Keeping the promise: The role of bilateral development partners in responding to forced displacement

Niels Harild

Evaluation, Learning and Quality Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Danida, Denmark, May 2020


This study presents recommendations for operationalizing a ‘humanitarian-development nexus approach’ to displacement situations, as envisaged by the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR). The analysis is based on consultations with bilateral development agencies and a literature review of international approaches to displacement situations.

Key findings include:

  • The GCR provides a common framework for an effective nexus approach.
  • The World Bank and EU have put in place policies, tools and financial resources for development operations to address displacement situations.
  • The OECD has developed Humanitarian-Development-Peace (HDP) nexus guidelines, a policy note on financing refugee situations, and an OECD/DAC common position for the Global Refugee Forum against which development partners will be measured.
  •  A limited but growing number of host countries are mainstreaming displacement into national development plans.
  •  Some bilateral development partners have put in place policies and operations to support a nexus approach.
  •  UNHCR has begun its internal adaptation from leadership and control of the international refugee response towards an approach focused more on facilitation.
  •  The fundamental challenge is to find workable mechanisms to achieve burden and responsibility in order to effectively operationalize the GCR.
  • Policy and strategy, operational procedures and systems, and organizational and incentive structures must be changed to overcome internal barriers to mainstream displacement in development partner and national development institutions.


Recommendations for displacement-affected states and development partners include:

  •  At a policy level, displacement-affected states should consider: (a) taking a development approach to displacement at the outset, based on an inclusive refugee
    policy; (b) as part of the established national development planning structure, crystalizing self-interest concerns and other perspectives of the social, political, economic and security implications of the refugee situation; (c) taking the lead on engaging development partners in a dialogue focused on fair and efficient burden and responsibility sharing; (d) mainstreaming displacement into national development plans.
  • At an operational level, displacement-affected states should consider: (a) enhancing or adapting sector approaches to ensure sufficient delivery capacity; and (b) involving development partners up front in political economy and context analyses, as well as sector planning and costing.
  •  At the policy level, development partners should consider: (a) making displacement a priority in bilateral development cooperation with displacement-affected states; (b) committing to promoting development cooperation in future approaches to displacement situations; (c) developing a clear and efficient nexus approach for responding to displacement and fragility; (d) committing to work with host states and other development partners on situation-specific mechanisms to achieve trust, understanding and agreement on burden and responsibility sharing; (e) committing to applying the full gamut of political, diplomatic, and trade tools to operationalize the GCR at the country and regional level through collaboration with other development partners as well as at
    development, foreign policy and security fora at the global level.
  • At an operational level, development partners should consider: (a) adapting internal structures, processes, tools, human resources and incentives to ensure a coherent approach across development cooperation and humanitarian assistance; (b) developing guidelines for how to inspire, facilitate, be part of or lead context specific sector approaches in order to deliver on the GCR vision; (c) promoting context-specific partnership platforms among development partners leading to joint political economy and context analyses as a basis for a common framework for action; and (d) promoting relevant GCR-inspired institutional changes in multilateral development and humanitarian institutions. Additionally development partners can advocate in: (i) the World Bank’s governing board for the Bank to be more proactive in leading a coherent social and economic response to displacement among development partners in displacement-affected countries; and (ii) EU member state consultations on the need for continued political, policy and operational commitment towards a long-term development response by DG DEVCO and DG NEAR in the European Commission.