More action needed to share responsibility for refugees

UNHCR protection chief Volker Türk tells stakeholders at a Geneva conference that rhetoric on responsibility sharing for refugees needs to be put into practice.

Switzerland. Towards a Global Compact on Refugees - Thematic discussion I

UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Türk, opens a high-level meeting in Geneva to discuss burden and responsibility sharing for refugees.  © UNHCR/Susan Hopper

GENEVA – Success in tackling the global refugee crisis will depend on the international community’s ability to turn a commitment to responsibility sharing into action, UNHCR’s protection chief told a high level meeting in Geneva.

Volker Türk, the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, made the call when summing up some 80 interventions at a one-day gathering of government officials, international organizations, NGOs, academics and other experts in Geneva to discuss burden and responsibility sharing for refugees.

“We have seen a clear recognition of the principle of responsibility sharing. It has to be translated into practice,” Türk told the closing session late on Monday (July 10).

“We need to move from the rhetoric, from the paper exercise, to action on the ground - that’s where the rubber hits the road. That’s where the whole measure of success will lie,” he added.

“We need to move from the rhetoric ... to action on the ground - that’s where the rubber hits the road."

The meeting is the first of five thematic discussions to be held as UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, leads a process to develop a global compact on refugees.

The High Commissioner for Refugees was given that task in last year’s historic New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants by the UN General Assembly.

The Geneva meeting comes at a time of record displacement worldwide, in which 10 countries are sheltering around 60 per cent of the 22.5 million refugees.

Türk said participants at the meeting heard a “cry of help for sustained support” from the major host countries, and urged greater recognition for the key role they play in supporting and protecting refugees.

“It is not just about increased funding, it is also about political support and to address the root causes and to find solutions, but also to increase resettlement and other legal pathways,” Türk said. “This means that each country has to contribute within their capacities.”

The point was taken up by the delegate from Pakistan, which hosts around 1.3 million refugees who have fled decades of conflict in neighbouring Afghanistan.

“There has been a disproportionate burden on host countries."

“There has been a disproportionate burden on host countries,” said Imran Zeb, Chief Commissioner for Afghan Refugees in Pakistan. “What is actually needed is centrality of international cooperation and responsibility sharing towards the protection regime,” he added.

The high-level delegate from Lebanon, which is host to more than one million refugees from the devastating war in neighbouring Syria, meanwhile said not enough is being done to prevent the conflicts that trigger mass displacements worldwide.

“We are not addressing the root causes. This is where our collective efforts to have a contingency plan for future conflicts is important…. We need to preempt conflict,” said Mouin Merhebi, State Minister for the Affairs of the Displaced, Lebanon.

In her summing up, the Permanent Representative of Brazil, Maria Nazareth Farani Azevêdo warned of the possible consequences of the failure to address unequal responsibility sharing.

“If we let this situation linger,” she asked. “Are we contributing to creating more crises and leading to more refugee situations?”