Leaving No One Behind: Refugee Inclusion in the World Bank’s Response to COVID-19

Lauren Post


This report argues that refugees, who are typically left out of development plans, are at risk of being left out of national COVID-19 response plans funded by donors like the World Bank. The report sets out five key actions the World Bank—and other international financial institutions and development banks—should take so that support reaches refugees and other displaced populations. Specifically:

  • Systematically include displaced populations in World Bank-funded COVID-19 response plans and activities, including national healthcare, social safety net schemes, and remote education programs. The Bank should consider a systematic protocol for refugee inclusion in COVID-19 response plans, and elevate its Refugee Policy Review Framework for policy dialogue with host governments to drive inclusive national policies that give refugees access to national services and the formal labor market.
  • Adapt COVID-19 response programming and relevant policies to meet the needs of conflict-affected people. There are a number of lessons that the Bank can draw from the humanitarian sector about how to best understand and address needs of the most vulnerable during a crisis. Humanitarian actors can also share best practices for quickly pivoting programming in the midst of a crisis like COVID-19 (e.g. from Ebola crisis in DRC).
  • Coordinate with and fund the humanitarian system—including UN agencies and NGOs. The Bank has developed a much more robust partnership with UN Agencies responding to humanitarian crises, however this appears to happen in places where the Bank and UN already have a strong working relationship, rather than systematized across all humanitarian contexts where the Bank works. Systematic consultation with NGOs at the country level could go a long way towards achieving better outcomes. The Bank should also consider directly financing humanitarian NGOs that can help implement programs, such as cash transfers, in places where the World Bank is not on the ground or may not have access to segments of vulnerable populations.
  • Ensure development financing and global economic policies support refugees in the short- and longer-term. Some of the World Bank’s $160 billion COVID-19 response funds should help countries meet refugees’ needs, alongside their hosts, in the immediate and longer-term. The Bank should also start planning now for how it can support the socioeconomic development of refugees above and beyond what the Global Concessional Financing Facility and the International Development Association Window for Hosts and Refugees (IDA19) can fund with current financing levels over the next few years. In addition to financing, the World Bank and IMF should work with the G20 countries on a broader economic response that involves debt relief for poor and fragile states.
  • Through the Joint Data Center, generate evidence on the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 in fragile and conflict-affected states and for displaced populations. The World Bank-UNHCR Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement is well-placed to drive forward an agenda and implement research to garner socioeconomic data on refugees and other vulnerable people. World Bank poverty and livelihoods surveys should be extended to included refugees, and analysis of this data should be disaggregated by status.

Additionally, the report recommends that the Bank’s shareholders should: (a) address existing arrears and frontload financing committed to the World Bank for IDA19; (b) increase contributions to the Global Concessional Financing Facility; and (c) consider appropriate debt relief measures beyond the initial moratorium.