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Inclusion of Refugees in SDGs

“Inclusion is one of the best forms of protection. And inclusion – in societies, in services, in the economy – is often obtained or facilitated by development.”


- UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi


In 2015, the United Nations Members States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which comprises of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the crucial objective of providing a shared blueprint to secure the rights and well-being and to ensure a better and sustainable future for everyone. These 17 Goals are the cornerstone of the Agenda addressing the most critical global issues in the contemporary world, including challenges related to poverty, inequality, improvement of health and education, climate change, environmental degradation, human rights abuses, peace and justice. They reflect a shared commitment of all the Member States that, it’s imperative to adopt a holistic approach to sustainable development which means integration of economic growth, social well-being and environmental protection[1]. The Agenda is premised on the commitment of leaving no one behind, with specific attention to empowering the vulnerable population[2].


However, a critical point to note here is that refugees, which constitute an important part of the most vulnerable population, are not adequately represented in any of the 17 Goals. In fact an explicit reference to refugees is only made under Goal 10 of the SDGs which provides for reducing inequality within and amongst countries. Target 10.7 under Goal 10 focusses on facilitating “orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies” Out of the four indicators employed to measure this target, indicator 10.7.4 states “proportion of the population who are refugees, by country of origin”. Other indicator relevant to refugees are 10.7.2 and 10.7.3, which provides for recording the number of countries with migration policies that facilitate orderly, safe and responsible migration of people and recording the number of people who died or disappeared during the process of migration towards an international destination[3]. In addition to Target 10.7,  SDG target 17.8, provides for data disaggregation based on migratory status.[4]


In 2019, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) based on the examination of Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), submitted a report titled “Missing Persons: Refugees Left out and Left Behind in the SDGs”, which defined the term SDG refugee gap as being “represented by a lack of data on refugee well-being, the exclusion of refugees from SDG monitoring frameworks and national reporting, and the failure to include refugees in national medium- and long-term development planning”[5]. Building on this definition an analysis can be drawn suggesting that the above mentioned indicators are of little significance for three reasons. Firstly, a mere record of the proportion of refugees in a specific country, or record of the number of countries with migration policies, or record of the number of people who have died in the process of migration does not provide us with any reflection of how well migration policies are being managed or to what extent the refugees are benefiting from these policies. It does not necessarily imply that the higher or lower the number of refugees, the better is the implementation of migration policies. Indicator 10.7.2 and 10.7.3 also do not provide us with any information on whether they are referring to countries of origin, transit or destination. Such data does not provide any insights into the safety and well-being of the refugees in all the countries that are involved in the process of their migration[6].


Secondly, the indicators for disaggregated data for vulnerable group, specifically the international migrants, provided by the Interagency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG–SDGs), does not include categorizing migrants by their legal status, thus resulting in the dearth of effective data disaggregation policies by refugee status. The term ‘migrant’ can point to a wide category of people. It not only includes refugees, but also people who are asylum seekers, temporary working migrants, and related. Though explicit inclusion of refugees is made in one of the population groups, namely the Forcibly Displaced Persons, this does not provide us with adequate data to measure the effectiveness of migration policies for refugees[7].


Thirdly, the most fundamental gap in achieving the 2030 Agenda for refugees, is the voluntary nature of the assessment and reporting mechanism taken up by Member States. The Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) serves as the basis for conducting regular reviews by the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), the principal United Nations platform for follow up and review of the 2030 Agenda. The VNRs are government led and government centred assessment tools, which allow a huge space for government discretion in choosing the goals, the targets, the data indicators, the methodology, the target groups, sample size, and more, which is best suited to them; it does not necessarily reflect the real picture of efficacy of the State migration policies. The 2023 VNR synthesis report mentions the term refugees twice, that too only in context of ‘identifying vulnerable groups’ and ‘acknowledging discrimination and inequality’. Further there is no mention of refugees being included in any national development planning strategies[8].


It can also be noted here that though The Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), comprehensively  includes the 17 SDGs with its framework, scholars argue that GCR and SDG framework are only aligned conceptually and not empirically, since the goals and indicators provided by each of them are not on equal footing[9]. It is yet to be seen how exhaustively member states will utilize these tools in their VNRs in the coming years.


Further, inclusion of refugees in SDGs through national development strategies, local economies and social safety nets is crucial for ensuring the achievement of SDGs by 2030. According to the SDG Progress Report: Special Edition, “Progress on more than 50 per cent of targets of the SDGs is weak and insufficient; on 30 per cent, it has stalled or gone into reverse”[10]. These important targets include poverty, hunger and climate. With the current situation of war and conflict, more than 110 million people have displaced, refugees accounting for 35 million.


In conclusion it can be observed that not only, is it important to include more indicators for data disaggregation, but it is also crucial to explicitly include refugees in other SDG goals securing the enforcement of their rights related education, health, employment, safety and well-being. Despite the unparallel adverse circumstances, refugees have proven their significant contribution to the host communities as educators, entrepreneurs, advocates, climate activists and health-care workers, among others[11]. Their empowerment through self-reliance and socio-economic inclusion will not only provide a holistic sustainable solution to issue for migrants and refugees, but will also help the hosting communities in achieving various SDGs. This will truly ensure to fulfil the pledge of leaving no one behind.



[1] United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. (2023, December 12). The Sustainable Development Agenda. 

[2] United Nations. (2015, September). Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Department of Social and Economic Affairs, Sustainable Development, United Nations

[3] United Nations. Goal 10 Reduce Inequality within and among Countries, Targets and Indicators. Department of Social and Economic Affairs, Sustainable Development, United Nations.

[4] United Nations. Goal 17 Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, Targets and Indicators. Department of Social and Economic Affairs, Sustainable Development, United Nations.

[5] International Rescue Committee. (2019). Missing Persons: Refugees Left Out and Left Behind in the SDG. 

[6] Denaro, C., & Giuffre. M. (2022). UN Sustainable Development Goals and the “Refugee Gap”: Leaving Refugees Behind? Refugee Survey Quarterly, 41(1), 79-107. 

[7] Asian Development Bank. (2021, May). Practical Guidebook On Data Disaggregation For The Sustainable Development Goals.

[8] High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. (2024, February). 2023 Voluntary National Reviews Synthesis Report. High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations. ,

[9] International Rescue Committee. (2019). Missing Persons: Refugees Left Out and Left Behind in the SDG.

[10] United Nations. (2023). The Sustainable Development Goal Progress Report: Special Edition.

[11] UNHCR. (2023, September 21). 17 Ways Refugees are Leading on Sustainable Development.

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