Photo: Tobin Jones

Joint solutions is the only answer to the growing numbers of displaced

In light of yet another sad record number of people forced to leave their homes, it is essential that we stand together in the struggle for global, sustainable solutions instead of turning to isolation and makeshift, short-term, national solutions. Without a joint strategy the world’s growing number of refugees faces a dire future – as do we all. This is the message from our Secretary General, Andreas Kamm, at the World Refugee Day.


Yesterday, the UNHCR’s annual Global Trends-report was published. And again this year it’s sad reading. Today, on the World Refugee Day, June 20, more than 65.6 million people around the globe have been forcibly displaced - from wars, conflicts and persecution that seem to have no end. The vast majority are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) while more than 22 million have sought protection outside their home country.

The numbers can be difficult to relate to. And numbers keep going up. Hence, we need to stand together internationally on joint, global solutions.

In Denmark – and in the rest of Europe – it came as a shock, when the refugee crisis suddenly reached our own borders and thousands of people reached our shores and walked along our railways and at highways. We knew that there were many refugees in the world, and that especially the conflict in Syrian had forced millions to uproot. We had also expected that refugees would come to Europe at some point, but still, we hadn’t anticipated such relatively high numbers – though truth be told, the numbers were still small compared to the global figures.

The pictures and the numbers shocked us, but we were also surprised by how seemingly unprepared the EU was which made it look like a situation that could not be managed by our usual mechanisms - despite the fact that the numbers were actually manageable.

Europe was unprepared in 2015 – and this led to a political crisis within the EU. The idea that we are still not suited to meet the global challenge means that most countries are looking to national solutions in an act of perceived self-defense. We’ve heard the formula too many times: Let’s make our country less attractive for asylum seekers than our neighboring countries. But the problem with this strategy is that all other countries copy it in a race to the bottom while there is no real attempt to find sustainable solutions which guarantees the right to a dignified life for the refugees. Instead of protecting those in need for international protection, we are doing what we can in order to not protect them. This is and can never be real solutions.

This popular defensive strategy is an outcome of a lack of cooperation and unity within international organizations such as the EU and UN – despite the fact these organizations were founded for the exact purpose of joining forces in solving global and cross-national issues.

The classic UNHCR durable solutions for ensuring a future and dignified life for displaced are under massive pressure and do not work the way they were intended. These solutions are:

  1. Return: The best outcome for a refugee is to return home and rebuild his or her life. But as most conflicts now last for decades as it is the case in Afghanistan and Somalia and as the number of refugees reaches an unprecedented high, it is becoming ever more difficult to return home. When we try to use this formula anyways by forcing people to return against their will and often to high-risk areas, we are not using it the way it was intended but are instead jeopardizing the refugees’ safety.
  2. Local integration in a neighboring country. Also here we encounter the challenge linked to the combination of long lasting conflicts and the high numbers of refugees. It goes without saying that countries like Lebanon and Jordan cannot integrate 1.5 and 1 million refugees respectively. At the same time the global appeals for assistance are not met. We claim that it is preferable for refugees to stay in areas close to the countries they left but are unwilling to pick up the part of the check and ensure an appropriate distribution of the burden linked to receiving the significant influx of refugees. We therefore risk that conflicts spread into the neighboring countries.
  3. Resettlement: In many ways, an excellent tool which can release the pressure of the areas hosting the majority of refugees by resettling a number of them in areas further away, for instance in Europe or the USA. Resettlement is a great way of showing solidarity but right now we see an increasing number of countries abandoning this solution.

Many countries are caught by fear of chaos and resort to defensive means. But the international community should rather rely on joint efforts to create solutions in order for the formulas to win back some of their power and thereby give the displaced a chance for a better future.

It is absolutely vital that countries around the world turn towards and not way from the UN and the initiatives that are actually already on the table (The Global Compact for Refugees and the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration). Initiatives that address the root causes and at the same time create a better global mechanism for responsibility sharing. If not, we risk ending up in a situation where the least developed countries, which host the majority of the refugees, break down paving the way for new conflicts to erupts and new waves of refugees to emerge.

The UN-plans focus on perceiving refugees as resources, as human beings who can contribute to the welfare of themselves and others. But we need to change our mindset and realize that this is a challenge that requires a significant amount of resources.

One thing is certain. If we want to create viable and sustainable solutions in order to protect those in need of protection, we must act as one. And show that joint and global solutions are the precondition for creating a better future and a dignified life for everyone, who has been forced to leave their home.

By Andreas Kamm, Secretary General, the Danish Refugee Council.