanon, changes in poverty are largely driven by inflation. Poverty increased by around 33 p.p. among the Lebanese community and by as much as 56 p.p. among Syrian refugees. In KRI, host communities, refugees, and internally displaced – many of whom face similar challenges and dependence on informal labour –experienced increases of 24 p.p., 21 p.p., and 28 p.p. respectively.

Funded by the Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement, the study relied on the use of a comparable survey instrument which covers KRI, the whole of Lebanon and three governorates in Jordan with high concentrations of Syrian refugees (Amman, Mafraq, and Zarqa). The study employed dynamic simulations to show changes in poverty on a monthly basis. The impact of COVID-19 is modeled based on macroeconomic changes in various sectors of the economy, informality status, changes in remittances and price levels. In Jordan, the results show a scenario of a second wave of the pandemic, while for Lebanon and KRI, the results show the first wave only. Projections show that heightened poverty will continue well into 2021, even when only the effects of the first wave of the pandemic are considered. 

Data from other surveys by the United Nations show the same worrying trend. It is most pronounced in Lebanon, where close to 90 per cent of refugees cannot afford what is considered to be the minimum cost for survival, according to assessments. Meanwhile, poverty among the Lebanese host population has also been significantly rising. 

The living conditions of Syrian refugees and of their host communities are very worrying,” said Ayman Gharaibeh, Director of UNHCR’s Bureau for the Middle East and North Africa. “The human cost of the current crisis is high. The COVID-19 crisis has taken a huge toll on people’s well-being and their prospects for the future. People are cutting down on meals and taking on unsustainable debt, while we also hear about rising child labour. We need to help the most vulnerable to mitigate the devastating consequences. This requires both immediate humanitarian aid, but also support for host countries. The inclusion of refugees in public services such as health and education has certainly helped during the crisis, and it is important to continue on this course.” 

Already vulnerable before the pandemic, Syrian refugees and their poorer Jordanian, Lebanese and Iraqi hosts have been left with few coping mechanisms, resulting in difficult choices. Families have been unable to pay for basic household needs and rent, risking eviction. Children have been unable to continue schooling under the lockdowns – limited by distance and home-schooling opportunities, and by the digital divide. Domestic violence linked to the lockdowns has increased, and risks for women and girls exacerbated. In KRI, for instance, refugees have reported an increase in child marriages and child labor during the pandemic. 

The compounded crises affecting countries of the Mashreq region have severely affected vulnerable populations, host and refugees alike, triggering a reversal in human capital gains achieved over the past decade”, said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “In addition to emergency health support assistance, there is a need for an integrated approach bringing governments, international donors and other local stakeholders together to address the socio-economic impact of the crisis and help those most severely affected weather the shock”.

The World Bank-UNHCR study suggests that government social safety nets have played an important role in helping many of those affected off-set some of the shock. Similarly, the scaling-up of cash assistance programs by UNHCR and other humanitarian actors also helped provide cash to refugees and other vulnerable populations during the pandemic. However, these programs urgently need to be supported by the international community to allow them to be further scaled-up and expanded. 

As more data emerges from various phone surveys and the country macroeconomic outlooks are updated, and a more complete mapping of assistance programs is conducted, the results presented in this study will be revised as part of the second phase of this World Bank – UNHCR collaboration.

With the Syria conflict now in its tenth year, Syrian refugees are the largest refugee population in the world.  Some 5.6 million registered Syrian refugees live in countries in Syria’s neighborhood. Out of those, some 1.8 million live in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. The total number of Syrians is even higher when including estimates of those not registered as refugees.


Rula Amin
+962 790 04 58 49
World Bank
Ashraf Alsaeed
World Bank
Zeina El Khalil