After a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that no one is safe until everyone is safe. As new virus strains spread across borders, COVID-19 responses must be designed to protect all people regardless of nationality or legal status. For refugees and displaced populations, the preexisting challenges of being excluded from essential public services, social protection systems, economic opportunities and financial services have only magnified since the beginning of the pandemic. This is particularly pronounced for women and girls who face additional barriers to accessing services and who are overrepresented in sectors highly affected by COVID-19. The World Bank has already demonstrated a robust commitment to supporting refugees and refugeehosting countries; its resources, credibility and expertise in advancing refugee inclusion should be applied to their pandemic response.
The most effective and sustainable solution to ensuring that no one is left behind in this pandemic is to include refugees in national responses and social protection systems, especially in fragile and conflict-affected settings. Our findings show that out of 13 refugee-hosting countries analyzed, two have World Bank-funded COVID-19 response plans that explicitly and fully integrate displaced populations. The other 11 countries have response plans that range from partial inclusion to seemingly total exclusion. To its credit, the World Bank has adapted a number of projects financed through the IDA19 Window for Host Communities and Refugees (WHR) and IDA18 Refugee Sub-Window (RSW) to ease additional strains on host communities and refugees.
But the fact that 11 out of 13 countries do not comprehensively extend their COVID-19 responses to refugee and displaced populations at the national level risks vulnerable communities falling through the cracks. While the World Bank and host governments expect forcibly displaced populations’ needs will be met by the humanitarian sector, UNHCR reported a 51% funding gap in 2020 and has in turn needed to cancel or scale back its activities in some of the world’s most fragile contexts.
The World Bank has a unique role and added value in supporting the inclusion of refugees in national pandemic responses, including through financing policy reforms that enable refugee inclusion in national systems and labor markets, and through projects that are adapted to the needs of refugees.