Every minute, twenty people around the world are forced to flee their homes. That’s 28,300 every day. Most of them are hosted in low or middle-income countries that struggle to provide the help refugees require not just to meet their urgent needs, but also to have a chance at rebuilding their future.
Confronted with a large-scale and protracted refugee crisis, the international community is rethinking the architecture of the global response. United Nations Member States, which gathered in Geneva this week for a fourth round of consultations, are negotiating a Global Compact on Refugees to be adopted in September by the UN General Assembly.
The ambition is to establish a system of international cooperation to share the burden of the response more equitably among States, easing the pressure on hosting countries, enhancing refugees’ self-reliance, increasing their integration into hosting communities and providing them with access to durable solutions.
‘[It is] a relatively unprecedented opportunity’, according to Jérôme Elie, senior policy officer for forced displacement at the International Council of Voluntary Agencies, a global network of over 100 non-governmental organizations.
‘It is not every year that you have more or less all Members States of the United Nations, other stakeholders, UN agencies and NGOs gather on such a regular schedule to discuss and try to come up with a global agreement. It is an opportunity not to be missed’, he told Degrees of Latitude.
The process of developing the Compact, however, is challenging. The involvement of non-humanitarian actors into the refugees’ response, the need to ensure additional funding to hosting countries coping with a large influx of refugees and the implications for the international system of refugee protection are among the key questions raised during the negotiations.
Filling a gap
The Compact consists of a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, as laid down in the New York Declaration, and a Programme of Action, which is the part delegates are actually negotiating.
It aims at filling a ‘gap’ in the international cooperation. ‘It has been the realization that the way we have been working on refugee responses has not been necessarily as efficient as we’d hoped it would be’, Elie said.
The Syrian crisis was a ‘wake-up call’, according to Ariane Rummery, communication officer at the UNHCR. ‘It wasn’t until the refugees started knocking on the doors of the richest … of the world that [the question] got the global attention that it needs’, she told Degrees of Latitude.
The international community recognized that the responsibility ‘for this huge international crisis, which is global in nature’, according to Rummery, should have been shared more equitably among countries and other stakeholders. And that ‘in protracted situations, the care and maintenance approach, which was basically having people in camps and being dependent on aid, was not bringing any solution to the crisis’, Elie said.
New actors, new challenges
The strategies outlined in the draft imply a closer collaboration between humanitarian and development programmes. It is not it is about stopping humanitarian programming, it’s more about bringing development actors into the crisis much earlier: ‘In an emergency phase, people need to be received; they need to get humanitarian assistance’, Rummery said.
The Compact pushes for a ’comprehensive’ approach, which means strengthening all the aspects of the refugees’ cycle of displacement, from reception to registration, from documentation to humanitarian assistance. ‘But, it is looking much broader than that’, Rummery said. It’s the attempt to integrate humanitarian and development programs much earlier.
On the NGO side, however, questions remain. ‘What does it mean in terms of accountability when you are working with more actors and with actors that are not traditionally involved in refugee responses? Do we need to think about the accountability side of that? Are there some new mechanisms, some new safeguards that should be put in place?’
The issue, according to Elie, is ‘how development actors can be brought in more strongly in refugee responses but still making sure that we preserve the humanitarian principles and values’, he said.
Integration of refugees into the national systems, from health to the labour market, to education means hosting countries must change their refugee laws, adapt their structures, and implement more progressive policies. That requires money.
Additional resources and adoption of more progressive policies go hand in hand. ‘And one probably won’t happen without the other’, Rummery said.
The challenge is to make sure that the funding is ‘additional’: ‘It is important that States see this extra support’, she added. Those countries need to see that ‘there is a mechanism in place to ensure that this additional international support will come, there’s something that they can rely on … They don’t want to be let on their own hosting huge situations’, she said.
Strengthening the protection system
The Compact won’t set new obligations for States. ‘It builds very much on what we already have in international refugee protection regime. It [is not] about setting standards. It [is] about addressing the gap in cooperation’, Rummery said.
‘It is not winding back the safeguards we already have in place’, she stressed.
NGOs, however, hope the text will not just avoid ‘going back on some of those commitments, but strengthen what [already] exists [in] the legal regime’, Elie said.
‘Initially, in the zero draft , there was of course reference to the legal regime, to the  convention and even to the regional instruments, but in a relatively light way. There was a lot of calls from NGOs, but across the board from many States, to ask clearer legal regime reminded in text and direct references to non-refoulement’, Elie said.
From the Zero Draft to Draft 2, steps forward have been taken with a more explicit inclusion of references to human rights instruments and humanitarian principles.
The NGO community hopes that such an effort will lead to a document that can ‘really make the difference’. But questions still need to be addressed.
Among the key issues, according to Ignatio Packer, executive director of the ICVA, the integration between the Compact on Refugees and the Compact Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration: “There is an uneasy interface between both processes with unwillingness by some to build bridges between them. If reflected in the final compacts, in addition to Internally Displaced Persons not included from the start, additional categories of populations on the move will be left behind”, he noted in a recent message.
Is distinguishing between voluntary and forced migration so easy in the current crisis? And what about climate change as driving force of migration?
“Mixed flows” was the core of the New York Declaration addressing the question of large movements of refugees and migrants. Today, it has almost completely disappeared from both the GCM and the GCR”, he said.
Next on Degrees of Latitude: What are the lessons learnt from the implementation of the CRRF? What’s role for refugees in the new architecture? What are challenges posed by the integration of the two Compatcs?
UN Photo/Amanda Voisard – Refugees from South Sudan at the Imvepi refugee camp in Arua district, northern Uganda.