The global refugee situation calls for sustainable solutions

Far too often, the global refugee situation is described as an enormous, unsolvable problem. This crisis rhetoric leads to political initiatives aimed at protecting borders – rather than protecting people. I think it’s high time to end this approach, because it is in fact possible to ensure solutions that benefit refugees as well as host communities — if the will is there.
 
 

18.12.2019

Charlotte Slente, Secretary General, Danish Refugee Council

Last year in December, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Global Compact on Refugees, with support from the vast majority of states across the world.

The Compact is a global commitment to easing the pressure on countries hosting the majority of refugees globally, in an attempt to reach a more equal sharing of responsibilities.

But the Compact also focus on ensuring a higher degree of inclusion of refugees in their host communities through, for example, better access to jobs, education, and services, on changing the narrative of refugees as passive victims of circumstance and promotes seeing them as active, resourceful individuals with dreams and hopes for the future.

Now, one year after the Global Compact on Refugees was signed, the international community is gathered in Geneva at the world’s first Global Refugee Forum, a summit aimed at turning the words of the Compact into action. Here, more than 500 delegations from states, NGOs, civil society, and refugee-led organisations are convening to develop concrete initiatives to contribute to the objectives of the compact signed one year ago.

As Secretary General of one of the world’s largest displacement organisations, I have also travelled to Switzerland for the meeting. With me I bring a profound desire to advocate for long-term, sustainable solutions for refugees and the displaced.

Rights for all

For more than 60 years, the Danish Refugee Council has worked to ensure a dignified life for all displaced – today we do so in up to 40 countries. From our work, we have concrete examples on how to create real, sustainable effects for people seeking protection.

Refugees and other displaced people are some of the world’s most vulnerable groups. Therefore, we work across the world to ensure that their legal rights are respected. Take Ukraine for example: since an armed conflict broke out in 2014, about one million people have fled the country, and a further 1,6 million people are internally displaced within the country’s borders.

Here, we have analysed and scored more than 200 laws, amendments, judicial decisions, policies and other legislative instruments affecting the rights of the internally displaced, and developed an index comparing them with international standards. This index has allowed Ukrainian law and policy makers and advocates for the rights of internally displaced people to identify areas with inadequate framework and non-compliance with international standards. For humanitarian partners, the data was invaluable in designing country response strategies, planning resource allocation, and monitoring developments in the country.

In Denmark, a considerable part of our work in the asylum area rests on constructive cooperation with immigration authorities.

This cooperation contributes to upholding the rule of law and supporting a fair and efficient asylum procedure in the interest of both refugees and the state. Working in cooperation with the relevant authorities is also part of our global approach to strengthen asylum procedures.

Because when possible, protection of asylum seekers and refugees is best achieved in cooperation with the authorities who are responsible to grant them protection and respect their rights. At the same time, we offer direct legal aid to and representation of asylum seekers in a way that engages them as independent actors and involves them as much as possible in making informed decisions in their individual situations.

Private partnerships aid refugees and the displaced

Private sector partnerships are another decisive way to ensure long-term solutions for refugees and host communities. One example is in Uganda, where we have partnered with Grundfos to bring solar-driven water solutions to refugees and host communities. Over time, the operation of the water solutions will be transferred to local actors. This is up to ten times more cost-effective than the water trucking we used to do, and the environmental footprint once installed is marginal.

Another example is from Bangladesh, where more than 600.000 Rohingyas in the fall of 2017 fled across the border from Myanmar over a period of a just a couple of months. Because of a flexible start-up funding mechanism for emergency response established in cooperation with Ole Kirk’s Foundation, we were able to allocate starting capital to initiate the work to ensure protection of the refugees in Bangladesh.

In short, what is unique about this cooperation is that it is based on pre-donated funds that can be approved with short notice in the event of an acute crisis. The starting capital made it possible to establish a presence that attracted further funds from international donors, and therefore we have been able to establish an efficient humanitarian effort, which has supported hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees since 2017.

Each and every day, my 9,000 colleagues deliver a humanitarian, impartial effort in conflict areas, along migration routes, and in the countries where refugees settle. These are just a few examples among many concrete, long-term, and innovative solutions for refugees and displaced people, and the communities that they flee to and from. But it is my hope that each of these examples will serve as inspiration for sustainable efforts for refugees, the displaced, and host communities, when the words in the Global Compact on Refugees are to be put into action. The needs are certainly there.

The situation calls for unity, not unilateralism

Since 2015, when the number of asylum seekers in Europe rose and we saw images of asylum seekers – many from Syria – making their way through the continent, refugee and migration policies have been at the top of the policymaking agenda in most of Europe.

In many states, the reaction has included enhanced border protection, a worsening of living conditions, undermining of rights for refugees and asylum seekers and talk of breaking with international conventions. I would have preferred reactions aimed at sustainable efforts focused on the protection of the world’s far too many displaced. Because the current global approach is not sustainable.

According to the UNHCR, there were 70,8 million refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people in the world by the end of 2018. This is not just a number. It is 70,8 million destinies. More than half of them never cross a border but remain internally displaced. Of those who do cross a border, about 80 per cent have settled in a neighbouring country – often low- or middle-income countries.

There is a need for a response to the global refugee situation which does not result in short-term reactions or immense refugee camps, isolation, and endless humanitarian aid. There is a need for a more equitable global sharing of responsibilities. This means that all states – not just those in close proximity to the conflicts - should shoulder their responsibilities, not just in terms of providing economic support to refugees in their regions of origin, but also in terms of safeguarding access to territory and to fair and efficient asylum procedures, taking in resettled refugees, and guaranteeing proper social and economic integration as well as access to education and labour market – regardless of whether or when it is possible to return. If not, we cannot expect other states to do the same.

But it requires the international community to stand together and insist on the long-term perspective and solutions rather than individual states seeking short-term fixes with the view to keep as many people as possible from crossing their borders. This is a race to the bottom, which solves nothing. It is my hope that the first Global Refugee Forum in Geneva will translate the words and principles of the Global Compact on Refugees into a better international cooperation for long-term solutions for the world’s many refugees and displaced.

Read our full catalogue "Responding to Displacement: 10 Good Practices" presented at the Global Refugee Forum 2019