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Live blog: Global Refugee Forum 2023 – Day 2

An Ecuadorian woman, 67, and a Venezuelan woman, 39 embrace and celebrate their friendship on the banks of a river.

Live blog: Global Refugee Forum 2023 – Day 2

14 December 2023 Also available in:

The Global Refugee Forum 2023 takes place from 13 to 15 December at the Palexpo in Geneva, Switzerland.

Held every four years, the Forum is the world’s largest international gathering on refugees. It is designed to support the practical implementation of the objectives set out in the Global Compact on Refugees.

Follow the live blog for up-to-date highlights from Day 2 of the Global Refugee Forum 2023.


8.05 pm: End of Day 2

That's all from the second day of the Global Refugee Forum. Today, participants announced a raft of high-level pledges to support refugees and the countries hosting them across a broad range of issues. They also debated pressing topics in a series of high-level panel events. Join us again tomorrow for updates from the last day of the GRF 20203.

7.21 pm: The business case for employing refugees: A win-win situation

Hala Haj Taleb, UNHCR refugee journalism mentee reporting from Geneva

Hala Haj Taleb, UNHCR refugee journalism mentee reporting from Geneva

A man sits behind a podium during a panel event

Hane Alrustm, director of programmes at Resourcing Refugee Leadership Initiative, speaks during a panel event at the Global Refugee Forum.

Refugee participation has been a key theme for the Global Refugee Forum. Four years ago, there were 70 refugees attending the GRF. This number has increased to more than 300 refugee participants this year.

“Meaningful participation cannot happen without funding refugee-led organizations,” says Hane Alrustm, a Syrian refugee and the director of programmes at Resourcing Refugee Leadership Initiative, during a side event this afternoon.

Alrustm noted that one of the biggest challenges refugee-led organizations face is being excluded from decision-making processes, especially around funding allocations.

Sharing the panel was Tolga Öncü, Retail Operations Manager in IKEA Group, who stressed the business case for employing refugees.

Öncü believes that employing refugees holds many advantages, as refugee employees have higher retention rates (of around 90 per cent) compared to non-refugee employees. They also bring different perspectives which helps to foster creativity. He added that supporting refugees can boost profits, as data show that people tend to buy more from brands that are socially responsible.

6.33 pm: Expanding access to higher education

Santos Madhieu Mawien, UNHCR refugee journalism mentee reporting from Geneva

Santos Madhieu Mawien, UNHCR refugee journalism mentee reporting from Geneva

Italy. Bernice Kula-Kula studying in her room at the halls of residence

Bernice Kula-Kula studying in her room at the University of Cagliari in Italy where she is a master's student. 

“Higher education is a dream that most refugees hardly achieve because we find ourselves in places and situations that are beyond our control.” 

These are the powerful words of Bernice Kula-kula, a refugee student from the Democratic Republic of Congo currently studying master’s degree in computer engineering, Cybersecurity, and Artificial Intelligence at the University of Cagliari in Italy.

“As a refugee, I felt like everything was taken away from me, I felt like my identity was taken away from me but through higher level education, I got a chance to find myself, to find my strength, to find my talent which has given me self-reliance.”

She was speaking at an event on the 15by30 goal, which aims to boost refugee enrollment in higher education to 15 per cent by 2030 from its current level of 7 per cent. The goal is the focus of a multi-stakeholder pledge at this year’s GRF and linked pledges by Türkiye, Germany, and language technology company Duolingo.  

“Universities in refugee-hosting countries are highly committed to enrolling and including more refugees. However, the support universities receive to increase enrollment of refugees in higher education, as well as to deliver research and outreach services on forced migration remains very limited. Universities, particularly those from the global south, are under extreme pressure and need greater investment,” said Professor Wondemagegn Tadesse, University of Addis Ababa. 

6.16 pm: Refugee children call for equal partnership

Switzerland. High-level event on child rights at the Global Refugee Forum 2023

Naya (left) and Sedra (right) at the event on refugee children's rights at the Global Refugee Forum.

Children make up 40 per cent of the world’s forcibly displaced population, yet sectors that are critical to upholding their rights remain critically underfunded and there has been limited engagement with children about what solutions they would like to see.    

