Refugee children at the Moria camp in Lesbos. Independent

World must ‘reboot’ approach to refugees, first UN Global Forum hears

Refugee children at the Moria camp in Lesbos. Independent

From 16–18 December, the first Global Refugee Forum brought together refugees, heads of State and Government, UN leaders, international institutions, development organizations, business leaders and civil society representatives, among others, at the United Nations in Geneva.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is co-hosting the Forum together with Switzerland, and it is being co-convened by Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Germany, Pakistan, and Turkey. The aim of the Forum is to generate new approaches and long-term commitments from a variety of actors to help refugees and the communities in which they live. Worldwide, over 70 million people are displaced by war, conflict, and persecution.

The world needs to transform the way it responds to refugee situations and do more for the struggling countries that shelter almost all of them, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Tuesday, at a high-level forum seeking solutions to a decade of extraordinary mass displacement.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Swiss Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi at the Global Refugee Forum. © UNHCR/Mark Henley
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Swiss Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi at the Global Refugee Forum. © UNHCR/Mark Henley

Refugee Compact, ‘blueprint’ for rights

Speaking a year after countries signed the Global Compact on Refugees in New York – described by Mr. Guterres as the “blueprint” to reaffirm their human rights – the global forum comes after what experts have called “a decade of displacement”.

More than 70 million people are forcibly displaced – double the level 20 years ago, and 2.3 million more than just one year ago, according to UN data. More than 25 million of them are refugees, having fled across international borders, unable to return to their homes.

In reference to the main international agreements that have for decades underpinned assistance to refugees, the Secretary-General said that there is a need today to “re-establish the integrity of the international refugee protection regime”, based on the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol.

UNHCR chief Grandi calls for reboot

As event co-host, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called on the international community to “reboot” its stance on people in need of protection.

“Injustice, conflict and violence. This is why we are here,” said the UNHCR chief. “Our world is in turmoil, and 25 million refugees are looking to us for solutions.”

Assessing today’s global action on refugees as “piecemeal and unbalanced”, Mr. Grandi added that with “71 million people uprooted from their homes globally, inside and outside their countries, it’s time to reboot our responses”.

Turkey is the world’s largest host of refugees

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for the opening of the UNHCR - Global Refugee Forum at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for the opening of the UNHCR – Global Refugee Forum at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

With a full 80 percent of the world’s refugees living in poor and developing countries, which often feel left to shoulder the heavy economic and societal costs alone, burden-sharing is high on the agenda at the meeting.

“The world owes all countries and communities that welcome large numbers of refugees a debt of gratitude,” Guterres said, stressing though that “gratitude is not enough”.

Turkey is the world’s largest host of refugees with more than three million of them on its soil, mainly from Syria.

“We need to find a formula to allow [Syrian] refugees … who travelled to Turkey to be resettled in their motherland,” Erdogan told delegates, as he called for a “peace zone in northern Syria”.

He said 371,000 Syrian refugees had already voluntarily resettled in northern Syria since Turkey’s military operation, adding that number could rise to one million “in a very short period of time”.

Image of a Syrian boy at a refugee camp on 10 May 2015 [file photo]
Image of a Syrian boy at a refugee camp on 10 May 2015 [file photo]

Conflict between two nuclear-armed countries.”

Several world leaders are at the event, including The Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. He used the forum to discuss events in India, as he warned that millions of Muslims could flee the country due to the curfew in the disputed territory of Kashmir and India’s new citizenship law, creating “a refugee crisis that would dwarf other crises”.

GENEVA, Dec 17 (APP):Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday arrived at United Nations Geneva to co-convene first Global Refugee Forum (GRF).
GENEVA, Dec 17 (APP):Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday arrived at United Nations Geneva to co-convene first Global Refugee Forum (GRF).

Khan said: “We are worried there not only could be a refugee crisis, but we are also worried it could lead to a conflict between two nuclear-armed countries.”

According to UNHCR, Pakistan hosts more than 1.4 million registered Afghans who have been forced to flee their homes.

“Our country will not be able to accommodate more refugees,” Khan said, urging the world to “step in now”.

