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Mark your Calendar, June 20th is World Refugee Day

June 20th marks World Refugee Day. This day was set aside by the United Nations in December 2000 to highlight the plight of refugees who flee their countries because of conflict, political violence, famine and environmental disasters. Its purpose is to shed light and raise awareness of the danger that refugees often face on their journey to safety. Giving the raging debate about refugees, it takes on added significance this year.

The U.N. is taking steps to address this issue. Member states are moving towards the creation of two global compacts: The Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and The Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The compacts seek to address how States respond to the refugee crisis.

The origin of the compacts is the 2016 New York Declaration which saw U.N. member states agree to protect individuals forced to flee their homeland and to assist states who provide safety and comfort for refugees. The Declaration stated that the international community shares equally in this endeavor. It will be challenging to move the compacts forward, given Trump administration’s intransigence in acting through multilateral institutions.

The N.Y. Declaration assigned the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, the “task of building upon the Comprehensive Refugee Response Network (CRRF)” to formulate a global compact for refugees. The UNHCR will advance the compact in his 2018 annual report presented to the U.N. General Assembly in September.

There are four key objectives of the global compact:

  1. Ease the pressure on host countries;
  2. Enhance refugee self-reliance;
  3. Expand access to third-country solutions;
  4. Support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity.

In 2017, the GCR was formulated through a three-step interconnected process: (1) the application of the CRRF was undertaken in several countries where data was collected on what part of the CRRF worked best and what lessons could be drawn; (2) the information was discussed by the key players including U.N. Member States, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and academic and policy community experts; (3) at the end of 2017, the UNHCR’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges assessed the progress and what lessons could be taken through the process that was undertaken.

Kosovar refugees fleeing their homeland. (R LeMoyne)

Earlier this year, formal consultations were held to evaluate the 2017 CRRF process. In February, the UNHCR composed a “zero draft” of the global compact with a revised draft in March. Each of the formal consultations with the key participants were held in Geneva in February-May 2018. Subsequent consultations are to be held in June with more formal negotiations by States taking place in July. By December 2018, a summit will be held in Morocco to formally adopt the Compact.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), a global humanitarian relief NGO, has raised concerns that the international community will not take advantage of the opportunity to provide for the betterment of refugees and to assist host countries. In a report released by IRC this month titled, “Will it make a difference? Towards a Global Compact on Refugees that actually works,” the IRC offers recommendations prior to endorsement by the U.N. General Assembly.

The IRC asserts that there is a “key gap” regarding “the fact that there is no shared commitment to the progress the international community wants to achieve collectively.” They contend that the four objectives of the CRRF are non-descript, and that what will ultimately determine the success of the GCR is the commitment of the actors and mutual accountability.

The IRC outlines three objectives that they hope to see in the final document:

  1. “Shared outcomes, targets and indicators” by which progress and improvements in the lives of refugees can be measured;
  2. Stakeholder “responsibility-sharing” should be tied to the shared outcomes with the CRRF being the focal point of an “improved international refugee response; and
  3. “More predictable and flexible financing is provided to help achieve collective outcomes.”

The IRC believes that these changes will help ensure that the GCR will achieve its stated goal of significantly improving the lives of the 65.6 million displaced persons, (33 percent classified as refugees).

The UNHCR’s Filippo Grandi made this remark about the GCR in 2016: “It affects and involves us all, and what it needs is understanding, compassion and political will to come together and find real answers for the refugee plight. This has become a defining challenge of our times.” Even more so in 2018.