Refugees and internally displaced persons in development planning: No- one left behind?


OECD Development Policy Papers, No. 47 (2023)


This paper documents the extent to which refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are included in development planning and explores how inclusion can be strengthened.

The review covers 58 low- and middle-income countries with more than 100,000 forcibly displaced people. Collectively these countries host more than 87 million forcibly displaced people representing 80 percent of the global total. Within these 58 countries, the report covers 54 national development plans, 132 sector plans (47 health plans, 47 education plans and 28 technical and vocational education and training plans), international development co-operation strategies of 30 Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members and 3 DAC participants, and 54 UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks (UNSDCFs).

Documents were classified into three categories according to the following criteria: (1) inclusion of forced displacement mainstreamed throughout planned activities; (2) significant mention of inclusion; and (3) no significant mention of inclusion. Each document was coded according to the number of references to refugees, IDPs, and host community, and how these references relate to development planning, including: (a) the national context; (b) development financing; (c) health; (d) education; (e) jobs/private sector development; (f) safety and security; (g) social protection; (h) domestic revenue mobilization; and (i) whether there were any specific indicators referring to forced displacement.

Main findings:

  • Less than a third of national development plans from displacement-affected LICs and MICs include refugees or IDPs. Only 28 percent of LICs and MICs referenced refugees and/or IDPs in their national development plans. None of the development plans mainstreamed inclusion throughout the planned activities. Fragile states were more likely to reference refugees and IDPs in their national development plans. Refugees were more likely to be significantly referenced in development plans than References were mostly related to health, safety and security, and education. None of the development plans included comprehensive costing of services and support to forcibly displaced populations.
  • There is a markedly higher rate of explicit inclusion in sector development plans of low- and middle-income countries. 56 percent of education plans, 40 percent of health plans, and 39 percent of technical and vocational education and training plans make significant reference to displaced populations. In addition, 38 percent of education plans, 32 percent of health plans, and 21 percent of technical and vocational education and training plans mainstream inclusion throughout planned activities.
  • More than half of global donor development cooperation strategies include refugees and IDPs. 52 percent of DAC members and participants (17 of 33 countries) include refugees and IDPs as a significant aspect of their strategies. However, none mainstreams inclusion across their entire development cooperation strategy. The most common referenced sectors in relation to inclusion of refugees and IDPs are social protection, and safety and Health and education are referenced less often.
  • More than three quarters of UNSDCFs include refugees and IDPs. Specifically, 76 percent of UNSDCFs make significant reference to inclusion of refugees and/or IDPs, with 15 percent mainstreaming inclusion throughout planned activities. Inclusion in UNSDCFs is primarily focused on social protection, access to jobs and private sector development, followed by health, safety, and security. However, UNSDCFs do not place significant emphasis on the value of inclusion in domestic revenue mobilization through taxation.
  • The total number of forcibly displaced people in a country and the intensity of fragility are strong predictors of inclusion in development planning. Countries with a larger population of forcibly displaced people are more likely to prioritize their inclusion in their development Additionally, countries that are more exposed to extreme fragility are also more likely to reference forced displacement in their development planning.
  • There is a notable mismatch between national development plans, and donors’ high-level development co-operation strategies. Donors tend to prioritize inclusion in social protection, while LICs and MICs rarely focus on this sector. LICs and MICs prioritize inclusion in health and education, which is not emphasized by donors. The inclusion of refugees and IDPs is not consistently addressed in policy dialogues between donors and their partner countries.

The authors conclude that the inclusion of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in development planning processes is still in its early stages, lagging behind other inclusion policy areas. They highlight that a significant opportunity for advocating for more inclusion arises when development strategies or plans reach their end, requiring revision, redrafting, and presentation to parliament.

The report provides several policy recommendations to strengthen the inclusion of refugees in development planning. These include:


  • Ensuring that policy dialogue and regular development planning and cooperation in LICs and MICs affected by forced displacement include refugees and IDPs.
  • Engaging with sector leaders, civil society organizations (such as vocational groups, humanitarian and human rights actors, faith-based organizations, and political parties), and the private sector, who have shared interests in the inclusion of the forcibly displaced and the ability to influence development planning.
  • Strengthening government ownership and accountability for the inclusion of refugees and IDPs at the country level. This includes empowering refugees and IDPs to become a constituency with a voice in development planning and ensuring their inclusion and disaggregation in national statistics and household surveys.
  • Continuing data-based monitoring of inclusion in development planning, programming, and implementation over time, disaggregated by displacement status.
  • Systematically assessing the feasibility of including forcibly displaced populations in national systems, labor markets, and related development planning at both the country and sub-national levels.
  • Undertaking contextualized research and evaluation of the impact of effective inclusion cases on the displaced and host communities, and disseminating the findings.