The advocacy process includes influencing processes at the local, national, regional, and international level through the development of coalitions and alliances; research and publications; diplomacy; public campaigning; common messaging; conferences and events; communications and media work; (the facilitation of) self‐advocacy by persons of concern; and social mobilization. All advocacy activities, target goals, and audiences are carefully tailored, contextualized, and designed to capitalize on the strengths and mandates of each partner.
Advocacy should be conducted in the best interests of the people we seek to assist, and involve their consent, consultation, and participation to the furthest extent possible. To ensure this, UNHCR uses the “Participatory Assessments” tool, a dialogue process and collaboration with refugee communities in support of gathering information that identifies protection gaps in the country of asylum in terms of services, assistance, or advocacy.
Experience shows that the protection of refugees and other persons of concern is enhanced when UNHCR and partners engage in joint advocacy work:
- in adherence to human rights and humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence;
- in accordance with the key principles of partnership, namely, complementarity, equality, responsibility, transparency, and results-oriented approaches;
- based on a common understanding and appreciation for the purpose of advocacy, and the role of affected communities in advocacy;
- in a partnership that is well-balanced and continuously reinforced, in which each partner contributes sufficient capacity and coordinates systematically, while maintaining its ability to act independently.
Principles of partnerships for protection advocacy
- Responsibility: Advocacy needs to be conducted in the best interests of the people we seek to assist, to the extent possible with their consent, and at minimum in consultation and participation with them. Effective advocacy is conducted in a manner that preserves and promotes their dignity and supports their rights and aspirations. Sound advocacy adheres to humanitarian and protection principles, carefully balancing short-term and long-term gains. Accountability towards the persons of concern should underpin all advocacy efforts.
- Complementarity: Unique responsibilities are assigned to UNHCR by its organizational mandate and its role in the promotion of the goals and supervision of the implementation of the 1951 Refugee Convention and other refugee instruments, as well as the prevention and reduction of statelessness (1961 Statelessness Convention), and its authority vis-à-vis governments. NGOs have access to local resources and decision-makers, they have a diversity of mandates, membership in international networks, and have fewer formal obligations to member states. The complementarity of partners’ mandates and their mutually reinforcing roles and responsibilities are the basis for advocating in partnership.
- Transparency: Transparent information-sharing mechanisms and a common understanding of each other’s roles are established from the onset of an advocacy partnership so as to ensure preparedness, timeliness, predictability and efficiency.
- Equality: Equality requires mutual respect between members of the partnership irrespective of size and power. Partners respect each other’s mandates, obligations, and independence and recognize each other’s constraints and commitments. Mutual respect should not preclude organizations from engaging in constructive dissent.
- Result-oriented approach: Advocacy partnerships aim at positive protection outcomes for persons of concern. They require result-oriented coordination based on effective capabilities and concrete operational capacities. On-going consultations will be used to monitor impact or risks and suggest corrective and mitigating measures when needed.
UNHCR Advocacy Work in Israel
In Israel, as elsewhere, the overall objective of UNHCR’s advocacy is to advance the protection of persons of its concern, and the availability of durable solutions. The key priority areas where UNHCR in Israel has been advocating for meaningful changes are:
- Changes and improvements to the legal framework to ensure effective protection of refugees and asylum-seekers, including adoption of national refugee legislation and modifications to the anti-infiltration law;
- Quality asylum procedures that would meet the required international standards of fairness, efficiency, and effectiveness;
- Legal assistance and representation to ensure the effectiveness of the asylum process;
- Access to health care, including mental health and reproductive health services;
- Better services and support for refugees and asylum-seekers with specific needs, i.e. women, the elderly, persons with disabilities, chronically ill persons, persons living with HIV/AIDS, LGBTQI persons, etc.;
- The protection and care of children, including access to mainstream education;
- Adequate measures for the prevention of and response to sexual and gender-based violence;
- Economic inclusion and employment by promoting and supporting higher education, vocational training, and language learning as the gateway to employment, self-reliance and social participation;
- Effective measures to combat discrimination, intolerance, and racism against refugees and asylum-seekers
- Durable solutions for the Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers who have been in a legal and social limbo for over a decade.
UNHCR and the State of Israel have a common, shared interest in finding lasting solutions to refugee problems. It was in this spirit that significant joint efforts were made to address the situation of some 38,000 Eritreans and Sudanese asylum-seekers who have been living in Israel under temporary stay arrangements for over 10 years. Those efforts led to the signing of a “Framework of Common Understanding” between UNHCR and the Government in April 2018.
The Agreement had four main components:
- UNHCR would assist in the departure of some 16,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers to other western countries through their private sponsorship, resettlement, or family reunion programmes;
- Israel will regularize the status of a similar number, allowing authorized work and access to the national health care and welfare systems;
- Collaboration on skills development programmes for jobs that offer a dignified salary, whether in Israel, in resettlement countries, or in the refugees’ country of origin if and when they choose to return; and
- Positive Government measures to promote and support the voluntary relocation of some refugees from South Tel Aviv and ensure an equitable distribution throughout the country.
