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Summary of participation and pledges at the Global Refugee Forum

Global Refugee Forum

Summary of participation and pledges at the Global Refugee Forum

January 2020

Over the last decade, refugee crises have increased in scope, scale, and complexity. There are now 25.4 million refugees globally. Of these, 84 per cent of are hosted in low and middle-income countries facing their own challenges.  Many host countries and donors have shown great generosity in the face of these growing numbers.  Nonetheless, the gap between needs and available resources continues to grow.  

Refugees and the communities hosting them suffer the consequences.  Many refugees live in exile for decades and over generations. They are often isolated in camps or living without access to public services or prospects for livelihoods. More than half are children, yet 3.7 million are not in school. This needs to change. They need to be part of the communities where they live, so they can thrive and contribute. They need the education and skills to rebuild their home countries should they be able to return.  And most of all, they need hope.

Less than a quarter of the 193 UN Member States bear the lion’s share of responsibility for refugees – either hosting large refugee populations or contributing financially to humanitarian efforts. More countries and other actors need to step up. Urgent life-saving humanitarian support needs to be complemented by development action. This will ensure that host countries have the capacity to support refugees beyond the emergency phase.

By 2016, the scale and urgency of this need for better responses to large-scale population movements was already featuring prominently on the international agenda. In 2016, through the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants, the UN General Assembly initiated the development of two Global Compacts – one on refugees, and one on safe, regular and orderly migration. A new comprehensive refugee response framework was launched and rolled out in more than a dozen countries. In December 2018, the two global compacts – developed through separate but complementary processes, were affirmed by the General Assembly.

The Global Compact on Refugees built on existing international refugee instruments, and put in place a new set of arrangements to drive and resource the new comprehensive refugee response model. It calls for a longer-term perspective that already works towards solutions from the outset of an emergency. It envisions more predictable and sustainable support to ease pressures on host countries, enhance refugee self-reliance, expand access to third-country solutions, and support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity. 

The compact sets out arrangements to ensure that both refugees and their host communities benefit from this support. A central arrangement is a Global Refugee Forum where States and other actors come together every four years to share good practices and contribute with financial support, technical expertise, and policy changes to help reach the goals of the Global Compact. These contributions are key to transforming the aspirations of the compact into positive changes in the lives of refugees.

The first Global Refugee Forum took place in December 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland, and the Swiss Government co-hosted the event with UNHCR. Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Germany, Pakistan, Turkey – all long-standing champions of the refugee cause – co-convened this historic event together with UNHCR. People from many walks of life contributed from governments to international organizations, humanitarian and development actors, business leaders, civil society, sports organizations, faith groups, academia, artists, and refugees.  

Preparing the forum was a global effort. More than 200 states and other entities stepped up as ‘co-sponsors’ to drive progress in specific areas: burden and responsibility sharing, education, jobs and livelihoods, energy and infrastructure, solutions, and protection capacity at the forum. Governments and other actors held 30 country-level and regional consultations in the lead-up to the Forum, to identify possible pledges and good practices. This brought many new actors from different parts of government and civil society to the table.

In the forum itself, more than 3,000 people participated, including four Heads of State or Government, the UN Secretary-General, and more than 90 officials at the ministerial level or above, 55 international organizations, 130 companies and foundations, and 250 civil society organizations, sports organizations, cities and city networks, and academics.

Crucially, 70 refugees participated from 22 countries of origin and 30 host countries.  The pivotal role of refugees in both preparing for and participating in the forum has set an important precedent that we will build upon for the future.  The forum demonstrated the importance of keeping refugees at the center in matters that relate to their lives and futures.

This broad engagement and the richness and diversity of ideas that emerged led to promising results. So far, some 840 pledges have been made, and they continue to come in.  Participants also shared more than 400 examples of good practices that show how the Global Compact is already making a difference in the lives of refugees. At least a quarter of the pledges received were joint contributions between governments, civil society, the private sector, and others made in the spirit of partnership inherent in the compact.  Notably, one-third of the pledges came from countries in the global south, demonstrating the courage and sense of responsibility that these countries bring to refugee responses. 

We saw some 100 pledges in support of inclusive national policies. States and other actors pledged, for example, to support ‘out of camp’ policies, strengthened asylum systems, refugees’ access to work and financial services, and the inclusion of refugees in national and local development plans and national systems for education and health.

