Support to Ukrainian refugees and official development assistance

By Haje Schütte, Senior Counsellor and Head, Financing for Sustainable Development Division, Development Co-operation Directorate, OECD

In the first week of the Ukraine war, roughly 6,000 people crossed the border into neighbouring countries every hour. This sort of displacement is unprecedented in modern day Europe. At the time of writing, two thirds of Ukraine’s refugees, mostly women and children, are hosted by Poland, Hungary and the Slovak Republic. 

These three Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donors account for just under 1% of total official development assistance (ODA) for all DAC members combined.

Now that they have become the scene of the biggest refugee crisis in Europe, how will other countries help Poland, Hungary and the Slovak Republic, which are DAC members, but also Moldova, which is an ODA recipient, and Romania?

While support to Ukrainian refugees hosted in ODA recipient countries such as Moldova can be fully reported as ODA, support to refugees hosted in DAC donor countries such as Poland, Hungary, and the Slovak Republic can by contrast, only be reported as ODA in part, subject to specific rules and transparency requirements.

The rationale for counting aid to refugees as ODA when the hosting country is a DAC donor country is that refugee protection is a legal obligation, and that providing assistance to refugees may be considered a form of humanitarian assistance. However, following the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015-16 and the significant impact it had on several members’ ODA volumes, the DAC  endorsed in 2017 a number of clarifications to sharpen the rules on “in-donor refugee costs”, in order to preserve ODA integrity and allow comparability among members of their ODA reporting on this item. In particular, ODA-eligible expenditures are limited to the first year of stay of refugees, and only to their temporary sustenance.

Often in refugee situations of this scale, the crisis becomes protracted and refugees do not automatically return home, even several years after the conflict is over. Any deportation or other forcible measures to repatriate refugees should not be counted as ODA.

Expenditures to promote refugees’ integration into the economy on a longer-term basis, such as tertiary education, vocational/professional training, skills development, and job programmes, cannot be counted as ODA.

On the basis of these rules, DAC members such as Poland, Hungary, and Slovak Republic will be able to count part of the costs of supporting Ukrainian refugees on their territory as ODA, i.e. costs related to their temporary sustenance such as food and shelter. This also applies to countries that do not have borders with Ukraine but are welcoming refugees, such as Denmark or France, or are providing support to refugees hosted in other DAC countries.

Figures on in-donor refugee costs are identified separately in ODA statistics and hence published in full transparency.

The OECD will publish the preliminary figures for ODA in 2021 on its website on April 12, 2022.