African Nations Hope for Support

FILE - In this Sunday, Feb 18, 2018 file photo, refugees and migrants are rescued by aid workers of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, after leaving Libya trying to reach European soil aboard an overcrowded rubber boat, 60 miles north of Al-Khums, Libya. The United Nations is urging governments, businesses and others to “reboot" the world's response to refugees as the number of people fleeing their homes rises along with hostility to migrants. The U.N. and Switzerland are hosting the first Global Refugee Forum in Geneva Tuesday and Wednesday. (AP Photo/Olmo Calvo, file)
Refugees and Migrants are rescued by aid workers of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms. (AP Photo/Olmo Calvo, file)

African governments and refugee activists hope a ground-breaking refugee forum will deliver much-needed funding and voice to a region whose challenges are often eclipsed by more headline-grabbing crises. Africa is a leading exporter of refugees. They count among the millions making perilous journeys across the Sahara and Mediterranean for a better life in Europe… Which often isn’t realized. But Africa also shelters more than one-quarter of the world’s displaced people.

“African governments continue to carry the extra responsibility on behalf of all of us, in hosting refugees in keeping borders open,” Ambassador Mohamed Abdi Affey said.

The official is Horn of Africa special envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which is hosting this forum.

“While we appreciate more spotlight and attention to other refugee cases like Syria and Yemen, Affey said. “… the ones in the Horn of Africa particularly, the ones who have been with us for 30 years, risk being forgotten.”

Those demands join broader calls here for wealthy nations and the private sector to do more for poorer countries that together host more than 80% of the world’s refugees.

violence and persecution in Central America

Discussions took place at the Forum on taking concrete steps to help people uprooted by violence and persecution in Central America, and ensure they have full, meaningful lives while in exile across the region

The countries of the North of Central America—El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala—are some of the most violent in the world, beset by crime that is largely fuelled by street gangs and drug cartels. Additionally, persecution is driving Nicaraguans to seek safety abroad.

The UN's refugee agency has reported a huge spike in people fleeing from violence and persecution in the north of Central America.
The UN’s refugee agency has reported a huge spike in people fleeing from violence and persecution in the north of Central America. VCG Photo

An estimated 800,000 people have been forced from their homes. While some 470,000 of them have crossed borders to find protection as refugees or asylum seekers, 320,000 are displaced within their own countries.

“Those who have to move because of violence or insecurity, do they leave their rights in their countries of origin? No. That’s why we have to embrace multilateralism and responsibility sharing to better assist forcibly displaced people,” said Carlos Alvarado Quesada, President of Costa Rica.
“The success of this initiative is key for a better future. With true action, we can build optimism through multilateralism and overcome negativity.”

What are the best solutions for refugees?

Some 3,000 delegates are attending the Forum representing governments, international organizations, the private sector and civil society among others, all coming together to find new approaches and solutions to the global displacement crisis. But when it comes to identifying what support is of most benefit to refugees, who better to ask than refugees themselves?

That is exactly what UN Secretary-General António Guterres decided to do, taking advantage of the presence of some 80 refugee delegates at the Forum to ask them what the international community should be doing to help improve the lives of refugees.

The responses from Hina, Trésor and Diego were clear: education, inclusivity and a chance to become self-reliant and give back to society.

Sana Mustafa, a Syrian refugee and founding member of the Network for Refugee Voices, is among dozens of refugees attending the forum.

She told: “Having 70 refugee representatives out of the 2,000 plus attendees is not enough.

Sana Mustafa speaking at the Syrian Women’s Political Movement/WILPF side event during the 41st Session of the Human Rights Council. Photo credit: WILPF/Itab Azzam

“People shaping policies and projects have not necessarily had any refugee experience. These solutions are not efficient. For solutions to be efficient, they have to be well informed. If we are not working altogether, stakeholders including refugees themselves … we will never have sustainable solutions.

The Global Compact represents an important — voluntary — promise to support host countries and refugees. But promises cannot become excuses for avoiding practical action that actually protects and improves lives.

However, the refugees are demanding actions, there’s still a chance to make the step-change in global responsibility sharing the Global Compact promised. But it will take more than words.

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