At an event earlier today, displaced children called for their views to be taken more seriously and for their needs and contributions to be integrated into refugee responses. 

“All of the adults of power need to gain the trust of all children who were waved off and not protected,” said Sedra, a 15-year-old Syrian with a refugee background. “In order to form these policies that truly highlight the needs of refugee children … you need to go to refugee-based areas yourselves and hear the words of those children who have stories to tell … and needs they want you to highlight.” 

Over 84 pledges were made including by countries such Greece, Norway, Switzerland, Thailand, Colombia and Türkiye to promote displaced children’s rights to be safe, to participate, to be educated and to receive key services. Sedra and other refugee children then asked the governments and NGO representatives to explain what more they will do to protect their rights.  

Naya, a 16-year-old with a refugee background, concluded: “I expect everyone here, and I urge everyone here to also contribute to our needs.” 

5.57 pm: Stakeholders pledge action on gender, cities, education and more

This afternoon’s plenary session opened with another round of multi-stakeholder pledges, including:

  • Gender equality and protection from gender-based violence – Led by Australia, Chile, Germany and the UK, this pledge commits 20 refugee hosting countries to promote gender equality and strengthen action to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. From among the 130 pledge signatories, $15 million has already been pledged to fund women refugee-led organizations.
  • Expanding refugee access to higher education: 15by30 – Led by partners including the Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium, the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network (GAIN) and Duolingo, the pledge aims to increase refugee enrolment in higher education to 15 per cent by 2030 from its current level of 7 per cent through expanded access to scholarships, educational and vocational training pathways and digital higher education.
  • Solidarity in Cities – More than 100 cities and local governments will support refugees and other forcibly displaced people living in urban areas through humanitarian, socio-economic inclusion and climate initiatives, with $80 million already pledged to support these efforts.
  • Refugee Travel Documents – Inspired by the original Nansen passports issued to refugees and stateless people from 1922, the “21st century Nansen passport” will provide refugees with access to government-issued, machine-readable travel documents. This will offer greater freedom of movement, reduce the risk of refoulement and improve access to financial and other services.
  • Mobilizing the private sector for solutions in Africa – Led by the Amahoro coalition, this pledge will galvanize private sector support for solutions across the African continent, with over $200 million already pledged over the next five years in support of some 150,000 refugees.

5.33 pm: Working with the private sector to find solutions for refugees

Ethiopia. IKEA Foundation Chief Executive Officer Per Heggenes visits Ethiopia

Elias Nunow Hirab, 27, is part of a refugee cooperative that operates a solar mini grid in Melkadida refugee camp.

“Let us strive to empower refugees and host communities to make them resilient and self-sufficent,” said Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister Ato Demeke Mekonnen, during a session earlier today that showed what can be achieved when governments, the private sector, UNHCR and other partners work with refugees and host communities. 

Ethiopia’s Melkadida camps are home to more than 210,000 mostly Somali refugees. Over the past decade, they and the local community have benefited from the world’s largest private sector investment in a refugee setting, with the IKEA Foundation investing more than $120 million in economic development initiatives, including solar energy grids

The success of the partnership has helped inform the government-led and multi-stakeholder new Melkadida Refugee Compact – a four-year plan to boost economic development, access to basic services and climate adaptation in the camps through partnerships with the private sector and other actors. 

“Melkadida Compact is the embodiment of our joint vision to lift the community of Melkadida out of poverty in a sustainable way,” said IKEA Foundation CEO Per Heggenes. 

Refugee scholars in New York’s Times Square

The goal of boosting refugee enrollment in higher education was emblazoned across New York’s iconic Times Square on Wednesday. Portraits of refugee students who got help applying to colleges and scholarships through a partnership between Duolingo English Test and UNHCR were displayed on Nasdaq’s giant 8-storey LED display. The banner referenced the 15by30 goal of increasing refugee enrollment in higher education to 15 per cent by 2030, which is the focus of a multi-stakeholder pledge at the GRF.  

3.13 pm: Exploring the GRF exhibition space

A woman interacts with a piece in an exhibition, called 'UNHCR around the world'

Monicah Malith, a law student and the president of the University of Nairobi students’ association, looks at one of the exhibits in the area outside the main assembly hall in the Palexpo. This four-sided installation showcases the work of UNHCR and its many partners around the world through data, images, projects and pledges.

