Press Release

Refugees Are 60% More Likely To Be Financially Impacted By COVID-19, New Research Finds

July 08, 2020
Contact: Eva Grant Center for Global Development [email protected] +1.202.416.4027

Refugee-hosting countries will experience less growth in 2020 due to the pandemic

WASHINGTON, DC - Refugees are more likely to work in sectors financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and refugee-hosting countries are projected to experience slower growth in 2020, new analysis released by the Center for Global Development, Refugees International, and the International Rescue Committee finds. 

In this analysis, authors calculated and compiled estimates from eight large refugee-hosting countries with available representative data: Colombia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Peru, Turkey, and Uganda. The data analyzed are largely from 2015-2019, where researchers could extract comparable statistics across countries. This paper represents the largest quantitative cross-country comparison of refugees: 10.64 million, or 37 percent of all refugees worldwide.

The researchers found that the main hosting countries will fare worse economically post-2020, compared with other developing nations and world averages. Specific findings include:

  • 60 percent of employed refugees work in highly-impacted sectors, relative to 37 percent of host populations.
  • Refugees are therefore 60 percent more likely than host populations to work in sectors of the economy impacted most by COVID-19.
  • Only 7 percent of refugees work in the least impacted sectors, like education and public administration, compared to 19 percent of hosts.
  • Refugee women are at a particular disadvantage; in the Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa regions where refugee women are most likely to work, they are over-represented in highly impacted sectors. 
  • The 15 low- and middle-income countries with the largest refugee populations were growing slower than other low- and middle- income countries before the pandemic and are projected by the IMF to experience almost equal declines in 2020. 

“Refugees tend to be disproportionately affected by this crisis, because so few work in the less-affected sectors like education, public administration, health, and agriculture,” Helen Dempster, CGD’s Assistant Director and Senior Associate for Policy Outreach for Migration, Displacement, and Humanitarian Policy, says. “Both legal and practical barriers often prevent refugees from getting the land or citizenship required of more recession-proof work.” 

“Expanding economic inclusion for refugees is necessary to reduce the negative impacts of this and future pandemics,” Refugees International’s Labor Market Access Program Assistant Martha Guerrero Ble said. “Labor market access in hosting countries can reduce the spread of the pandemic, provide more ‘essential workers,’ and stimulate the economic recovery for the benefit of the population as a whole.” 

“Within host countries, refugees face barriers to entering the formal workforce and are often excluded from social safety nets and other work-related benefits,” said Barri Shorey, senior director of economic recovery and development, International Rescue Committee. “Now as COVID-19 wreaks havoc across economies, the cracks are further showing. The most vulnerable are disproportionately impacted and those refugees who have been able to make progress, have been sent back to worry about meeting their most basic needs. Building back from COVID-19 must work for everyone. In doing so, refugees can regain their livelihoods and host countries can benefit from newfound economic growth”. 

The paper is available here, along with appendix data: /publication/locked-down-and-left-behind-impact-covid-19-refugees-economic-inclusion.


About CGD: The Center for Global Development is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works to reduce global poverty and improve lives through innovative economic research that drives better policy and practice by the world's top decision makers. /page/about-cgd

About Refugees International: Refugees international advocates for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people and promotes solutions to displacement crises. We do not accept any government or UN funding, ensuring the independence and credibility of our work. Learn more at and follow us on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

About IRC: The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.