A Poverty-Easing Plan to Help Displaced People and Their Host Countries

Yezidi refugees from Iraq arriving in northeastern Syria, having escaped ISIS. They walked RACHEL UNKOVIC/INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE/CREATIVE COMMONS
Yazidi refugees from Iraq arriving in northeastern Syria in 2014, having escaped ISIS by walking nearly 40 miles through searing desert temperatures. RACHEL UNKOVIC/INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE/CREATIVE COMMONS

WASHINGTON, D.C. — One year ago, almost 1 percent of the world’s population, about 65 million people, had been forcibly displaced from their homes. That is a population size that would constitute a nation larger than Britain or would be the world’s 21st-largest country. But instead of creating their own country, the majority of the 65 million people fled to about 15 countries: Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey (Syria’s neighbors); Iran and Pakistan (Afghanistan’s neighbors); and Ethiopia and Kenya (Somalia and South Sudan’s neighbors).

Such forced displacement adversely affects development in the communities that host displaced people and sows resentment among residents toward the outsiders who have flocked to their country, said Xavier Devictor, an adviser for the fragility, conflict and violence group at the World Bank. He introduced his group’s new report, “Forcibly Displaced:  Toward a Development Approach Supporting Refugees, the Internally Displaced and Their Hosts,” to the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service here in late November.

In response to the overwhelming influx of displaced people, the World Bank has initiated a study with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to identify areas where a development approach can help reduce the costs of the crisis and lessen local resentment and hostility.

Over the next five years, low-cost financing from the World Bank will provide grants to Jordan and Lebanon for development, such as job training and education. The aim is to help reduce poverty among both the people who have been displaced and the people living in the communities hosting the displaced. This way, the development approach can address the medium- and long-term socioeconomic dimensions of forced displacement, while complementing the work of such entities as the UN refugee agency and other humanitarian organizations.

In contrast to so-called “economic migrants” who cross borders seeking jobs and other opportunities, people who are forcibly displaced are fleeing violence and possible persecution only to end up facing an uncertain future long after they survive their sometimes hazardous flight.

On arriving in a host country, they require emergency or immediate services, supplied by the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and similar agencies.  Soon the kinds of development support provided to Jordan and Lebanon by the World Bank should enable forcibly displaced persons to work, have their children attend school and rebuild their lives, according to the report.

Bereft of such support, people who are displaced could encounter more hardships and further adversely affect their new community. The length of exile of people who have fled their homes has ranged from several weeks for Kosovar refugees in 1999 to almost 70 years for Palestinian refugees. But the average duration has been just over 10 years, and the median duration, four years.

Devictor of the World Bank also pointed out that what seems a simple term, “refugees,” often causes confusion. For example, at the end of 2013, the UN’s count of “refugees” in Norway was 46,033; Eurostat’s, 18,734; and Statistics Norway’s, 132,203. The UN refugee agency’s number was based on the total number of asylum-seekers who got a positive decision on their claims in the previous 10 years.

Such discrepancy among the three different tallies has led data collectors to begin to standardize terms such as “refugees,” “migrants,” “forcibly displaced persons” and “internally displaced persons.”

For now, the approximately 24 million people who have crossed an international border are generally understood to be refugees and asylum seekers. About 41 million people who have moved but not crossed an international border, despite conflict and violence in their country, are viewed as internally displaced persons. The two groups combined make up the 65 million persons in 2015 referred to as those living in “forced displacement.”


 

 

The plight of refugees and asylum seekers was once widely considered a humanitarian problem that required quick responses by humanitarian agencies. But at the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants in September, the plight of these people became better understood and deemed a global problem, calling for using the World Bank’s development approach, among many other strategies.

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