3.05 pm: The Amazing Technicolour Solidarity Cloak!

Switzerland. Exhibition Space at the Global Refugee Forum 2023

A visitor looks at the Solidarity Cloak worn by UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Miyavi as part of the Hope Away From Home campaign.

The Solidarity Cloak, as worn by Goodwill Ambassador Miyavi at the UNHCR Nansen Award last night. The cloak, embroidered with the word “Home” in several languages, is part of our Hope Away From Home campaign, in which UNHCR has invited people to sign a petition to show solidarity with all those forced to flee, and to call on political leaders to ensure that people seeking asylum from war, violence or persecution can do so without discrimination.

The cloak was designed by Espero Atelier, a French-based non-profit organization dedicated to creating job opportunities for refugees. The designers and creators are refugees originally from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Somalia and Ukraine.

2.51 pm: Seeking synergies in protecting refugees and migrants

Switzerland. High-level event on global agreements on refugees and migration at the Global Refugee Forum 2023

(left to right) Amy Pope, Director-General of the International Organization for Migration, Jane McAdam, Director of the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW, and Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees attend a high-level event at the Global Refugee Forum 2023.

“What we’re trying to achieve here is better outcomes for more people on the move,” said Amy Pope, the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), during a discussion with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on joined-up approaches to addressing the challenges facing refugees and migrants. 

Both agreed that if states and other actors can work together to find solutions and alternative pathways for migrants seeking better lives, refugees would also benefit from the reduction in pressure on overstretched asylum systems.

Looking at areas of synergy between the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, Grandi urged a focus on the routes used by both refugees and migrants – such as the Darien region linking South and Central America – where both groups often face the same risks and challenges.  

“Because these complex flows that we’re talking about are really across many countries, we’re encouraging governments to look at these routes holistically,” Grandi said. “If – in dealing with these complicated movements – you only deal with the problem when it happens at your borders, it’s often too late.” 

Ahead of the start of the Forum, Pope and Grandi wrote a joint op-ed on addressing every stage of the journeys taken by refugees and migrants rather than focusing on their endpoints. 

2.38 pm: More pledges on Day 2

Buti Tlhagale speaking at a podium

Buti Tlhagale, the Archbishop of Johannesburg, announces a pledge by religious leaders and faith-based organizations to unite in solidarity with refugees.

The Plenary on Day 2 opened with another “GCR in Action” session – one-minute multi-stakeholder pledge announcements. Among them were:

  • Global Legal Community: The Global Network for Public Interest Law, known as PILnet, is leading a pledge to provide 224,000 hours of free, pro bono legal assistance for displaced people annually, refugee-led organizations and other entities working with them, and to provide 260,000 people with legal advice.
  • Supporting Refugee Family Reunification: led by Brazil, Portugal, Cultuur in Harmonie, DLA Piper, the OECD and RefugePoint, contributors are pledging to reunite at least one million refugees by 2030.
  • Inclusion of Forcibly Displaced and Stateless Persons in National Statistical Systems and Surveys: finding accurate and up-to-date information on displaced and stateless communities can be extremely challenging. Now, 22 host countries will add them to their national data systems. Led by Djibouti, EGRISS, and the World Bank-UNHCR Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement
  • Religious Leaders & Faith-Based Organizations Unite in Solidarity with Refugees: a pledge of collective support for all refugees by taking action to counter hate-speech and promote social cohesion, refugee participation, education, interfaith training and humanitarian relief, with $30.5 million in contributions from the numerous pledge leaders and contributors.

Find out what Germany is doing to support refugees

Aya Abdullah Mohammed is an Iraqi refugee living in Switzerland and working as a communications intern with UNHCR. She opened the last Global Refugee Forum in 2019. She has been doing quick-reply interviews with a number of delegates at the Forum, including this one with Niels Annen from Germany’s Ministry of Economic Cooperation.

1.45 pm: Improving lives of forcibly displaced people in Central America and Mexico

A woman speaks animatedly into the microphone

Julieta Valls Noyes, US Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, speaks at the high-level event about MIRPS and the MIRPS Support Platform on Wednesday.

