The first-ever Global Refugee Forum aimed at transforming the way the world responds to refugee situations was held in Geneva, Switzerland between 16-18 December 2019. UNHCR co-hosted the Forum together with Switzerland, and it was co-convened by Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Germany, Pakistan, and Turkey.
The three-day global gathering brought together refugees, heads of state and government, UN leaders, international institutions, development organizations, business leaders and civil society representatives with a whole-of-society approach where everyone has a stake to change millions of lives by turning words into actions.
Worldwide, over 70 million people are displaced by war, conflict, and persecution. More than 25 million of them are refugees, having fled across international borders and unable to return to their homes.
Turkey, hosting the largest number of refugees of any country worldwide with over 4 million refugees and asylum seekers, co-convened the Forum with the participation of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accompanied by the ministers and representatives of Turkey’s institutions that are actively taking a role in the refugee response as well as First Lady Emine Erdoğan who delivered a speech at a panel on the theme, Time to Act: Proactive Approaches to Reduce Maternal and Newborn Deaths.
The Forum also served as a platform to share a number of initiatives and good practices demonstrating how the Global Compact on Refugees can make a difference. Turkey’s line ministries, governmental institutions and private sector companies also presented their exemplary good practices for refugees living in Turkey during the respective spotlight sessions, speakers’ corners and marketplaces at the Forum. At the Palais des Nations where the Forum was held, Turkey held an exhibition titled “Life Goes On, Art Goes On,” featuring paintings and photographs by refugee artists living in Turkey.
“Public support for asylum has wavered in recent years. And in many cases communities that host refugees have felt overwhelmed or forgotten,” said UN High Commissioner Filippo Grandi. “But refugee situations are ‘crises’ only when we let them become so, by thinking short term, by failing to plan or work together across sectors, and by neglecting the communities they arrive in. At this Forum, we have seen a decisive shift towards the longer-term view.”
The high-level meeting in Geneva has secured wide-ranging and substantial commitments of support for refugees and the communities they live in, notably with important pledges of new long-term support for inclusion. Most pledges have been made in the areas of protection and education, the former involving in many cases changes to legal and policy environments to promote inclusion, and the latter creating places potentially for many more refugee children to go to school and improve their life prospects.
In all, over 770 pledges had been made from across the spectrum at the Global Refugee Forum, attended by some 3,000 participants, including refugees, and 750 delegations. The private sector accounted for the widest range of commitments, with strong support for providing job opportunities for refugees. Business groups pledged $250 million, while at least 15,000 jobs will be made available to refugees. Additionally, several countries-of-origin made commitments relating to the voluntary return and reintegration of refugees and other displaced communities.
The Forum is a key element of the new Global Compact on Refugees that was affirmed by UN member states in New York in December 2018. Under the Compact, Global Refugee Forums take place every four years.