More than 140 pledges focused on expanding access to quality education for refugees and their hosts. Commitments ranged from early childhood, primary, and secondary education to tertiary, technical, and vocational education. Over 100 pledges addressed jobs and livelihoods. This included commitments towards job creation, work in digital services, microfinance, and women’s economic empowerment. There were also pledges to support infrastructural services, including health, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), connectivity, and shelter.

Over 40 States and other stakeholders committed to support green energy and conservation efforts in areas hosting large numbers of refugees. Thirty actors signed up to UNHCR’s Clean Energy Challenge to achieve access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all refugee settlements and nearby host communities by 2030.

Some 160 pledges focused on achieving lasting solutions. A small number of generous host countries pledged to integrate specific groups of refugees. Several countries of origin pledged to create conditions for refugee to return in the longer term. They announced efforts to resolve conflict, promote the rule of law, and build peace. Many States and other actors also pledged to use their political and financial resources to address root causes of displacement.  In keeping with the compact’s call for a Three-Year Strategy on Resettlement and Complementary Pathways, there were also more than 100 commitments to expand third-country solutions, such as resettlement, private or community sponsorship, labour mobility schemes, and scholarships for refugees.

Complementing the pledges of policy change, new programmes, and technical support, over 250 pledges contained a financial commitment. These commitments will support countries in both responding to refugee situations and implementing inclusive policies. As this support is translated into action on the ground in the coming years, refugees will no longer be resigned to living in states of limbo and dependent on humanitarian aid.  They will instead be able to live with dignity, rights, and a sense of purpose and hope.

Development actors in particular contributed through an array of financing and policy instruments. These have great potential to change for the better the way we do business. Building further on its ground-breaking work over the last few years, the World Bank Group announced a new funding and financing window of US$2.2 billion for refugees and host communities. They also announced a window of US$2.5 billion to boost the private sector and create jobs in countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence. The Inter-American Development Bank similarly announced financing of US$1 billion. And the OECD INCAF adopted the Common Position on Financing for Refugee Situations, setting out principles for addressing humanitarian assistance, development, and peace interventions in refugee contexts.

Additional pledges of financial support from States and other actors came to over US$2 billion, plus more than US$250 million from the private sector. The private sector committed to bringing not only financial resources, but also technology, new business models, expertise, and investments to refugee responses. There were announcements of 15,000 job opportunities for refugees, more than 125,000 hours of pro bono legal services per year, and support for education and training, women’s economic empowerment, connectivity, business development services, innovative financing, and Islamic philanthropy.

Many pledges also recognized the importance of protection for individuals with diverse specific needs.  They included commitments to address sexual violence, empower women and girls, address disability, and include refugees in decisions that affect them.

The forum was also an opportunity to launch mechanisms for responsibility sharing that were envisioned by the Global Compact. Three Support Platforms were created to reinforce regional refugee responses, including the MIRPS in Central America and Mexico, the Nairobi Process facilitated by IGAD in the East and Horn of Africa, and the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees. The Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network was launched to build knowledge in relation to the compact. And the Asylum Capacity Support Group was established to strengthen asylum systems, particularly in the context of large influxes of refugees. 

In addition to the 840 pledges made at the Global Refugee Forum, the 358 pledges made at last year’s High-Level Segment on statelessness will be included in the outcome document for the forum and tracked and followed up accordingly.

This forum was not an end point in itself. Rather, it was a key milestone in implementing the Global Compact and transforming the way in which the international community responds to forced displacement. The international community made ground-breaking commitments in the forum to accelerate this transformation.  As we look to the future, these commitments must be rapidly translated into concrete outcomes.

UNHCR will be monitoring progress in this effort. In 2021, UNHCR will convene a high-level stocktaking event to gauge how far we have come and assess where we need to go by the next forum in 2023.  We will need to work closely with the many actors who have been engaged in the forum to implement the pledges, report on progress for the pledge tracking dashboard, and support reporting against the broad indicators framework for the Global Compact. 

There is, of course, no room for complacency. The protection environment remains complex and troubling, and refugees are frequently the casualties of polarized political debates. These challenges will not go away, and the Global Compact on Refugees will not provide all the answers. It is nonetheless a powerful counterweight to these damaging trends – a model for international action that offers offering principled, but feasible, solutions, in a true spirit of partnership.

Much remains to be done. The upcoming decade should focus on addressing the root causes of large refugee situations. This requires sustained attention to prevention and the peaceful resolution of conflicts and achieving lasting solutions. It also necessitates greater coherence in the work of humanitarian, development and peace actors. Partnership in this process is essential – with governments, civil society, and most importantly, refugees. It is only through these efforts that we will transform our collective response and change the lives of refugees and their host communities for the better.