Six years ago, the countries of Central America and Mexico launched a regional framework to address forced displacement resulting from violence, persecution and the impacts of climate change. Known by its Spanish acronym, MIRPS, it promotes protection and solutions for displaced people, and is backed by international donors and development actors in the MIRPS Support Platform. 

During a GRF side event yesterday afternoon, MIRPS governments and Support Platform members committed to a series of new pledges to improve the lives of displaced people and their hosts in 2024 and beyond. Panelists highlighted how, in a region with a continuous displacement, the MIRPS and its Support Platform can continue to strengthen protection systems while creating conditions that give individuals the option to remain and integrate in countries of refuge.

"The increase of displacement in the region is alarming; the causes of movement of people are becoming increasingly complex. The vision of this Pro-tempore Presidency [the rotating leadership of the MIRPS] was to achieve, in collaboration with key stakeholders, a planned approach, which allowed us to establish a roadmap and reach objectives and goals for the benefit of the MIRPS member countries," said Juana López Córdoba, Vice Minister of Government of Panama. 

“Hearing from partner governments in the region, and a diverse set of stakeholders from the Americas and beyond, reaffirms my conviction that the MIRPS and its Support Platform are critical tools for convening, coordinating, and mobilizing concrete support and actions to solve the immense displacement and irregular migration challenges facing us today,” said Julieta Valls Noyes, US Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration. 

1.40 pm: Major pledges announced on Day 1

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaking at a podium with flags and the GRF banner behind him

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, announces the National Health System Inclusion pledge on day one of the GRF.

Pledges are at the heart of the Global Refugee Forum and delegates have been busy announcing new initiatives and funding. Yesterday in plenary, several large-scale pledges were announced that bring together a wide range of actors to address issues including:

  • Economic inclusion and social protection: more than $1 billion was committed to support law and policy changes in 15 countries to give 1 million refugees and others access to employment and social services. Led by Denmark, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, the US and the IGAD bloc of East African countries, the pledge brings together more than 60 states and around 150 other partners.
  • Access to education: Led by Canada, Germany, the UK and the World Bank, this pledge commits countries to opening their national education systems to refugees – with 32 states pledging funding or national policy changes to achieve this vital objective. Other commitments included a pledge of $50 million by the Lego Foundation for early childhood and psychosocial support including in Ethiopia, Lebanon, Kenya and Uganda, and the disbursal of $500 million raised for refugee education by Education Cannot Wait.
  • Labour and educational mobility: 200,000 refugees will be able to access employment and academic opportunities in third countries over the next five years as part of a pledge on “complementary pathways” led by Australia and Canada.
  • Access to national health-care systems: supported by the World Health Organization and announced by its Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus, 147 pledges were made by different stakeholders, including 29 states – mostly refugee hosting countries supported by several donors – to facilitate refugees' equitable access to national health systems in their countries of asylum.
  • UN Common Pledge 2.0: A total of 30 UN agencies and 49 UN Country Teams pledged to include refugees in UN development plans and support their inclusion in national systems and services, benefitting more than 50 million people.
  • Connected education: Vodafone Foundation committed €20 million as part of a pledge to give refugees access to high-quality, digital education on a par with nationals by 2030.

12.06 pm: Labour mobility schemes offer pathway for skilled refugees

Jordan. Ziad, a Syrian refugee, seeking carpentry job through UNHCR partner

Syrian refugee Ziad Al-Shayeb is a skilled carpenter but has been unable to find regular work in Jordan. Talent Beyond Boundaries helped him secure a contract with a construction company in Canada.

“I could not access economic opportunities due to roadblocks. It was disempowering. I could not get full time employment because of my refugee status,” said Agnes Mude Lomoro, a refugee from South Sudan who sought asylum in Kenya but now works as a registered nurse at a care home in Nova Scotia, Canada.  

Resettlement of refugees has tended to focus on their vulnerabilities rather than their abilities. Refugee labour mobility schemes offer a way for skilled refugees to access the global labour market, providing additional opportunities to resettlement programmes. At a session this morning, speakers – including refugees, employers, NGOs and government representatives – shared tried and tested strategies for matching qualified refugees with employment opportunities in third countries and for overcoming bureaucratic, funding and other barriers. 

