Refugee Statement on International Protection for the Executive Committee’s 73rd Plenary Session
This statement was drafted through ongoing consultations with a wide variety of refugee actors globally and attempts to reflect the diversity of our views.
Year after year, the number of people in need of international protection continues to grow—UNHCR currently cites the total number of refugees and asylum seekers at nearly 32 million people, with over 89 million people forcibly displaced. With increased migration due to non-traditional situations, such as climate change, forced migratory flows will only become more complex. This reality is only made worse by gaps in international protection—gaps that refugee leaders can identify and address if properly consulted and resourced. We therefore identify four main areas of focus for UNHCR, ExCom members, and other stakeholders to prioritize over the coming year.
First, protection must apply indiscriminately to all people fleeing displacement, and should be tailored to address the specific needs of vulnerable communities. For example, while the extension of the Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) to Ukrainians fleeing Russian insurgence was a promising step towards successfully implementing the burden-sharing schemes European countries have designed, but infrequently used, it also highlighted great disparities in treatment towards different refugee groups. Many reports of discrimination towards people of colour, also fleeing the war in Ukraine, surfaced at European borders. At the same time, pushbacks occurred at southern European borders, and European policy and funding to offshoring refugees and migrants outside of the European Union continued. International Protection is not a principle to be applied when convenient; it is a human right guaranteed to all people who are forced to flee and must be implemented as such.
In addition, protection must take into account the needs of particularly vulnerable groups, including (but not limited to) women, children, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQI+ community. To do so, Member States and international organizations must ensure an Age, Gender, and Diversity Mainstreaming (AGDM) approach to refugee inclusion. Specifically, this means that political bodies integrate age, gender and diversity considerations into all actions around refugee policy. This entails not only ensuring a diversity of voices at the decision-making table, but also tailoring policy, such as prioritizing resettlement of women and girls and communities of people with disabilities, or improving policies on refugee determination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics—currently, the Global Compact on Refugees does not even mention LGBTQI+ refugees. To achieve these objectives, international actors must meaningfully include the perspective of organizations that work closely on these issues: refugee-led organizations (RLOs) working at the local level, organizations/institutions led by women, and faith-based organizations, among others.
Protection must also apply to vulnerable forcibly displaced communities that are often overlooked, like journalists and people who lack legal identity and identification. Currently, 1 billion people around the world have no passport or formal identification. This is a major challenge for people who are forcibly displaced, as they often have no identification from their country of origin, and if they do have it, they are not able to renew these documents in their host country. This reality creates a serious vulnerability for people on the move, as people without, or with expired identification are not entitled to access basic human rights, including access to social services, healthcare, education, shelter, etc. This is an issue for Venezuelans, who often cannot afford renewing or obtaining a passport abroad, due to prohibitive costs. In addition, children of Venezuelan parents who are born where there is no jus soli (right to nationality in the country of birth) struggle to visit the Venezuelan consulate to register the birth of their child, leaving the children de facto stateless. One way to address this issue is to enable identification documents to be accessed digitally. Specifically, the international community must call on the United Nations Task Force on Digital Identity to work with the forcibly displaced community to address this issue.
Second, gaps between protection policy and practice must be identified and closed through the increased localization of aid and resettlement practices. For example, refugees’ right to work is enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, multiple bodies of international law, Sustainable Development Goal #8, and national policies in Uganda. Nevertheless, the refugee community in Uganda struggles to actually activate this right, due to the difficulty of obtaining a passport, and, by extension, a work permit. The Africa Network of Refugees has spearheaded research and advocacy to address this issue. Similarly, while the Latin American region has some of the most progressive policies towards refugees on paper, countries in the region struggle to implement them in practice. In Europe, refugees face other practical gaps in accessing their rights. For example, refugees want to be able to seek work across the European Union, a right that is enjoyed by other EU citizens. For this reason, RLOs and initiatives in the region have led efforts to analyse and publicize the difference between rhetoric and reality. In all of these cases, however, the in-depth work done by RLOs at a local and regional level has largely failed to make it to the international stage. States and large international organizations must actively seek out refugee and local organizations in order to learn how the implementation of policy is being hindered on the ground, and how to fix this when it happens. These efforts should include creating a mandate to partner with local refugee organizations as a precondition for any refugee policy response and updating and signing pledges to include localized responses. When these gaps between the policy and practiced are fixed, refugees are able to effectively integrate into their host communities, bolster their local economies, and often serve as the new point of contact for newer arrivals, relieving the burden from host governments and international agencies and organizations.
