A New Way to Address the Causes and Effects of Forced Displacement

A family seeks refuge at a temporary relief camp in Pakistan after floods inundated their village. Photo: ADB
A family seeks refuge at a temporary relief camp in Pakistan after floods inundated their village. Photo: ADB

By Samuel Tumiwa

The “nexus” approach calls for better planning to prevent humanitarian crises, and rapid responses when they occur.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicts that by 2030, one quarter of the world’s population and 85% of the world's extreme poor will live in fragile and conflict-affected situations (FCAS).

This will have huge implications for the work of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and its development partners, which must redouble efforts to build resilience and bring stability to countries and regions of fragility.

There is growing acknowledgment that humanitarian, development, and peace actors must do a better job of harmonizing their work to build resilience in fragile contexts. This so-called "nexus approach" to development calls for long-term planning to prevent humanitarian crises. When such crises can’t be avoided, it calls for rapid responses that meet immediate needs for shelter, food, safety, and security.

Effective implementation of this approach can go a long way toward addressing the issue of forced displacement, which has been on the rise across Asia and the Pacific and globally, driven by conflict and climate change–fueled disasters. Afghanistan continues to be a concern, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warning of a potential refugee crisis unfolding.

The global population of people forced to flee grew from 43.3 million to 80 million from 2011 to 2020, according to the UNHCR, and fewer refugees are returning home: 3.9 million refugees returned to their country of origin during 2011–2020, compared with almost 10 million in the previous decade. These trends reflect an inability by development partners to reverse fragility in refugees' home countries.

The other side of the coin is that, when crises do occur, notoriously poor conditions for refugees in host countries must improve. Better solutions are also needed to encourage displaced persons to reintegrate with their home countries.

Through a nexus approach, humanitarian, development, and peace actors can come together to address both the causes and impacts of forced displacement. Here are five ways how.

1. Break down silos. Humanitarian, development, and peace actors must work more effectively together, avoid overlap, and use their comparative advantages to prevent refugee crises from occurring in the first place.

Development actors working in fragile contexts should focus on climate adaptation, water and sanitation, energy supply, education and skills-building, rule of law, and other areas that build long-term resilience and prevent future humanitarian crises, drawing lessons from peacebuilding and humanitarian actors, who have experience on the ground in these areas. Humanitarian and peace workers, in addition to focusing on the immediate needs of refugees during crises, should leverage their close relationships with community and civil society organizations, local governments, and other counterparts to help multilateral development banks (MDBs) channel longer-term funding to where it is most needed.

The time to implement these changes is now, before even more people in the world's most fragile countries suffer the impacts of extreme poverty.

2. Pivot to fragility. As lower middle-income countries get richer and require less lending support, the institutional focus of MDBs will continue to shift toward the least developed and most fragile states. Unfortunately, large knowledge gaps remain in terms of how best to lift these countries out of extreme poverty and ward off future refugee crises. Recognizing this, development partners led by the OECD have formed the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF) to improve coordination and design mutual solutions. The MDB Platform on Economic Migration and Forced Displacement, established in 2017 to advance dialogue and coordination among MDBs, is another useful platform. This is a promising start, but much more needs to be done in terms of coming up with effective solutions that involve all actors and are tailored to the unique contexts of FCAS.

3. Put people first. A key tenet of the emerging nexus approach is that efforts to promote sustainable peace must closely involve local communities. Humanitarian groups' support for refugees in Asia and elsewhere has been criticized for failing to adequately involve either the migrants or the host communities in needs assessment and consultations.

Development partners should work more closely with faith-based groups, women's organizations, and civil society in delivering projects, climate adaptation plans, humanitarian relief, and other tailored support both to improve livelihoods in refugee and host communities and to build resilience in countries of origin.

4. Intervene earlier. When potential refugee crises do emerge, development actors must become more agile and be willing to join humanitarian actors in quickly deploying staff to regions of conflict or forced displacement as part of a more aggressive response.

Rather than sit back and wait for the dust to settle, MDBs should get in early to build bridges, fix power lines, and get hospitals working — activities that development actors have traditionally ceded to humanitarian actors in the early stages of crises. Of course, because most refugee crises are prolonged for years or even decades, any shift to early intervention should not be at the expense of long-term solutions.

5. Improve regional cooperation. During a crisis, regional frameworks are needed to clarify when and how neighboring countries will welcome refugees, whether climate or conflict driven, and recognize them as such. This will allow proper long-term solutions and the involvement of development actors.

New models should include provision of social protection and adequate infrastructure for refugees, instead of putting them into camps, or drastically limit time spent in camps. This model will benefit displaced persons as well as communities in the receiving countries. Humanitarian, development, and peace actors can play a critical role in catalyzing regional agreements and bringing their respective expertise to design and implement this new model.

INCAF sums up its nexus approach as "prevention always, development wherever possible, humanitarian action when necessary." The above five recommendations for addressing forced displacement are aligned with this principle, but will require substantial institutional change among development, humanitarian, and peace actors.

The time to implement these changes is now, before even more people in the world's most fragile countries suffer the impacts of extreme poverty.