Missing Persons: Refugees Left Out and Left Behind in the Sustainable Development Goals

Allison Grossman and Lauren Post

International Rescue Committee, September 2019



This paper examines how refugees are faring in relation to national populations in terms of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Key messages:

  • Refugees are being “left behind”. Four out of five fragile and conflict-affected states are not on track to achieve the SDGs. The vast majority of refugees are located in fragile contexts (12 out of 15 countries hosting the highest share of refugees are fragile). Moreover, statistics indicate that refugees have unique vulnerabilities and are frequently worse off when compared with the non-displaced population.
  • Refugees are being “left out”. Refugees are excluded from SDG-related data collection, monitoring frameworks, national reporting, and national development plans. Of 42 countries that submitted 2019 Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs)—an optional self-assessment of national progress toward SDGs—only 13 mentioned refugees and none included data on refugees to measure their progress towards the SDGs. There is a lack of data on refugee outcomes and on their progress towards the SDGs.
  • There is no shared strategy for ensuring refugees achieve the SDGs, despite UN Member States’ commitment to “Leave No One Behind”.

To meet the SDGs by 2030, the authors advocate efforts to: (1) collect data that permit comparisons between refugees and non-displaced populations, align humanitarian data with SDG indicators, and invest in national statistical capacity; (2) include refugees in SDG planning and monitoring, including VNRs and national development plans; and (3) remove barriers and scale-up approaches to improve refugee wellbeing alongside national populations, including both policy reforms and evidence-based interventions.