Locked Down and Left Behind: The Impact of COVID-19 on Refugees’ Economic Inclusion

Refugees living in low- and middle-income countries are especially vulnerable to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on data from eight hosting countries before COVID-19, we find that refugees are 60 percent more likely than host populations to be working in highly impacted sectors, such as accommodation and food services, manufacturing, and retail. As a result, COVID-19 will likely lead to widespread loss of livelihoods and an increase in poverty among refugee populations. These impacts will be exacerbated by the fact that COVID-19 has made it more difficult for refugees to access the labor market, social safety nets, and aid provided by humanitarian organizations. Going forward, as refugee-hosting countries face looming economic recession, increasing unemployment, and rising xenophobia, there will be increased skepticism of refugees’ economic inclusion. This paper explores these issues and argues expanded economic inclusion is in the best interests of refugees, their host populations, and their host countries. It also provides a series of recommendations for refugee-hosting countries to safeguard refugee livelihoods in the short- and long-term.

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