People forced to flee from home because of war, persecution, violence, human rights violations or natural disasters are more than ever. In 2016, the numbers reached a peak of 65.6 million. Of these, roughly eighty-four percent of them take shelter in developing countries, often in the remotest and poorest areas of already poor countries with extremely fragile economies.
Refugee crises are no longer exceptional events, but protracted situations that have long-term impacts both on refugees and on their host countries.
Two years ago in New York, the international community recognized that the world’s response to mass displacement remains inadequate. With the adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, the UN laid down the foundation of a new architecture in the management of refugee crisis.
The Declaration sets out a Comprehensive Refugees Response Framework – CRRF – to be applied by the UNHCR. It will be one of two pillars, together with a Plan of Action, of a Global Compact on Refugees which the High Commissioner for Refugees will propose to the UN General Assembly in September. ‘Draft 1’ of the Compact is at the core of a second round of formal consultations held in Geneva this week.
‘With unprecedented levels of forced displacement, we need a new deal on how we manage refugee situations globally’, said UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Türk in late January.
Why a Global Compact
At the heart of the UN’s strategy is the recognition that a refugee crisis is not a one-country job: It requires international cooperation system to share the burden and the responsibility among States and other stakeholders. And it needs to be addressed from a development perspective.
The 1951 Refugee Convention outlines the rights of refugees and the obligations of States to protect them. It acknowledges the importance of international cooperation, but it does not provide concrete tools for translating principles into practice or to enhance the socio-economic conditions of both refugees and the host communities. That is the ambition of the Compact.
‘It is important to recognise the incredible challenge for countries like Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda, which have their own development challenges to suddenly be confronted with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of people’, Türk said.
The ongoing consultations in Geneva are shaping a mechanism of burden and responsibility sharing that aims at engaging a broader base of support beyond the host countries and distributing contributions – including financial allocations and technical support – among States and other stakeholders to ease the pressure on host countries and improve the refugee conditions.
The Compact will also identify the key areas where investments and support should be channelled. The intention is to facilitate the integration of the displaced people into the host communities from the beginning and move away from ‘past practices where refugees lived in camps receiving parallel services’, as UNHCR noted.
That implies investing in the national health and education systems of host countries and improving refugees’ access to education and labour market as they can contribute to local economies or can be ‘better placed to rebuild their lives elsewhere or return home when conditions are right’.
‘We would see better education for refugee boys and girls, as well as better access to health services for all refugees, and more livelihood opportunities. We would also see a different way host communities engage with refugees, hopefully moving away from the encampment policies that we still have in too many countries’, Türk said.
Linking humanitarian and development perspectives, a crisis could be turned into an opportunity. According to Türk, national engagement should focus not just on one camp, but on the area where refugees live, building roads, infrastructure and livelihood opportunities. ‘Of course, you need investment. You need an initial strong, robust response. You need the support and solidarity. So that’s what is changing in the new approach, and it’s a strong case to make to countries’, he said.
What is there in the Compact’s draft?
The Global Compact includes the Comprehensive Refugee Response Rramework, as in the New York Declaration, and a Programme of Action, that is the object of six rounds of formal consultations among States. The outcome will be a non-binding instrument. However, according to Turk, ‘it is a very strong political signal because it is going to be adopted by the … General Assembly as a way to dedicate themselves to the cause of refugees’, he said.
‘Member states are taking this extremely seriously and want to discuss each and every section of the document. They want to own it. So even if it is non-binding, it has incredible significance’, he added.
The CRRF highlights the key elements of the response to any mass displacement, from the reception and admission of the refugees to the support for their immediate needs such as protection, health or education; from the assistance to host countries to the pursuit of durable solutions. Since September 2016, the UNHCR has applied the CFFR to thirteen situations: Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Panama, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Rwanda, Tanzania and the Somali crisis.
The Programme of Action would provide specific measures to translate those key elements into practice. It will introduce tools to operationalise the burden and responsibility sharing mechanism and identify the areas in need of support to which governments and other stakeholders ‘will be called on to pledge and contribute’ through the responsibility sharing mechanisms.
Degrees of Latitude is following the development and implementation of the Global Compact as well as the refugees crisis occurring around the world.
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Photo: Imvepi Refugee Settlement in Arua District, Uganda – Credits: UN Photo/Mark Garten