PARIS - This first comprehensive review of bilateral aid to refugee situations points to an uneven sharing of responsibility among the international community, reveals a report published by the OECD.

Executive summary

Forced displacement, including refugee flows, is a global phenomenon. Refugee and IDP protection deserves recognition as a global public good. As of 2020, 26.4 million people were refugees, 4.1 million people were seeking asylum, while an additional 48 million people were internally displaced. Despite COVID-related movement restrictions and pleas from the international community for a ceasefire that would facilitate the COVID-19 response, displacement continued to occur – and to grow. One in every 95 people in the world is forcibly displaced (UNHCR, 2021[3]).

Financial “responsibility sharing” for hosting refugees, over and above regular ODA, is often subject to debate. ODA recipient refugee host countries underline the cost incurred and large remaining gaps in meeting the needs of refugees and host communities. Donor countries on their part point to the efforts made from already stretched aid budgets.

The OECD refugee financing survey found that in 2018-19, 32 bilateral donors gave a total of USD 44.3 billion ODA to refugees and host communities, including USD 24.2 billion to ODA recipient countries, and USD 20.1 billion as “in-donor refugee costs” to DAC member States. Combined this represents 12.3% of all ODA world-wide in 2018-19. In addition, multilateral development banks (MDBs) reported at least USD 2.33 billion of financing for refugee situations, corresponding to some 9.6% of bilateral ODA to refugees and host communities.

The slightly upward trend of financing for refugee situations in ODA recipient countries continued, while “in-donor refugee costs” continued to decrease. Data on financing for refugee situations across the HDP Nexus was hard to find, difficult to collect, and incomplete. The first ever baseline of financing by major ODA donors is established with the 2020 OECD survey, mainly focussing on humanitarian and development financing, following a more limited initial survey covering 2015-17.

Data on financial responsibility sharing for refugee situations will add increasing value over time, therefore the regularisation of data collection based on an agreed methodology will be an important next step. The scope of future data collection should ideally include a wider set of donors, and also less concessional financing.

This will lead to a better understanding of collective results and trends in responsibility sharing for refugee protection.Responsibility for hosting refugees was shared among the international community, but not evenly. The world’s top ten ODA recipient asylum countries hosted 50.1% of the world’s refugees, and received 42.3%of country-allocable refugee ODA financing to refugee situations in developing countries.

However, the OECD observed an uneven distribution of ODA to refugee situations, resulting in a “responsibility-sharing gap” for some host countries, in particular Colombia, Pakistan, Iran, and Sudan. The Middle East region received by far the largest share of region and country-allocable bilateral ODA (45.1 %), while donors did not prioritise Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and South America as much despite significant refugee and host community needs in these regions. DAC in-donor refugee costs by volume were almost equal (86%) to financing for refugee situations in ODA recipient countries, which hosted 86.6% of the world’s refugees.

The bulk of global responsibility sharing for refugees and hosting communities relied extensively on the support by three main DAC donors, the United States, Germany, and the European Union Institutions, who collectively provided almost two-thirds (63%) of all bilateral ODA to refugee situations. While their contributions cannot be highlighted enough, this limited set of key donors also demonstrates the continued fragility of responsibility sharing under the GCR. Efforts to broaden donor engagement across the globe should continue, including towards civil society and private sector, and through innovative approaches to financing refugee situations.

Donor earmarking of ODA continued to be the main feature of financing allocations to refugee situations, with 94% of all ODA to recipient countries earmarked at the regional or country level. The limited set of key donors combined with high levels of earmarking may contribute to reinforcing selective geographical repartition of financial flows to refugee situations.

Only 6% of all ODA to refugee situations was provided in the form of core contributions to refugee-mandated agencies. These core contributions facilitate a flexible response to new displacement emergencies, and more even responsibility sharing, when mandated agencies use core contributions for forgotten, less mediatised, or politically-sensitive refugee situations. Donors should continue to include core contributions in their refugee financing strategies.

