Opinion: A message of commitment to reception from the Global Forum on Refugees

Originally posted in Italian news: A message of commitment to welcome from the Global Forum on Refugees – Welforum.it – Translated by Google Translate

by Maurizio Ambrosini | University of Milan, FAiR consortium partner – February 27, 2024

It is difficult to find good news in the international asylum policy scenario. The new European pact presented in December is a clear example of this. And yet, last December, there was a glimmer of hope on another side, that of the second Global Forum on Refugees, which was attended by 4,200 members representing 168 governments, as well as large delegations of NGOs and representatives of the private sector, 300 refugees and another 12,000 people connected online.

We also know that the commitments made by governments in these major events are struggling to translate into concrete actions, which entail economic costs and political dissent. Solemn promises of humanitarian action are among those most belied by the facts: from the point of view of governments, they aggravate the accounts and do not produce consensus, indeed they often cause them to lose any. But we also know that the first act of producing change is to decide that you want it. It is with this cautious optimism of will that we give voice to the results of the Forum. Let’s start with a summary: overall, the participants made 1,600 new pledges, for a total value of 2.2 billion dollars, which should be added to those already established by bilateral and multilateral agreements.

Let’s take a look at the four main objectives on which the participants of the Forum agreed.

The first echoes a point on which the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees had already insisted, the one that Italy under the Conte 1 government had not signed due to Salvini’s veto, but which had brought almost all the world’s states together: it is necessary to ease the pressure on the countries that currently host the majority of global refugees. As the Forum’s final document also recalls, three-quarters of refugees (reaching a total of 114 million in 2023, of which 36.4 million are international refugees) are hosted in low- and middle-income countries, more than a fifth in the poorest countries. 80% have found asylum in countries that together account for only 19% of the world’s gross domestic product. “Much more needs to be done to protect and build a future for the world’s refugees, to find lasting solutions, to support host countries through international cooperation, solidarity, a fairer sharing of burden and responsibility by the entire international community.” Support to host countries should include multi-year agreements, promoting a link between peace and development, and involve a plurality of actors, including the private and financial sectors, in addition to states.

The second objective is to increase the autonomy of refugees: another point of great relevance, if we consider that current policies tend to silence and passivize people seeking asylum, starting with the denial of the right to choose the place where they are welcomed. Autonomy therefore means freedom of movement, access to the labour market, and the use of educational opportunities. All this certainly entails costs, but it is ultimately a worthwhile investment, capable of generating socio-economic opportunities for both refugees and host societies. In this regard, a multi-actor effort plans to support 20 million people, including refugees and residents in affected local communities, affected by food supply crises.

Particular attention is also paid to the issue of education, with a commitment to ensure that all refugee children have access to quality educational opportunities, setting a commitment to promote access to tertiary education (i.e. university or similar institutions) for 15% of young refugees by 2030.

Work is essential as a resource for achieving personal autonomy. Based on an estimated doubling of refugees’ participation in the informal economy in two years, the Global Forum announces a commitment to create employment opportunities and access to financial products and services for one million refugees and their host communities. The Forum also intends to commit itself to the transformation of refugee camps into integrated settlements in local contexts, triggering development processes for both refugees and resident populations.

The first objective, that of lightening the burden on the countries of first reception, is linked to the third: to expand access to solutions to be implemented in third countries, i.e. essentially developed countries. This can be achieved primarily through resettlements carried out by governments: they have grown recently (114,000 in 2022), but remain modest compared to the needs (UNHCR collected and approved, also in 2022, 1.5 million applications). The commitment in this case is to go far beyond the current numbers, resettling one million refugees by 2030, and also providing for the preservation of family unity through reunification. Private and community sponsorships also come into play, promising to increase the number, scale and diversity. This includes the “humanitarian corridors” invented in Italy by the Catholic and Protestant churches, which have so far allowed the arrival in safe conditions and the widespread reception of 5,600 refugees, a solution later adopted in France, Belgium, Andorra, and for a small number in Germany.

Another channel for the transfer of refugees to safer and more promising destinations is through “complementary pathways”, such as those for students (“Students at risk”), researchers (“scholars at risk”), athletes, workers with certain skills, such as health professionals. Since the 2016 New York Declaration, 1.2 million refugees have benefited from complementary pathways. The Global Forum now pledges 200,000 refugees to be welcomed through work and education projects. Also noteworthy is the commitment to provide refugees with a “Nansen passport of the 21st century”, i.e. quick and easy access to internationally recognised renewable travel documents.

The fourth objective, on the other hand, looks at the countries of origin and translates into support to ensure the return in conditions of safety and dignity. The Forum recalls that most refugees would like to return to their homes to live in peace and quiet, but the conditions must be met to be able to do so: to negotiate peace agreements, to address the roots of conflicts, to work to enable a sustainable return. Financial and technical support to countries of origin must be provided by the states concerned and other relevant actors, to address the causes of forced migration and to promote the capacity to receive and reintegrate refugees. The commitments concern access to housing, land, property. They also call for peacebuilding and conflict prevention actions, through analysis, planning, legal protection, and addressing hate speech and disinformation.

The Forum also envisages cross-cutting commitments: at the regional level, to remedy crises such as the one in Afghanistan or the one involving the Roingya population of Burma, Central Africa, Central America and Mexico; involving cities and local governments; strengthening the inclusion of refugees in decision-making processes that affect them; giving greater protection to women and preventing violence against refugee women.

A new and unpredictable aspect refers to companies and the private sector. Among the commitments already made and budgeted, a figure of 250 million dollars is formalized in the final document of the Forum, as well as interventions in favor of refugees entrepreneurs, training activities aimed at work, scholarships. The private sector is also expected to provide one million hours of free legal and advisory services over the next four years, as well as financial and connectivity services at the request of refugees.

In conclusion, the document recalls that humanitarian activities cannot replace political commitment to the search for political solutions to conflicts. However, welcoming refugees means strengthening the international order. “Investing in refugees means investing in our collective security, abandoning refugees to need and desperation could impact each of us.” This time a message of goodwill has come from the upper echelons of international politics. We will see if governments and all the other actors involved will want to pick it up and put it into practice.

Disclaimer: Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Executive Agency (REA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them. Grant Agreement 101094828.

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