Axel van Trotsenburg, managing director of operations at the World Bank, at the Global Refugee Forum. Photo by: © UNHCR/Mark Henley

GENEVA — The World Bank has announced that it will offer up to $2.2 billion in grants over a three-year period for projects focused on refugees and their host communities.

Known as the Window for Host Communities and Refugees, or WHR, the funding package aims to address the long-term development needs of displacement in 14 low-income countries that are hosting a significant number of refugees, including Uganda, Ethiopia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

“Making long-term investments that address the needs of both refugees and the communities that host them is a critical part of the long-term solution to this growing challenge.”

—  Axel van Trotsenburg, managing director of operations, World Bank

Around 85% of the 19.9 million refugees under the mandate of UNHCR are hosted by low-income countries.

The $2.2 billion comes under the recently approved 19th replenishment of the International Development Association — the arm of the World Bank focused on the world’s lowest-income countries. The replenishment takes effect in mid-2020.

The bank recognizes that there is an increasing overlap between development and humanitarian issues, said Axel van Trotsenburg, the World Bank’s managing director of operations, during the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, where the funding was announced.

“Some people view refugees as temporary when the reality is they may have to stay much longer [than expected]. In that case, it becomes imperative to think about how you can ensure education, health, clean water, basic infrastructure, and protect against gender-based violence,” he said. “Making long-term investments that address the needs of both refugees and the communities that host them is a critical part of the long-term solution to this growing challenge.”

Ten countries have already started implementing WHR projects under IDA’s current funding cycle, IDA18.

IDA19 totals $82 billion — a 3% increase compared with IDA18 — and will run from July 2020 to June 2023. Donors meet every three years to replenish the fund — one of the largest assistance funds for the world’s 76 poorest countries — and review its policy framework.

In addition to the financing for refugees and host communities, $18.7 billion of the new IDA19 package will go toward supporting countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence, in hopes of addressing the root causes of displacement, the bank said.

There is clearly a call for the World Bank to do more, and that means putting up the money to finance projects, van Trotsenburg said.

The bank’s announcement came as world leaders, civil society groups, corporations, and refugees convened in Geneva for the first Global Refugee Forum this week. The forum was an effort to put the United Nations’ Global Compact on Refugees — a blueprint for ensuring that host communities and refugees get the support they need — into motion.

“This is the piece of that blueprint in how development partners can help us go much further in finding solutions,” said Kelly Clements, deputy high commissioner at UNHCR, which co-hosted the forum with Switzerland. The humanitarian-development nexus is not new, but the World Bank’s pledge will continue to transform the response to refugee crises around the world, she added.

Examples of projects that have received similar funding include the construction of new schools, hiring of teachers, improvement of roads, and building of civic projects.

Additionally, the International Finance Corporation — the private sector arm of the World Bank — plans to use the window “aggressively” to create business opportunities where refugees are, van Trotsenburg said.

During the third day of the conference, the Inter-American Development Bank also announced a pledge of $100 million through its grant facility to support Latin American host countries with migrant communities that exceed 0.5% of their populations: Chile, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The government of Switzerland committed $125 million over the next four years to refugee protection, while Canada offered $50.4 million for UNHCR to meet the humanitarian and protection needs of refugees over the same time period.

A group of multilateral development banks — including the African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank, and World Bank Group — also pledged to continue to work together through the MDB Coordination Platform on Economic Migration and Forced Displacement, which seeks to foster strategic alignment among MDBs and strengthen operational coordination and knowledge sharing.

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    Rebecca Root

    Rebecca Root is a Reporter and Editorial Associate at Devex producing news stories, video, and podcasts as well as partnership content. She has a background in finance, travel, and global development journalism and has written for a variety of publications while living and working in New York, London, and Barcelona.