At the end of 2019, the energy and optimism of the first Global Refugee Forum created an atmosphere of anticipation for the years ahead. Expectations were high to mobilize action towards the objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees and the fulfilment of the 1,400 pledges made at the Forum.
One year on, the context in which these pledges were made has changed dramatically. COVID-19 has severely tested international standards of refugee protection. Beyond the acute health threat, the pandemic has intensified issues that were already strained – reducing access to education or livelihoods, stalling resettlement targets, and increasing the vulnerabilities of people forced to flee.
But the pandemic has also highlighted the importance of the principles at the heart of the Global Compact on Refugees: a spirit of solidarity to work together, share responsibilities, and ensure that people forced to flee are included in national responses.
The inspiring progress updates shared by pledging entities in the first year since the Forum offer a clear sign that the international community continues to boldly uphold these principles. So far, UNHCR has received updates for more than one-third of the pledges submitted at the Global Refugee Forum and the High-Level Segment on Statelessness.
More than 70% of these pledges are in progress, while 15% remain in the planning stage. It is an encouraging sign to note that 71 pledgeshave already been fulfilled in 2020.
Behind these figures are countless examples of States, NGOs, civil society organizations, the private sector, academia, development actors and many other stakeholders stepping up to fulfil their commitments to refugees and the communities that host them.
From Costa Rica to Azerbaijan, governments have included refugees in their national health systems to ensure no-one is left behind in the COVID-19 response.
Faced with school closures across the world, advocacy efforts have intensified to place a strong focus on including refugees in national plans for education. Delivering on their commitments to inclusion, UNICEF and UNHCR’s joint blueprint for refugee children sets an ambition to restore access to education to a level that exceeds pre-COVID rates by 17 per cent, while Save the Children’s Save Our Education report provides a vital analysis of the impact of the pandemic on education, including for refugees.
Although widespread travel restrictions have interrupted progress towards global resettlement targets this year, a number of countries have fulfilled their pledges towards the Three-Year Strategy on Resettlement and Complementary Pathways. Finland, for example, fulfilled its pledge by increasing its 2020 resettlement target to 850 refugees, and its 2021 target to 1,050 refugees.
As part of its pledge to provide US$ 2.2 billion of dedicated financing to refugee-hosting Governments, the World Bank Group committed to make up to US$ 1 billion available on grant terms to ensure refugees are included in host government’s COVID-19 response efforts.
“The lessons learned from the pandemic will be vital to anticipating the impact of the climate emergency.”
These are only a handful of examples that show how the commitments made towards the GCR provide the necessary tools to respond and adapt to emergencies. This year’s High Commissioner’s Dialogue offered a rich series of conversations highlighting good practices to ensure the health pandemic does not become a protection pandemic. Looking to the future, the lessons learned from the pandemic will be vital to anticipating the impact of the climate emergency, and other potential crises, on people forced to flee.
Innovation will not only be key to addressing the impact of climate change, but also to providing green energy in refugee settings. It is inspiring to see momentum building behind the 10-year ambition of the Clean Energy Challenge, spearheaded by Norway and launched at the GRF. Over the course of 2020, its membership has increased from 30 to 250 stakeholders representing States, the private sector, civil society, and international organizations, all joining forces to develop clean, modern energy solutions for displaced populations. In Jordan, a ‘hackathon’ took place in March 2020, inviting refugees to brainstorm sustainable solutions to generate clean energy in the camps where they live. The creative ideas born from this event prove why refugees should always have a seat at the table in developing solutions to meet their own needs.
“Refugees should always have a seat at the table in developing solutions to meet their own needs.”
Further initiatives launched at the Forum show positive signs of progress. Regional Support Platforms have continued to work collaboratively to innovate regional responses to forced displacement, increasing and diversifying their membership to include both host and donor countries, and other strategic partners. Support from the European Union has significantly contributed to advancing these regional solutions – an example of how co-operation with development partners is already catalyzing the implementation of the GCR by broadening the base of support. Germany, through BMZ, has facilitated efforts to strengthen the humanitarian-development-peace nexus in situations of forced displacement, and UNHCR is working with multilateral development banks to find new opportunities for support at the global, regional, and country levels.
Sustaining the ‘whole-of-society’ effort encapsulated by the Forum is key to bringing the Compact to life. It is important to note that as most refugees currently live in urban centres, cities as well as States, will play a vital role. In line with its pledge at the GRF, the city of São Paulo, Brazil, launched its first Municipal Plan of Public Policies for Refugees and Migrants in August – a pioneering initiative with refugee inclusion at its heart. We hope that the role of dynamic city networks will enable more municipalities to follow this example.
The Compact recognizes that statelessness may be both a cause and consequence of refugee movements. Despite the impact of COVID-19 on statelessness-related efforts, notable progress was made in the year following the High-Level Segment on Statelessness and the GRF. At least 17 pledges have thus far been implemented, including: the accession to UN Statelessness Conventions by Malta and North Macedonia; the establishment of a statelessness determination procedure in Côte d’Ivoire and Kazakhstan; the signing of an amnesty law benefiting stateless persons in Tajikistan; and the adoption of National Action Plans to End Statelessness in the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire and Rwanda.
Throughout 2020, the Asylum Capacity Support Group has worked with States to concretize pledges made towards improving asylum capacity, and a number of successful matches have been confirmed, pairing requests for support with technical, material or financial assistance from States. These include partnerships between France and Niger, France and Chad, and Canada and Mexico.
As we approach a new year, there is much to celebrate while acknowledging the challenges faced in what has certainly been an historic year in refugee protection. In January, the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network will host a virtual academic conference “70 years protecting people forced to flee,” from 18 – 27 January 2021, with sessions from institutions based in the Africa, Americas, Europe, MENA, and Asia and the Pacific regions. Further ahead, the High-level Officials’ Meeting on 14 – 15 December 2021 will provide an opportunity to take stock of progress at the halfway point between the first GRF and the next one. As a key milestone in the implementation of the approach set out in the GCR, it will be an essential moment to review the impact of pledges and initiatives to inform the direction for the next GRF.
Looking ahead, offers of technical, material or financial support from donors to match existing pledges will be vital to implementing many of the ambitious pledges made at the Forum. Matching is central to demonstrating the principle of burden and responsibility-sharing in action, enabling pledging entities to combine their efforts to make a tangible impact. UNHCR will continue to facilitate opportunities for matching in the year ahead to advance progress where more support is needed.
The early signs of progress we have seen, despite the significant challenges faced this year, are a testament to the willingness of pledging entities to uphold the commitments made at the Forum. We look forward to receiving further progress updates and working with all States and stakeholders to continue this global effort. Solidarity is key to building a better future for people forced to flee.