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Summary

  • Today’s refugee crisis poses serious challenges to the international order. For many refugees, a return home is nowhere in sight.
  • Low- and middle-income countries host 88 percent of the world’s refugees. The strain of refugee flows can threaten development and stability in these countries, with regional and global consequences. But if the situation is well managed, refugees can offer a net benefit to their host communities.
  • A compact agreement is an innovative model for bringing together donors, development and humanitarian agencies, the private sector, and civil society under host-country leadership to achieve sustainable outcomes for refugees and host communities.
  • We offer three key principles and 10 recommendations for policymakers to build effective compacts for refugee-hosting nations.

Today’s refugee crisis poses serious challenges to the international order. Conflict and crisis have pushed some 21 million people to seek refuge outside their home countries, including 5 million who have fled Syria since the civil war began in 2011. Approximately 76 percent of refugees live outside of camp settings, making it even more difficult to locate and reach them with essential services. Furthermore, protracted displacement has become the “new normal.” Refugees now spend an average of 10 years away from their homes, and for refugees displaced more than five years, the average is 21 years. 

Low- and middle-income countries host a staggering 88 percent of the world’s refugees. The reality of refugees striving to rebuild their lives alongside host communities can fuel divisive politics, and the strain of refugee flows can threaten hard-won development gains. Refugees often have limited access to jobs, education, and the basic protections and freedoms required to rebuild their lives. Insufficient support from the international community for both immediate and longer-term recovery can beget further crises, as countries close borders, force returns, and detain those fleeing violence and insecurity. Despite the political turmoil precipitated by forced displacement, this is an eminently manageable challenge for the global community. Refugees comprise less than 0.3 percent of the global population, and the vast majority is geographically concentrated in a handful of frontline states.