Opening remarks to the informal exchange with Member States on the Global Compact on Refugees
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you very much, Ambassador Saikal, and thanks to all of you for joining us for this briefing on the proposed global compact on refugees. As the Ambassador mentioned, I would like to brief you on the two-and-a-half days of formal consultations on the second draft of the global compact, which ended yesterday in Geneva.
The consultations in Geneva continue to show strong and constructive engagement on the part of Member States. With 202 statements made, the consultations were a process of collective learning and listening. We have the impression that there is more and more convergence and consensus on many issues. But, there are also areas of divergence, which I will mention, and these will be addressed in the next iteration of the compact. We will engage with Member States over the next three weeks to try to resolve some of these divergences in the third draft and secure greater consensus.
There was clear appreciation and general support for the way the introduction was drafted and for the realignment of the objectives of the global compact on refugees to mirror those of the comprehensive refugee response framework (CRRF). In the introduction, we included a new section on guiding principles, and there were suggestions to further enhance it. The principles are based on the UN Charter and on the solid legal framework that has been established for decades at the global level – through the 1951 Convention, the 1967 Protocol, and a number of regional instruments, such as the 1969 OAU Convention in the African context, the 1984 Cartagena Declaration in Latin America, and the Common European Asylum System in Europe – which are embedded in international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and broader principles of international law. The cardinal principle of non-refoulement is a fundamental norm of customary international law, binding on all Member States of the United Nations. I think the guiding principles set out in the global compact on refugees have helped to contextualize the compact in an area that is fundamentally humanitarian.
In addition, the African Group asked for the impact on refugee-hosting countries to be emphasized as the context for the global compact on refugees. This is what the compact is intended to address, and we must not lose sight of it. The scale, scope, and complexity of refugee movements and forced displacement necessitate responses that addresses a fundamental gap – the need for a more predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing mechanism. Based on a solid legal framework, solid policies, and solid operational engagement, the global compact must address the issue of how to better share responsibilities, to ensure that responsibility-sharing is not solely regulated by geographical proximity to situations of crisis.
There was discussion about the scope of the programme of action, with some Member States focusing on large-scale influxes and protracted situations, but noting it may also be applicable to other contexts, such as internal displacement, situations in transit countries, and situations of mixed flows – where we have a lot of practical engagement from the past and where the compact could help in the identification of international protection needs. However, there were a couple of delegations that questioned the reference to mixed migratory situations. This clearly remains an area that needs to be addressed as we continue the drafting process.
On the mechanisms for international cooperation in the global compact on refugees, there was broad agreement that those put forward not only would be in line with the non-binding nature of the document, but also would ensure commitments on the part of Member States. The text includes a strongly endorsed proposal for holding a Global Refugee Forum on a regular basis. The first Forum would be held in 2019, followed by a forum in 2021, and then every four years thereafter. The Forum will be at the ministerial level and would involve all 193 Member States of the United Nations. It would represent the opportunity for Member States to come forward with voluntary pledges in implementing the global compact on refugees. The pledges that Member State would make, would not only be financial, but also might include commitments to review national policies, as some countries have done in light of the implementation of the CRRF. The Forum will also be an opportunity to take stock of progress made with all relevant stakeholders—including refugees, host communities, and civil society.
On the national arrangements set out in the compact, there was appreciation expressed for the emphasis placed on national ownership. On the support platform, we removed the reference to ‘global’ so that the platforms can be context and situation-specific. The platform is meant to be a tool that could be used by a country faced with a particular situation, as necessary. The solidarity conference is another tool that could be used by affected countries. It will not just be about pledging, but will take a more substantial and holistic view of a particular refugee situation and what the international community could do to assist. There was also good support for the inclusion of regional and sub-regional organizations.
One issue that emerged and will require further work is the nexus to development cooperation and how to ensure that the humanitarian response continues to be guided by humanitarian principles. The global compact tries to address it by making sure that the humanitarian response is complimented by development cooperation, in particular when it comes to access to education, health, and livelihoods. Some developing countries expressed concern about possible competition for resources between refugees and nationals. We will further clarify this issue in the next draft. Development partners, such as the World Bank, have also made it clear that we are talking about additional support to address the impact of a refugee flow on a country.
There was strong support for the multi-stakeholder approach included in the draft global compact and on the role of the private sector, which has been strengthened. There was also a strong recommendation to seek the support of the OECD or the World Bank to help measure more effectively the social and economic impact of a refugee situation on a host country.
There were then detailed discussions on Part B of the global compact, which focuses on areas of support. There were expressions of strong appreciation for the chapeau paragraphs that clarify that the aim of this section is not to create additional obligations for host countries. The section includes the sort of supports that host countries might need, depending on their context and circumstances, in areas such as reception, admission, documentation, meeting needs, and supporting host communities. There was appreciation for a dedicated section on children, and some questions were asked about the proposed Asylum Capacity Support Group.
On solutions in the global compact, there was again broad agreement on the way voluntary repatriation, resettlement, and local solutions are crafted. Strong support was expressed for the proposed three-year strategy on resettlement, in particular, to broaden resettlement opportunities. Member States already expressed interest in working closely on this and including complimentary pathways and private sponsorship mechanisms. On voluntary repatriation, there was a lot of support, but also some concerns raised by a couple of States that it creates too much of an imposition on countries of origin. While the accountability lies with countries of origin, the need remains to find ways and means of supporting them. This is an issue that we will need to address in the next draft. We will need to see how the international community as a whole can work on creating conditions for return, so that people can exercise their right to return in safety and dignity.
On follow-up in the global compact, there was general support, but also a significant discussion around indicators. Our idea was to avoid creating a complex and bureaucratic process, and rather to define high-level and broad indicators of success. There was a clear divergence of views amongst Member States, with some wanting an inter-governmentally negotiated indicators process, and others proposing an expert-type forum, led by UNHCR, with Member States and other stakeholders. We will need to find a formula that will not be process-heavy and bureaucratic, that will take into account technical discussions, and that will respond to the need to show broad-based measures of success. On the tracking of pledges, there was strong support, and questions were raised about the process. Precedents exist for such tracking, for example, with the 2011 Ministerial Meeting when a similar pledging exercise was organized. We were asked to develop several non-papers on the functioning of the Global Refugee Forum and the support platform, indicators, the Asylum Capacity Support Group, and follow-up issues, including tracking of pledges.
We are aiming to issue the next draft by the fourth of June. We would then move into the fifith round of formal consultations from the 12th-13th of June and will debrief you afterwards on the 22nd of June. From our perspective, we are on track to conclude the formal discussions by July, so that the High Commissioner can include in his report to the General Assembly a proposed global compact on refugees.
I believe this provides you with a quick update of where we are in this process. It is our fullest intention to prepare a document that carries the collective ownership of the UN membership.