Refugee Compacts: Addressing the Crisis of Protracted Displacement

The world is witnessing higher levels of displacement than ever before. The statistics tell the story. Today, an unprecedented 65 million people—including 21 million refugees—are displaced from their homes. Since the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011, 5 million people have fled to nearby Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan. And refugees now spend an average of 10 years away from their countries. Equally striking as the scale of the crisis are the consequences of an inadequate response. Individual lives hang in the balance; refugees are struggling to rebuild their lives, find jobs, and send their children to school. Developing countries that are hosting the overwhelming majority of refugees— and at the same time trying to meet the needs of their own citizens—are shouldering unsustainable costs. We are seeing global stability and hard-won development gains threatened.

Still, as this report points out, the challenge is manageable—if the international community is able to get its response right. However, the response so far has not kept pace with the changing landscape; the traditional tools and approaches of humanitarian and development actors are not fit for purpose in this new reality. The so-called humanitarian-development divide—which we have been struggling to close for decades—remains; and best practices for coordination, implementation, and transparency are still not the norm. Staying true to the objective of the Sustainable Development Goals to “leave no one behind” and realizing the commitments made at the May 2016 World Humanitarian Summit will require a new, better way forward. It will take a recognition of the collective outcomes we aim to achieve, new ways of working, and greater responsibility-sharing among a broader set of actors.

Innovative ideas are often borne out of seemingly unsolvable problems. New partnerships are forged, bringing in more and untraditional actors. New pressures are placed on a broader set of institutions to offer their expertise and resources. One case in point: last year, the World Bank threw its hat in the ring. In partnership with regional development banks and the United Nations, the World Bank launched an initiative offering concessional financing to middle-income countries hosting large numbers of refugees. These partners, along with donor countries, entered into compact agreements with Lebanon and Jordan to help improve education and livelihoods opportunities for refugees and host communities. Learning from these compacts and other efforts that build on such innovation presents a significant opportunity to change the game.

This study group, convened jointly by the Center for Global Development and the International Rescue Committee, brought humanitarian and development actors to the same table to review lessons from these initial experiences and take a critical look at what needs to change to ensure our collective response is greater than our individual actions. This report offers key principles for closing the humanitarian-development divide and practical guidance for designing effective compacts. We encourage policymakers and implementers alike to carefully consider these recommendations to ensure that humanitarian and development dollars have a real impact on the lives of refugees and host communities.

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