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How the World Bank can get it right for refugees

By Kevin Watkins, Chief Executive and Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly, Head of Education Policy & Advocacy at Save the Children

As the world’s finance and development ministers meet this weekend in Washington for the annual World Bank-IMF meetings, they have an opportunity to turn the warm words offered at last month’s refugee summits in New York into action and make a life-changing difference for some of the world’s most vulnerable children.

This is an opportunity they should seize.

The word ‘refugee’ conjours up images of violence in Syria, capsizing boats in the Mediterranean, and lines of desperate people trudging through Europe. Yet these images tell only part of the story.

Refugees around the world

The majority of the world’s 65 million displaced people are still living in their home country, or as refugees in neighbouring countries.

While the world is rightly shocked by what is happening in Syria, the majority of refugees are not Syrian – and they’re nowhere near Europe.

They are Afghans living in Pakistan and Iran, Somalis and Southern Sudanese living in Ethiopia, Darfuris and Central Africans living in Chad.

A long-term situation

For most of these people, displacement isn’t a short-term emergency. It’s the start of a long-term descent into a world of increased vulnerability and diminished opportunity.

More than half of all refugees in 2014 had been displaced for over ten years.

For children, displacement all too often means the end of education and an early transition into the world of work or, in the case of girls, early marriage.

Missing education

In theory, registered refugees have a better chance of being in school. Even so, some 3.7 million are out of school.

Considering protracted displacement is the norm, we need to design our response accordingly.

Yet support for displaced people is still overwhelmingly stuck in a short-term mind set.

Humanitarian agencies launch short-term appeals to fund a response to a long-term crisis.

The net result is that over half of the children displaced by war and other emergencies are out of school.

Lack of support

Meanwhile, governments that are generously hosting millions of refugees, discharging responsibilities on behalf of the entire international community, are not receiving the support they need to provide education and other basic services.

As the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, chaired by Gordon Brown, demonstrated in a powerful recent report, under-investing in education  is the ultimate false economy.

It undermines economic growth, reinforces inequalities and robs children of the skills they need to build a better future. And nowhere is global investment in education more in deficit than for children affected by conflict.

Donor governments now have a unique opportunity to square up to the challenge.

Pledging support

The World Bank is in the process of negotiating the replenishment of its fund for the world’s poorest countries, known as the International Development Association (IDA).

For the first time the current IDA package includes a proposal to provide $2 billion over a three-year period to help refugees and their host communities in low-income countries.

The Bank is also proposing to double IDA financing to countries affected by fragility and conflict.

In addition, last month the Bank announced the launch of a new Global Concessional Finance Facility to provide support to Jordan, Lebanon and other middle-income countries that are hosting large numbers of refugees.

This mechanism will use grant funding to leverage loans – the plan is to raise $1.5 billion to be able to provide $6 billion in funding on the ground.

The US, Japan, Sweden and Denmark have already pledged support.

A breakthrough

These two new funds could constitute a huge breakthrough for the lives of millions of refugees around the world.

Governments currently do not have strong incentives to incorporate refugees into their development plans, but these funds tackle this challenge head-on, providing support not only for refugees but also for the communities that are hosting them.

The situation for countries hosting refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria demonstrates the vital importance of this new approach.

To take one example, Jordan hosts 1.4 million Syrian refugees – one in five people in the country.

As a percentage of Jordan’s budget the funding needed in response to the refugee influx reached around 35 per cent in 2015.

The new finance facility will tackle the financing gap, providing work permits for 130,000 Syrian refugees and reinforcing water infrastructure in communities hosting refugees.

Teachers and classrooms needed

The funds are also urgently needed to get the 1.4 million out-of-school Syrian refugee children into education.

In London earlier this year the countries hosting Syrian refugees committed to ensure every child is in school by the end of the academic year, but they need support to do this.

The level of need vastly outstrips the resources available – there are not enough teachers, schools or classrooms – and the education infrastructure that does exist is deteriorating.

While the mechanisms under discussion won’t mark the end of the problem, they could mark a big step towards translating the ambition of preventing a “lost generation” into practical action.

At the refugee summits at the UN General Assembly last month, governments pledged to do more for refugees.

Funding these new mechanisms should be the first step in delivering these commitments.

Save the Children will be at the World Bank this week, pushing financing of refugee education, hosting an event, and calling on governments to get behind what could be a transformative initiative.


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