When data inform decisions for improving the lives of refugees and host communities

Refugees and host communities in Kakuma, Kalobeyei and urban areas of Kenya live in better conditions with the help of data-informed policies. One example is the area-based development initiative in the Kalobeyei Integrated Socio-Economic Development Plan, supported by a panel survey on socio-economic conditions. While we increasingly hear of data being turned into valuable information for effective policies, thereby improving the lives of those forced to flee, refugee invisibility in official data collection systems persist. As of mid-2022, there are 32.5 million refugees; about 74 per cent are hosted in low- and middle-income countries, with 22 per cent located in the least developed countries. We increasingly know more about how conflict, poverty, climate change, laws and practices affect their lives. However, collecting and analysing disaggregated data, with strict safeguards and according to international statistical standards, remain the exception rather than the norm for informing effective policies.

In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly affirmed the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR). It provided a blueprint for the international community to ensure that host communities get the support they need and that refugees can lead productive lives. The GCR recognises the importance of reliable, comparable, and timely data for evidence-based measures to improve conditions for refugees and host communities and identify appropriate solutions. It calls for including refugees, returnees and stateless persons and improving data disaggregation in national data and statistical collection processes. This allows us to understand better how refugees are faring on par with nationals. In addition, it enables us to track the Sustainable Development Goals and their clarion call to leave no one behind. We need data to augment our capacity to understand the complete picture and actual living conditions of all segments of society. So, the importance of decision-makers being equipped with the data to ask and answer the right questions about those forced to flee is no longer a question of why but how.

How do we then make data work to improve the lives of refugees and the communities that host them?

A multi-stakeholder and partnership approach is needed to support governments in including refugees in national, regional and international data collection efforts. The international community has already stepped up to this challenge. For instance, the multi-stakeholder group Expert Group on Refugee, IDP and Statelessness Statistics (EGRISS) established by the United Nations Statistical Commission has filled the gap in guiding how to collect, compile, analyse and disseminate official statistics on refugees and related populations. It has helped make such statistics comparable internationally.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) continues to work with a wide range of partners and stakeholders, from governments to national, regional and international statistical systems, UN agencies, the donor community, civil society actors, academia and refugees to transform how data are produced and ensure they are used to their full potential. The Global Trends and Mid-year Trends reports continue to analyse changes in forced displacement and statelessness globally and deepen public understanding of the ongoing effects of crises on forced displacement. In addition, investments are underway in using global best-practice data science techniques and innovative methodologies for early warning, estimating, and predicting changes in time-sensitive populations. UNHCR’s Nowcasting dashboard provides a clear picture of the extent of global refugee situations at any given time. This is incredibly important in the humanitarian sector as it informs UNHCR and its partners of the rapidly changing situation in real-time and enables more efficient decision-making, such as emergency resource allocation. UNHCR has also developed tools for easy access to refugee statistics, for example, the Refugee Data Finder and its accompanying application for iOS and Android and Microdata Library, providing access to metadata and microdata.

Another example is the partnership between the World Bank and UNHCR, the Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement (JDC), which catalyses the development of the data landscape on forced displacement. JDC supports UNHCR’s new global flagship survey programme, the Forced Displacement Survey, which will deliver data on refugees’ living conditions to help governments, humanitarian and development partners further optimise their response and decision-making. Also, UNHCR and UNICEF established a Strategic Collaboration Framework to ensure that refugee children and their families are included in their host countries' national plans and budgets and can access essential services. The collaboration aims to improve the necessary data for transforming the quality of life for refugee and returnee children, their families, and their host communities.

These are just a few examples of mainstreaming refugee populations in national statistical exercises. This is a necessary step for the inclusion of refugees in society. However, transforming data into knowledge and action is crucial. For instance, through indicators and data, the Global Compact on Refugees Indicator Report sets out the progress made and where further action is needed to improve the lives of refugees and host communities. Its findings and recommendations guide the discussions of decision-makers, various stakeholders, refugees and refugee-led organisations during the Global Refugee Forum held every four years. The Forum, designed as a global arrangement for international cooperation, brings together all United Nations Member States at the ministerial level and relevant stakeholders to announce concrete pledges and contributions of financial, material, policy, and other forms of support and consider ways to enhance the achievement of the objectives of the GCR. The next Forum will take place in December 2023.

The UN World Data Forum provides the space for the world data community to get together and collectively find concrete actions to harness the power of data to improve lives, including those forced to flee from conflict and persecution. The urgent need for inclusion of forcibly displaced and stateless in national statistical data collection exercises and the need to build national capacity in this area was the focus of two panel discussions during the Forum, titled “Including the excluded: better data on statelessness” and “Leaving no-one behind in official statistics: Inclusion of forcibly displaced in national surveys”, jointly organized by the Expert Group on refugee, IDP and Statelessness Statistics (EGRISS), UNHCR and the World Bank – UNHCR Joint Data Centre (JDC). The message on inclusion was further strengthened by a TED talk on “Nowcasting and forecasting of the forcibly displaced: data science's role in improving UNHCR's population statistics”; and an interactive learning event on “Including refugees and IDPs in national statistical systems: Why and How?”

These events successfully brought together a range of perspectives, highlighting the need for improved data on forcibly displaced and stateless persons, the importance of international statistical recommendations on these groups and ongoing work to implement this guidance in different national contexts. We hope that these events relevant to the following thematic areas of the Forum, on innovation and partnerships (TA1), the use and value of data for better decision making (TA2) and trust-building and ethics in data (TA3) will inspire the data community to explore what contributions they can make to improve the statistical inclusion of forcibly displaced and stateless people in their different capacities, support the ambitions of the Global Refugee Forum 2023 and commit to bringing those displaced, the stateless and refugees out of the shadows by making them visible in data systems.

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