“There are still barriers, but we cannot undermine the power of support that has already been put forward by partners … in particular financial support and dealing with so much paperwork for the applications,” said Lomoro. 

Steph Cousins, Global CEO of Talent Beyond Boundaries, an NGO that matches refugee talent with employers from around the world, pledged to pair at least 15,000 more refugees to jobs over the next five years. “Our goal is to complement existing resettlement systems and give additional pathways to solutions.” 

10.48 am: Empowering refugees to tell their own stories

Two speakers on a panel, with the nameplace for Mr. Aleksejs Ivashuk in front of them.

Aleksejs Ivashuk, founder of the Apatride Network, speaks at the “Empowering the Refugee Narrative” workshop.

At a workshop on the first day of the Global Refugee Forum, refugees joined business leaders and UNHCR representatives to discuss combatting misinformation and refugee discrimination by amplifying authentic refugee voices.

"As people who experience forced displacement first-hand, we have a more accurate picture of, not only the issue, but of its potential solutions too. We have a big role to play," said Aleksejs Ivashuk, who founded the Apatride Network, a coalition of stateless individuals, communities, and organizations in Europe in 2020 to amplify the voices of stateless people.

Speakers from INGKA Group, Fast Retailing, and Airbnb shared how they have leveraged their reach and resources to positively influence the refugee narrative, for example, by creating platforms and opportunities for refugees to tell their own stories.  

The workshop called for concrete solutions and continued collaboration between businesses and refugees, including rallying customers and employees to counter false and harmful narratives about refugees and stateless people.

“Together, we can elevate refugee voices and help change the refugee narrative,” said Shirin Pakfar, Chief of Private Partnerships & Philanthropy at UNHCR.

10.36 am: Highlights of Day 1

If you missed Day 1 of the Forum (or it’s all a blur!), watch this highlights video to get up to speed.

Abdullahi Mire accepts the 2023 Nansen Award on behalf of all refugee children striving for an education

If you missed it last night, Abdullahi Mire’s acceptance speech was truly inspiring. “Education gave me the knowledge which gave me the agency, and together they gave me the power to make decisions about my own future. I work now, so that every child displaced by conflict and climate change has the same opportunity,” he said.

Indian singer songwriter Ricky Kej closes the Nansen ceremony

Grammy-award winning artist and UNHCR high-profile supporter Ricky Kej closed the night with a performance of “Shine the Light”, a song he wrote with refugees.

9.39 am: On the agenda today

Here are the main events to look out for today (all times in CET):

  • Morning plenary session (10:00-13:00) – discussions on burden- and responsibility-sharing and new multi-stakeholder pledge announcements (follow on the live stream)
  • High-level events (11:00-12:30) – topics include private sector engagement in refugee settings, children’s rights and labour mobility.
  • High-level events (cont. 13:00-14:30) – topics include access to higher education and synergies in protecting refugees and migrants.
  • Afternoon plenary session (15:00-18:00) – further discussions on burden- and responsibility-sharing and new multi-stakeholder pledge announcements (live streamed)
  • High-level events (cont. 16:00-17:30) – topics include district coordination, meaningful refugee participation and the Rohingya situation.

You can view the full programme here.

08.39 am: Welcome to Day 2

Switzerland. Global Refugee Forum 2023

The UNHCR "Welcome House" at the Global Refugee Forum 2023.

Welcome to our live coverage of Day 2 at the Global Refugee Forum 2023.  

On Day 1, leaders and dignitaries from the co-hosts and co-convenors opened the Forum by setting out the challenges and opportunities that participants are here to address. They then heard a passionate appeal from South Sudanese refugee Adhieu Achuil Dhieu to include displaced people in the decisions that affect their lives.

The real work of the Forum began with in-depth discussions and new pledges on issues including education, inclusion and sport. The day finished with a joyful celebration of the unsung heroes working on behalf of forcibly displaced people around the world at the 2023 Nansen Refugee Award ceremony.

Stay tuned for updates from Day 2 at the GRF.