What does TOSSD show on refugee-related support?


According to UNHCR data, one in every 74 people on Earth has fled from their homes and the number of displaced people worldwide has increased by 138% in the last 20 years. Children represent 40% of the refugee population worldwide. Therefore, tracking official support for refugees is critical to shed light on support for these issues, as well as to foster further co-ordination and mobilisation between development stakeholders. 

The Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) recognises that international co-operation – and a more predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing approach – is critical for a sustainable solution to refugee situations. The GCR indicator framework, approved by the UN General Assembly in December 2018, tracks spending in this area. Six out of 15 performance indicators of the GCR are compiled using TOSSD as a data source.

What do TOSSD data tell us about official support to refugees? Expenditures for refugee situations are tracked in TOSSD through the data item “modality”, distinguishing between the costs of temporary sustenance of refugees in provider countries (during the first year and up to five years of stay) and cross-border support to refugee situations in developing countries. This data story shows the trends in 2019-21 with some insights to the underlying activities.*

Overall trends for refugee-related support in TOSSD

TOSSD data show an increase in support to refugees and protected persons between 2019 and 2021, with total disbursements amounting to USD 47.1 billion over three years. 

The graph draws attention to three issues. First, refugee-related expenditures in form of cross-border support to developing countries have increased at a higher pace than support in provider countries. The data show a3-fold increase from 2019 to 2021, in comparison to a 28% increase in expenditures in provider countries in the same period. This can be partly explained by an increased reporting on such expenditures by some countries, which have built their reporting systems over time. Support for voluntary returns plummeted almost 96% from 2020 to 2021 - the COVID-19 pandemic might explain this.

Second, in 2021, refugee-related expenditures in provider countries were 3 times higher than cross-border support to refugees, while in 2019 the former had been almost 7 times higher than the latter. This is a relevant comparison considering that approximately three-quarters of refugees live in low- and middle-income countries. 

Third, TOSSD discloses data on refugee-related support not tracked elsewhere in international statistics on development finance. In 2019-21, almost USD 2 billion were spent on support to refugees and protected persons in provider countries beyond the first year of their stay. The bulk majority was implementedby local governments. Moreover, USD 460 million supported the refugees and migrants’ integration in the economy and culture of the provider country. Such expenditures include language training, vocational training, social protection schemes, employment programmes and awareness on national culture. Developing countries have started to share in TOSSD their support to refugees, both as host countries and providers of support to other developing countries (three developing countries reported on their refugee-related support in TOSSD between 2019 and 2021).

Overall trends for refugee-related support in TOSSD

In 2019-21, 86% of cross-border support to refugees in developing countries were reported as humanitarian aid. In 2021, such expenditures were 2.7 times higher than the amount reported in 2019. The bulk of humanitarian assistance went to material relief and services – such as providing shelter, water, sanitation, education, health services and medicines, among others.

TOSSD shows that cross-border support to refugees increased in almost all regions. Support to countries in South of Sahara, the Middle East and South America increased more than two times from 2019 to 2021, and for developing countries in Europe, three times. Support for countries in South of Sahara and Europe doubled in 2021, in comparison to 2020. The graph below shows the trends of refugee-related support disbursed in developing countries, by region.

 Regional breakdown - TOSSD data on refugee support (2019-2021)

At the same time, TOSSD data show that, along the years, support is less concentrated in certain regions, and is more widespread across countries in the regions. Support for South and Central Asian countries represented 25% of refugee-related cross-border support to developing countries in 2019, vs. 11% in 2021, even though the amounts disbursed increased in the same period. The share of South of Saharan countries decreased from 29% to 25%, regardless of volume of support increased. In 2019, the top 3 recipient regions concentrated 75% of TOSSD cross-border support to refugees (vs. 63% in 2021). This reflects a world with more and more refugee crises, which are becoming more global over time.

Twenty TOSSD recipients concentrated 55% of cross-border support to refugees between 2019 and 2021. According to UNHCR data, practically all these countries have been at least once between 2019 and 2021 in the top 20 countries of origin and/or asylum of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Also, and even though there are visible jumps in the top 20 recipients from 2019 to 2021 (such as Afghanistan, Türkiye and the West Bank and Gaza Strip), the most striking jumps are not visible in the chart. Support for countries such as India, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and Peru increased 48, 23, 19 and 7 times during this period.

Visit to explore activity-level data on refugee-related support and more than 1 million activities on official support for sustainable development.

*The figures in this data story differ from those in the recently launched OECD report on development finance for refugee situations for 2020 and 2021. This is due to differences in coverage (TOSSD includes support given by some South-South co-operation providers but has data gaps for some traditional providers) and data analysis (this data story being based on activities identified as support to refugees by the provider at the time of reporting vs ex-post qualitative analysis of CRS data in the OECD report). From 2022 data onwards, the keyword #Refugees_HostCommunities will enable better tracking of cross-border refugee-related support (e.g., activities benefiting refugees and the host communities reported in all modalities).

Publication date: 15 December 2023

Author: TOSSD Task Force Secretariat


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