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Downward Spiral: the economic impact of Covid-19 on refugees and displaced people


New research shows devastating economic impact of Covid-19 on displaced

More than three quarters of displaced and conflict-affected people surveyed by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) have lost income since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The devastating economic impact is tipping many into a hunger, homelessness and education crisis, the organisation said in a report released today.

The report, Downward Spiral, is based on detailed surveys and needs assessments in 14 countries, including a multi-country survey of 1,400 conflict and displacement-affected people in eight countries, which shows that:

  • 77 per cent of people surveyed had lost a job or income from work since March.
  • 70 per cent of people had to cut the number of meals for their household since the pandemic broke out.
  • 73 per cent reported that they were less likely to send their children to school because of economic hardship.

“The world’s most vulnerable communities are in a dangerous downward spiral. Already forced from their homes by violence, often with limited rights to work or access to government services, the economic impact of the pandemic is pushing them to catastrophe,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of NRC.

Compounding numerous existing crises and challenges, Covid-19 related travel restrictions, closure of markets and businesses, and the general economic downturn have caused conflict and displacement affected populations to lose work and income. The recent loss of income, limited access to social safety nets, a drop in remittances and increased debt, have created severe negative knock-on effects for those affected,

“The price of food has doubled. We have to collect scraps to feed our children,”

Shayista Gul (60) told NRC. She lives in a two-room makeshift home together with 15 other persons in a settlement for displaced persons outside Kabul in Afghanistan. “If the coronavirus does not kill us, hunger definitely will.”

The increased economic hardship is forcing many people from their homes, with many respondents reporting they had been evicted or saying that they were likely to try to move elsewhere to find work.

While donors and international financial institutions have responded to the crisis, the scaled-up support has not been nearly enough. As of September, the UN’s 2020 humanitarian appeals were only 25 per cent funded. In addition, funds have so far been slow to reach those in need and initial donor commitments have prioritised the health response over programs to address the economic impact. NRC warned that even a fully funded humanitarian response would not be able to meet the needs that are now emerging.

“An urgent scale-up in aid is needed, but humanitarian assistance alone cannot fix this,” Egeland said. “The rich countries of the G20 and international financial institutions must put displaced and conflict-affected communities at the centre of national and international economic responses to Covid-19. Without urgent action, this crisis will spiral out of control.”

Facts and figures

  • NRC conducted a survey of 1,413 displaced and conflict-affected people across Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Uganda and Venezuela and additional research in Somalia, DR Congo, Lebanon, Jordan, Burkina Faso and Yemen
  • 77 per cent of those surveyed said that they had lost income since the pandemic started.
  • 71 per cent said that they had difficulty paying rent or other basic housing costs
  • 70 per cent said they had cut the number of meals for their household
  • 73 per cent said that they were less likely to send their children to school because of the current economic situation
  • 62 per cent of those who had previously received remittances from family members abroad said they were receiving less than before the pandemic
  • 68 per cent said they were likely to move elsewhere because of a lack of work or income
  • 28 per cent reported receiving less assistance from NGOs or governments since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Less than 7 per cent stated that they had received more assistance.

Notes to editor:

  • The full report Downward Spiral: the economic impact of Covid-19 on refugees and displaced people can be found here.
  • Photos can be downloaded for free use and distribution here.
  • B-roll can be downloaded for free use and distribution here.
  • NRC has spokespeople available for interviews in English, French, Arabic and Spanish.

Press contacts:

  • NRC’s global media hotline:, +47 905 62 329