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Leaving No One Behind: Refugee Inclusion in the World Bank’s Response to Covid-19

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The Covid-19 health crisis will not end until it ends for everyone – that includes refugees and other people caught in crisis. Most likely to be left behind by government responses, these populations are traditionally served by humanitarians, but the pandemic and economic crisis shines a light on the limits of this siloed approach. Multilateral development institutions like the World Bank are needed to help ensure both social safety nets and public health responses reach those most likely to be left behind.

The World Bank should be commended for quickly committing $160 billion for Covid-19 responses in low- and middle-income countries. But without concerted efforts to reach those most likely to be left out of the response, there is little hope of ending the outbreak and mitigating its worst impacts.

Refugees, who are typically left out of development plans, are at risk of being left out of national Covid19 response plans funded by donors like the World Bank. They face unique pre-existing policy barriers to self-reliance, such as access to public services and the formal labor market, and have unique vulnerabilities due to their displacement. Covid-19 mitigation measures like lockdowns are likely to exacerbate the impact of these existing challenges. 36 percent of IRC’s livelihoods clients in urban Kenya have already lost income due to Covid-19, while 61 percent of clients in Lebanon can no longer pay their rent. Meeting refugees’ needs call for a different set of tools, and an unprecedented level of collaboration between governments and humanitarian and development actors.
Building on the last three years of investment in refugee hosting states and on its Fragility, Conflict and Violence Strategy, the World Bank is well positioned to use this crisis to do better. There is a small window of opportunity to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 in fragile and refugee contexts.

The World Bank, along with the IMF and G20 countries, must start thinking about the quality of their response – not just how much they can raise and contribute.