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Sharing responsibilities for large refugee movements

Briefing notes

Sharing responsibilities for large refugee movements

7 July 2017 Also available in:
Guatemala. Eulalia Silvestre, leader of Ixmucané
Eulalia Elena Silvestre Hernandez, a Poptí Mayan indigenous woman, was assisted by the CIREFCA initiative when she returned to Guatemala after years of exile.

As UNHCR leads a process to develop a Global Compact on Refugees, an international meeting in Geneva on Monday (10 July 2017) will explore what can be learnt from past and current examples of sharing responsibility for large movements of refugees.

Last year’s New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 19 September 2016, called on the High Commissioner to develop a global compact on refugees, in consultation with States and other stakeholders. It is due to be presented to the UN General Assembly for consideration in 2018.

Monday’s meeting at the Palais des Nations is the first in a series of thematic discussions being held this year to inform development of the global compact. It brings together some 300 participants, from governments, international organizations, NGOs, academics and other experts. Proceedings will be livestreamed at between 10:00 and 18:00.

This first discussion will focus on one of the key issues addressed in the New York Declaration, in which 193 States made a milestone commitment to ‘a more equitable sharing of the burden and responsibility for hosting and supporting the world’s refugees.’ The meeting will examine elements of past and present examples which have been most effective in protecting refugees and sharing responsibilities more equitably among States.

Past frameworks

Clandestine departures, risky boat journeys, push backs, threats to close borders by countries fearful of the destabilizing effects of large waves of refugees are not new. Many of the challenges we grapple with in refugee protection today have been managed before. The international community has come together and forged agreements to preserve asylum for people fleeing danger, to share the burden of hosting refugees among States, to bolster peace agreements with development support, and to ensure refugees returning home get targeted help to rebuild their lives.

Monday’s conference will look at three past examples: the Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese Refugees (CPA) of 1989; the International Conference on Central American Refugees (CIREFCA) of 1989; and the Humanitarian Evacuation Programme (HEP) and Humanitarian Transfer Programme (HTP) (1999) for refugees from Kosovo (S/RES/1244 (1999)).

Current situations

Monday’s thematic discussions will also examine current arrangements to share responsibility for large movements of refugees. This includes the Syria refugee response, which since 2015 has been led through a combined ‘refugee and resilience’ plan jointly coordinated by UNHCR and UNDP. Increasing development support for host countries and communities has been a key component, as well as expanding opportunities for resettlement and other pathways for admission to third countries. Other current arrangements to be discussed at the meeting include the response frameworks for the Afghan and Somali refugee situations, and commitments by Latin American countries to improve protection and prospects of solutions for refugees, displaced and stateless people in the region under the 2014 Brazil Declaration and Plan of Action.

Roadmap to the refugee compact

UNHCR hopes the thematic discussions will draw out a set of actions, good practices and lessons for States and others to inform the development of the programme of action, which the High Commissioner will propose as part of the Global Compact on Refugees, at the core of which is the comprehensive refugee response framework already agreed to by UN Member States in the New York Declaration. The programme of action will build on the commitments made in the New York Declaration and seek to make future comprehensive responses to large-scale refugee situations more predictable and equitable.


Meeting details

The entire proceedings of the meeting (to be held in Salle XVII) will be livestreamed at from 10:00 to 18:00, with a short break between 13:00 and 13:30.

Still photos of opening remarks will be posted on Refugees Media in the afternoon of 10 July.

A limited number of seats are available in Salle XVII for media accredited with the UN in Geneva.

UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk is co-chairing the meeting and will make opening remarks at 10:00, and introduce the side event on past examples at 13:30.

Mr Türk will also make summary remarks at the close of the meeting, between 17:00 and 18:00.

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Further background information


  1. The Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese Refugees (CPA) of 1989

The CPA was adopted by 70 governments in Geneva in June 1989, at a time when countries in Southeast Asia were threatening push backs of asylum-seekers in the wake of a surge in arrivals from Viet Nam and Laos and increasing reluctance of western governments to maintain resettlement opportunities. It comprised a number of commitments made by countries of origin, asylum and resettlement, such as mass media campaigns to discourage departures for non-protection related reasons, and an orderly departure migration programme to provide alternative avenues for people to leave legally. Temporary protection and refugee status determination were provided for new arrivals in countries of first asylum in Southeast Asia, on the understanding that those found to be refugees would be resettled in third countries. The return of people found not to be refugees was supported through economic assistance for reintegration in countries of origin and counselling.

  1. The International Conference on Central American Refugees (CIREFCA)

CIREFCA is the Spanish acronym for the International Conference on Central American Refugees, signed in 1989, which was a regional effort to find solutions for hundreds of thousands of displaced people through an integrated development approach. By the late 1980s, some three million Central Americans had been displaced by interlinked conflicts in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, including 150,000 refugees and 900,000 undocumented people in refugee-like situations.

CIREFCA can be traced to the Esquipulas II peace accords signed by Central American leaders in 1987, which established a roadmap for peace and recognized the importance of resolving the large-scale displacement situations as integral to the peace process. CIREFCA sought to galvanize regional and international support for the voluntary and sustainable return of refugees and IDPs, as well as for local integration and host communities. CIREFCA raised over $422 million from donors and helped over 134,000 displaced people (mostly refugees) return to their areas of origin in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

  1. Humanitarian Evacuation Programme (HEP) and Humanitarian Transfer Programme (HTP) (Kosovo (S/RES/1244 (1999))

When the long-simmering conflict in Kosovo (S/RES/1244 (1999)) exploded in late March 1999, more than 850,000 refugees fled, mainly to Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

In early April, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – concerned about the potentially destabilizing effects of a large influx of refugees – requested a system of international burden sharing be put in place. It agreed to continue to admit refugees on the understanding that some would then be evacuated to third countries on a temporary basis. By the end of the emergency, almost 96,000 refugees had been temporarily evacuated to 29 countries through the Humanitarian Evacuation Programme (HEP). Another 1,400 persons were transferred from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to Albania under the Humanitarian Transfer Programme (HTP).