In Least Developed, Low- and Middle-Income Countries, sharing already limited resources among refugees and host communities may affect poverty levels and development gains among both populations, especially when the response is under-resourced.Low levels of financing also have broader implications for the fragility risk of refugee hosting countries, and in turn increase the risk for secondary or new displacement movements. Financing strategies should achieve needs-based responsibility sharing for refugee situations, avoiding the “responsibility-sharing gap”.

They should also continue to contribute to reducing fragility, for which efforts were made with 43% of country-allocable ODA to refugee situations in 2018-19 provided to fragile countries according to the OECD States of Fragility classification. Donors’ engagement in refugee situations in fragile contexts should be informed by conflict sensitivity assessments, including at sub-national level, and apply a careful HDP Nexus approach to help reduce existing fragilities across political, security, societal, economic, environmental and human dimensions.

Hosting refugees is as much a development co-operation as it is a humanitarian issue. This has been widely recognised and translated into policy. The GCR itself makes this point a priority, and DAC members developed an according Common Position through the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF) – (INCAF/OECD, 2019[4]).

Nevertheless, the majority of ODA (71%) to refugee situations was sustained by humanitarian aid in 2018-19. This meant that the reality of protracted refugee situations was largely addressed through short-term interventions, with the associated planning cycles and operational strategies.

The engagement of MDBs contributes to strengthening the development dimension of financing for refugee situations. There was evidence of significant MDB financing for refugee situations in 2018-19, yet comparatively limited in volume in relation to bilateral ODA. Beyond financing, the positive role of MDBs included substantial support to empirical analysis and refugee related policy development in refugee host countries, sharing of technical expertise, the introduction of innovative financing and operational strategies, and support to high-level political advocacy.

The application of anHDP Nexus approach in refugee situations means that development and peace financing should be made available from the onset of a refugee crisis, complementing humanitarian financing, as relevant and possible. In protracted situations, development funding takes on increasing importance for sustainable refugee protection, while humanitarian financing to vulnerable populations must continue. Supporting countries of origin to address the root causes of displacement across the HDP Nexuscan help create favourable conditions for voluntary repatriation. If and when voluntary repatriation to the country of origin in safety and dignity is possible, additional development financing plays an important role in stabilising returnees and recipient communities.

Five key messages

Financing for refugee situations represented 12.3% of total official development assistance (ODA) in 2018-19, and included both financing for ODA recipient countries and in-donor costs. There is a clear commitment by ODA donors and multilateral development banks (MDBs) to share responsibility forrefugee protection in the spirit of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR).

1. Financing for refugee situations should be informed by situation specific strategies across the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus, and integrated with broader development strategies. Responsibility sharing for refugees and host communities should be measured over time, based on an agreed upon methodology.

The largest regional share of country and region-allocable financing was provided to the Middle East(45%), while other regions were less prioritised, despite major refugee presence. Donors targeted financing to the top ten refugee host countries, but not evenly. Some host countries were affected by a “responsibility sharing gap” between the share of global refugees they hosted, and the share of global financing for refugee situations they received. Despite the large refugee population they hosted, these countries received much less financing than other major hosts.

2. More remains to be done in order to align practice with commitment, and share refugee protection responsibilities more evenly across refugee host countries, and regions according to the magnitude and needs of situations.

The bulk of responsibility sharing under the GCR relied heavily on the support by three DAC donors.The United States, Germany and EU Institutions provided almost two thirds, or 63%, of all financing in developing countries.

3. In order to reduce the risks associated with insufficient responsibility sharing under the GCR, the financing base should be diversified and broadened. Solutions for innovative financing approaches should be scaled up and tracked.

A significant share (43%) of country-allocable financing for refugee situations was provided to fragile countries. The vast majority (86.6%) of world’s refugee population are hosted by Least Developed, Lowand Middle Income Countries.

4. Financing refugee situations also means reducing fragility, preserving, and/or achieving development gains. Further incentives should be created to include refugees in development strategies, at global, national, and sub-national levels. The reality of protracted refugee situations was largely addressed through short-term humanitarian financing, which constituted 71% of all ODA financing for refugee situations in developing countries.

5 More needs to be done in terms of development and peace support for comprehensive refugee responses. Tangible guidance should be developed for HDP Nexusaligned strategy and financing in refugee situations

For the full report, visit: