The first Global Refugee Forum was held at the end of a tense and troubled decade in which the number of refugees worldwide doubled to well over 25 million. The conference was called to announce bold, new measures to ease pressures on host countries, enhance refugee self-reliance, and find lasting solutions for those uprooted from their homes by wars and persecution.
Jointly organised by Uganda, Japan, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, UNDP, OECD and the World Bank, all members of the main panel stressed the importance of including refugees in national planning and investing in both humanitarian and development aid.
Speaking on the occasion, Prime Minister Imran Khan warned that one of the biggest refugee crises is about to take place because of recent actions by the Indian government. He said India’s revocaton of Kashmir’s special status on Aug. 5 aims to change the demographics of the region from a Muslim-majority to a Muslim-minority state, which is likely to provoke a refugee crisis that will dwarf previous ones: “I would like the world community to take notice of what is happening. We in Pakistan are not just worried that there will be a refugee crisis. We are worried that this could lead to a conflict, a conflict between two nuclear-armed countries.”
Imran Khan pointed to India’s new Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Assam state as another flash point. Under this act, he said, Muslims must prove they are citizens of India or will be stripped of their nationality. He said: “Please understand the implications. There are 200 million Muslims in India. If two or three percent of them cannot prove their citizenship, where will they go?”
Khan warned that the riots in opposition to the new legislation are likely to worsen, but said that Pakistan, which already hosts around three million Afghan refugees, cannot accommodate more. He urged all nations to pressure the Indian government to reverse its discriminatory policies against Muslims.
The main agenda of the three-day world conference was to explore and create opportunities to lead meaningful lives for some 25.9 million refugees worldwide. One key approach recommended by the conference was to open new avenues for refugees in host countries where they first sought safety to move to third countries, whether through resettlement or other pathways such as the opportunity to work, study or reunite with family members. This approach is part of the vision of the Three-Year Strategy (2019-2021) on Resettlement and Complementary Pathways, which showcased what can be achieved with concerted action and drew new pledges from states and other actors to expand their efforts in this area.
Self-reliance was identified as the key for refugees and their hosts to lead a dignified life in safety. Yet, the majority of refugees and their hosts live in low-income countries with little economic opportunity, pitching many into the so-called “poverty trap.” Some of the world’s leading experts on poverty alleviation, who attended the forum, identified concrete ways to give millions of vulnerable and extremely poor refugees, and their hosts, a new chance to become self-reliant.
A key strategy highlighted in the discussion was the “Graduation Approach,” a sequenced, multi-sector intervention that seeks to lift the poorest and most vulnerable households out of extreme poverty within a specified period by achieving a sustained income. In addition to providing assets such as livestock and agriculture inputs, the Graduation Approach supports programme participants with livelihood and financial skills training, personal coaching, connections to healthcare and education for families, promotes savings and more. The method combines covering the household’s basic needs – such as food – while the breadwinner of the household goes through training, mentoring, and finally receives either a business grant or a job enabling the household to be self-reliant.
Through a set of carefully sequenced, time-bound interventions, participants “graduate” from a state of severe destitution to a level where they can maintain sustainable livelihoods with dignity to put themselves on a pathway out of the so-called poverty trap. The programme has been tested with refugees in six countries since 2013 by the UNHCR and TrickleUp, an NGO, with funding from the US State Department with encouraging results, which call for a global scale-up and resource mobilization.
The Poverty Alleviation Coalition – a consortium of the UNHCR, World Bank Partnership for Economic Inclusion and 13 NGOs – presented an ambitious plan to alleviate the poverty of 500,000 households – equivalent to five per cent of all refugee households globally – in 35 countries within the next five years. The coalition is calling on the international community, governments and the private sector for US$176 million in support so that it can meet its goal. It announced a pledge to initiate programmes with 150,000 households by the time of the next forum, 2023, of which partial funding has been secured. On behalf of the Poverty Alleviation Coalition (PAC), World Vision announced that PAC has pledged to end extreme poverty for 500,000 households within five years in 35 countries. The coalition is actively seeking US$ 176 million to realise all aspects of the pledge.
On the other hand, the European Commission also outlined efforts to expand safe and legal pathways to the European Union, where resettlement has tripled since 2015. “Resettlement is a practical demonstration of EU solidarity with vulnerable refugees and we are committed to continue efforts to expand resettlement places through funding and operational support,” said Davinia Wood, Head of Unit for International Strategy in the European Commission. He pledged that in 2020, EU funding will directly support EU Member States to resettle around 30,000 refugees.
Without doubt, in the midst of a serious worldwide refugee crisis, the Global Refugee Forum represented a bold initiative to build new partnerships and develop innovative approaches to address the issue. It is hoped that the efforts will continue till the last refugee is resettled in their home country.