Mashreq Region: Measuring changes in socio-economic welfare since COVID-19 in forcibly displaced populations, and host communities


Background and Context

Across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), anecdotally, the protection and poverty impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable people and those living in the economic margins of society appears to be devastating. Among them, refugees, asylum-seekers, IDPs, stateless persons and many other citizens are unable to make ends meet. Many of those who had previously coped without cash assistance are now increasingly desperate, entering further into debt and spiraling into poverty. They face difficult choices such as reducing meals, sharing overcrowded shelters and missing rental payments, leaving them at risk of eviction and other protection concerns.

UNHCR and other partners have been collecting information on the impact of COVID-19 on persons of concern through call-centers and helplines, both recording requests of refugees who proactively contact UNHCR, and through surveys where UNHCR collects data based on representative samples. These initiatives have yielded initial results. However, surveys methodologies are primarily defined by country operations, with sampling and questionnaires / indicators varying from country to country. While some of the COVID-19 assessments have included host communities, this has not been done systematically, and the understanding of how COVID has impacted host communities and refugees remains very limited.

The World Bank too is in the process of collecting information on the impact of COVID-19 through phone surveys, including in countries with large refugee populations, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. The Bank’s data collection activities are typically executed in collaboration with the National Statistical Office and focus on the population at large. They do not include specific strata for vulnerable forcibly populations like refugees.

This activity will focus on two related problems: siloed data that could be of greater use if combined, and a deficit of shared and cohesive insight into the welfare dynamics experienced by displaced and host populations in the region—particularly (but not exclusively) as a result of the socioeconomic fallout of COVID-19. More specifically, despite past successful collaboration, the UNHCR and World Bank currently lack the resources to integrate these specific data sources and provide actionable analysis on poverty among both hosts and refugees to facilitate program design and policy dialogue for both institutions’ efforts in MENA.

By bringing together data from both sources, it is feasible to assess the impact of COVID-19 on refugees, forcibly displaced and host communities. Doing so requires developing coherent and comparable methodologies for data collection and analysis. Ideally, this is to be supported with the development and enhancement of integrated and harmonized approaches.

Activity Description

The project will use data available to either the World Bank and/or UNHCR to prepare welfare analytics for countries which host a large number of refugees, particularly refugees from the Syria crisis. Data from multiple sources are available: Phone surveys implemented by UNHCR, as well as household surveys completed by the World Bank, International Labour Organization (ILO) and National Statistical Offices. These data will be harmonized and used in combination. Not all data are presently accessible to the team. Gaining access and the right to use these data is one of the objectives of this activity.

The key deliverable is a set of poverty projections for hosts and refugees. For Jordan, poverty can be estimated using the 2017 Household Indicator and Expenditure Survey (HIES). This survey has the added benefit of being stratified by Jordanians and non-Jordanians which allows projecting poverty for hosts as well as refugees. This can be supplemented with registered refugees using the Vulnerability Assessment Framework (VAF) collected by UNHCR.

For Lebanon, the approach followed in The Mobility of Displaced Syrians (World Bank 2020) can be followed by nowcasting Lebanese poverty from the 2012 HIES and estimating poverty amongst refugees using data from the Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees (VASyR) collected by UNHCR, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

In Iraq, poverty can be estimated using the 2017-18 Rapid Welfare Monitoring (SWIFT) survey, which was stratified for IDPs and non-IDPs.  It also includes Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) but the sample size is too small to estimate refugee poverty.

Overall objectives

The primary objective is to assess changes in the socio-economic welfare since COVID-19 on Syrian refugees in the Mashreq. The expected outcome is the promotion, through evidence, of inclusive (refugees, forcibly displaced and host communities) welfare, enhancing national policies and the assistance of international aid organizations.

A secondary objective is to lay the foundation for a longer term, in depth collaboration, between the UNHCR regional and country offices in the Mashreq region and the World Bank MENA Poverty and Equity Global Practice.

Engagement with partners

  • Strengthening Partnerships in Support of Displaced Populations in Mashreq: Following a number of country specific and regional team meetings, the World Bank and UNHCR teams have identified key areas for deepening country-level and regional collaboration between the World Bank and UNHCR in responding to the Syria/Iraq situations.
  • Livelihoods/Partnership with Private Sector/Financial Inclusion: UNHCR (Jordan, MENA and Lebanon) continue to collaborate with World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) on issues related to financial inclusion and access to labour markets.
  • Aligning Humanitarian Cash Assistance with National Social Safety Nets: UNHCR has been actively engaged with the Governments of Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon and with the UN agencies, World Bank, EU MADAD and other bilateral donors advocating for the use of harmonized approaches/mechanisms for the delivery of cash assistance and improving alignment between humanitarian cash assistance and national social protection programs.


For further details on the JDC support for this activity, please contact:

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