The Prime Minister held a Press Conference on 2 April 2018 hailing the Agreement as a “landmark” in Israel-UNHCR cooperation. Unfortunately, it was cancelled less than 24 hours later. UNHCR believes that the Solutions Agreement is still the best way forward. It is a win-win strategy that would offer protection to the people in need, while taking into account Israel’s demographic concerns. If Israel does more, we believe that other countries will be willing to help with resettlement, family reunification, private sponsorships, scholarships, and other humanitarian admission programmes.
Public Information and Awareness-raising
The current challenge to the institution of asylum is to a considerable extent rooted in ignorance and fear. Politicians and the public often fail to appreciate the difference between asylum-seekers and migrants. Some host communities regard the arrival of asylum-seekers and refugees as an unwelcome disruption to their normal lives, or as a threat to their national identity or culture. Yet others regard them as competitors for jobs, or as unproductive and a drain on public resources. This environment not only undermines trust and confidence in asylum systems, but can also be a fertile ground for racism, xenophobia and intolerance.
Credible and up-to-date public information on the numbers of those in need of international protection, where that protection is being provided, and in what form has an important part to play in redressing some of the commonly held myths about refugees and asylum-seekers. This will also help generate a better understanding and appreciation of the distinction between asylum-seekers fleeing for their lives and those leaving their home countries for reasons of economic opportunity.
Furthermore, public information and education is an important tool in fostering a positive and respectful attitude towards refugees and facilitating their self-reliance and integration. We should see the arrival of refugees to our countries and communities. Not as a threat, but as an opportunity to strengthen the humanity we all have in common and the dignity to which we all aspire.
In anxious times such as the one we are living in today, when a toxic anti-foreigner rhetoric is on the rise in a number of countries with otherwise solid reputations of long-standing support for refugees, it is essential to educate the local populace and businesses on the benefits they stand to gain in helping those seeking asylum.
As research and history has shown us, refugees are highly adaptable, willing to work and fill gaps in the workforce by offering a different set of skills and experiences. When afforded the necessary opportunities to integrate into host labour markets, they can bring considerable returns to the national economy by generating demands for goods and services, paying taxes, and creating new jobs themselves. Taxes on their wages will, in turn, help fund pensions and other public services.
The Statute of UNHCR (English | Hebrew) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly mandates the Organization to provide for the protection of refugees by, inter alia, “promoting the conclusion and ratification of international conventions for the protection of refugees, supervising their application and proposing amendments thereto.”
The supervisory responsibility of UNHCR is additionally recognized in the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, which provide that the States Party “undertake to co-operate with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees […] in the exercise of its functions, and shall in particular facilitate its duty of supervising the application of the provisions [of these conventions].”
UNHCR has over 70 years of experience supervising the treaty-based system of refugee protection established by the international community. Based on this extensive experience of constructive and broad engagement with the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the State, UNHCR’s supervisory activities inter alia include:
- Monitoring State practice regarding the situation of persons of concern and as necessary making representations with governments and other actors;
- In general, UNHCR is granted, at a minimum, an advisory-consultative role in national asylum, refugee status, or statelessness determination procedures. For instance, UNHCR is notified of asylum applications, is informed of the course of the procedure, and has guaranteed access to files and decisions that may be taken up with the authorities, as appropriate. UNHCR is entitled to intervene and submit its observations on any case at any stage of the procedure;
- UNHCR is also entitled to intervene and make submissions to quasi-judicial institutions or courts in the form of amicus curiae briefs, statements, or letters;
- To ensure conformity with international law and standards relating to persons of concern, UNHCR is entitled to advise governments and parliaments on legislation and administrative decrees affecting them during all stages of the process. The Office is therefore generally expected to provide comments on and technical input into draft legislation and related administrative decrees;
- UNHCR is entitled to receive data and information concerning asylum‐seekers, refugees, stateless persons, and other persons of concern; these populations have unhindered access to UNHCR and vice versa, either by law or administrative practice;
- UNHCR is entitled to issue legal positions on international law matters relating to its populations of concern, as well as eligibility guidelines on how the situation in countries of origin relates to refugee and other international protection criteria.
Documents and Resources
- Guidance note on partnership in advocacy for protection
- New Issues in Refugee Research, UNHCRʼs Supervisory Responsibility (Volker Türk, 2002)
- UNHCR’s Role in Supervising International Protection Standards in the Context of its Mandate – Keynote Address by Volker Türk (2010)
- International Conference of Forced Displacement, Protection Standards, Supervision of the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol and Other International Instruments