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The role of RLOs in response to climate change and the missing voices of RLOs from the Global South

By Epa Ndahimana (GPA), Arushi Tangri (GRN)

As the Global Refugee-Led Network actively participates in the Global Refugee Forum 2023 (GRF), starting from December 12th, 2023, the stage is set for a global dialogue that transcends borders, fostering a future where every voice counts in the fight against climate change. Together, these entities forge a path towards a tomorrow that is sustainable, inclusive, and shaped by the collective voice of the displaced and contributing significantly to the ongoing initiatives on inclusive climate action.


The above statement would be close to the truth if the Global Refugee-Led Network members from refugee-led organization leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa had not been left out of this vital forum simply because they could not be granted visas. For instance, out of 25 leaders from African Refugee-led Organisations, only 2 secured visas to travel to Geneva, Switzerland. The situation is not different for other refugee leaders from other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. This is not only missing the individuals’ presence but also the opportunity for these leaders to shape the global discourse on climate action and other issues that affect them in the refugee contexts where they live and work. Missing these leaders means a missed opportunity for other missions of refugees they represent from various countries hosting refugees. Missing these leaders at GRF implies that people without lived experiences of being refugees and who have no explicit knowledge and understanding of the actual issues affecting refugees will be the ones discussing and shaping ideas that will eventually be brought to be implemented for the benefit of refugees. 


Missing the opportunity to learn about refugee-led initiatives. 


Missing refugee leaders at the GRF is also a missed opportunity for the humanitarian world to learn about their fantastic work on climate action and the communities they represent. As refugees face climate change as a reality in various settings, they are not seated to wait for some distant saviour. They have devised solutions like energy-saving stoves, biogas cooking systems, solar-powered cookers, planting trees, and other ecosystem adaptation strategies. Refugee-led initiatives are at the forefront of designing impactful, locally relevant, contextually fit, and culturally acceptable solutions for and by refugees. Such solutions are likely to succeed if supported and have higher chances of improving displaced persons' social and economic conditions. On the other hand, solutions shaped by those who have no clue about what being a refugee is have little or no chance of success. Do you then wonder, for instance, when such solutions fail despite millions of dollars pumped into them?


GRF without refugee leaders means loss of funding and finance opportunities. 

Some of the objectives of the GRF are to find sustainable solutions for refugees, including enhancing self-reliance among refugees, promoting innovative approaches and best practices in addressing the refugee challenges, and facilitating partnerships among different stakeholders, including governments, civil society, and the private sector, to enhance collaboration and coordination in responding to the refugee crisis. Ultimately, this leads to access to resources to respond to refugee challenges. For example, the refugee leaders’ network of Uganda has pledged to plant 7.5 million trees in response to reforestation efforts and climate action in Uganda. How will they achieve that if they don't have space to build partnerships with like-minded donors, organizations, and well-wishers that are usually easily accessible and present at gatherings like the GRF? So, the lack of refugee leaders means a missed opportunity to highlight their initiatives and lobby for political, economic, and financial support to increase the impact of their work and benefit as many displaced persons as possible. Thus, the lack of refugee voices from the Global South, where most refugees are hosted in low- and middle-income countries, is a fundamental question that taints the credibility and representativeness of the GRF and whether it stands to bring sustainable solutions to refugee issues. In practicality, sustainable solutions cannot be crafted by people who don't know what living as a refugee means or who have no lived experience as refugees.  

Looking forward to an inclusive future for Sub-Saharan refugees 

The absence of Refugee-Led Organizations (RLOs) leaders from the Global South at the Global Refugee Forum 2023 raises critical concerns about the inclusivity and effectiveness of global initiatives addressing climate change and refugee challenges. While the Global Refugee-Led Network and GRF aim to facilitate a global dialogue for a sustainable and inclusive future, the stark reality is that many voices from Sub-Saharan Africa, representing some of the most affected regions, are missing from this crucial platform.

The unfortunate limitation imposed by visa restrictions has not only denied the opportunity for leaders of African Refugee-Led Organizations to contribute to shaping the discourse on climate action but has also hindered the chance to showcase their invaluable initiatives. These initiatives, born from lived experiences, offer practical and locally relevant solutions to refugees' challenges in the wake of climate change. Without the representation of these leaders, the GRF risks becoming a forum where decisions are made without a genuine understanding of the nuanced realities refugees face.

In moving forward, global forums like the GRF must address the structural barriers that hinder the participation of refugee leaders from marginalized regions. True inclusivity demands the active involvement of those directly affected by the issues under discussion. Only by amplifying the voices of all refugees, regardless of their geographic location, can we achieve meaningful and impactful solutions to the complex challenges posed by climate change and displacement. The urgency to rectify this situation is not just about representation; it is about ensuring that the strategies devised are rooted in the realities faced by those who have experienced displacement firsthand. The credibility and success of global initiatives depend on the commitment to hear and include all voices in the pursuit of a more sustainable and inclusive future for refugees worldwide.

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