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 2015-2018, 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 these hosting countries will fare worse economically post-2020, compared with other developing nations and world averages. Specific findings include:

“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”.