Third, durable solutions for protection issues must be advanced through the inclusion of refugees in peace building and conflict resolution processes. This includes not only including refugee advocates who have already been active around these processes, but running information and capacity-building campaigns to all refugees from the conflict, especially those who live in rural areas and have less access to internet, and therefore information, resources and knowledge. In order for peace processes to be successful, they need to be representative and owned by the community; including refugees in these process increases the likelihood of finding a durable solution. The necessity of refugee involvement should be codified in the text of any peace agreement, such as the R-ARCSS in South Sudan, which states that parties and stakeholders must ensure adequate dissemination of the peace deal to “South Sudanese people inside the country, in different cities and refugee camps in neighbouring countries, and in the diaspora, so that the people can understand, support, and own it.”
Finally, as the backbone to all of these recommendations, refugees must be meaningfully included in all levels of decision-making about refugees. This call is not new; from Georgia, to Colombia, to Australia, to Lebanon, refugees themselves are proving life-saving support to forcibly displaced communities, supporting resettlement, integration, education, livelihoods, and self-reliance efforts. Nevertheless, while significant strides towards meaningful refugee participation have happened over the past few years, the international protection system is still punctured by gaping holes. For example, as the governing body of UNHCR, ExCom’s importance cannot be understated to international refugee policy. Yet there is no contribution to its processes from any of the people actually affected by its policies—refugees. We call on the Executive Committee to adopt a new rule to enable more refugees and affected populations to consult with the Committee, as observers.
Over the next year, members of the Executive Committee must commit to ensuring (i) refugees are represented in decision-making forums at local, regional, and international levels; (ii) all refugees and affected communities are able to meaningfully participate in all stages of the refugee response; (iii) RLOs are sustainably funded with quality funding for institutional strengthening.
We urge the international community to ensure these recommendations are implemented in accordance with goal 6 of the Grand Bargain, to support a “Participation Revolution,” in order to increase accountability to affected populations around the world.
To conclude, we would like to express our appreciation for the Executive Committee’s service to those who, like us, were forced to flee, and we affirm our commitment to collaborative engagement.
NOTE: A refugee is understood as a person who has been forcibly displaced from their home country, regardless of obtaining any legal status. Refugee-led organizations/initiatives are organizations which are founded and/or led by those with lived refugee experience, and may include both formal, registered organizations and informal initiatives.
The Global Refugee-led Network Announces a New Leadership Team and Structure
Sydney, October 06, 2022: From 12 to 19 August 2022, the Global Refugee-led Network (GRN) conducted a leadership retreat in Sydney, Australia, in which it has elected a new leadership team and introduced a new leadership structure of the organisation. The leadership retreat took place following GRN’s registration in the UK (in April 2022) as a non-profit organization.
According to the outcome of the leadership retreat, GRN’s former leadership organ, the Steering Committee, is now renamed the Board. The Board will have a total 13 elected members: two from each of the six regional chapters of GRN and one independent Chairperson elected by the Board. The Chairperson will renounce their regional duties while serving in this role in order to maintain equal representation from each region. The newly elected Chair is Amer Alkayed.
All Members of the Board are elected for a two-year term, which is renewable for a maximum of two terms. The representatives from each region will be elected every two years through their respective chapters at a regional summit. Board Members are responsible, among other things, for designing the strategic direction of GRN, approving operational programmes, providing updates from and leasing engagements with regional chapters, and preparing and leading the General Assembly of GRN, including the Global Summit of GRN that takes place every two years. All Board Members will serve on a voluntary basis.
The day-to-day activities of GRN will be run by a separate Programme Unit, the appointment of which will be approved by the Board. The Programme Unit will be led by a coordinator. It will also be staffed with engagement and advocacy leads, a communications officer, and a part time financial consultant. The Programme Unit is to be established over the coming months.
As in the past, GRN will continue to count on volunteer contributions from various stakeholders, which have served as members of a Mentors and Advisors Committee, as well as a Board of Allies. The Regional Chapters of GRN will continue to operate independently from the global Board, while still complying with the mission, vision, and strategic plan of the GRN, and as amplifiers GRN’s work in their respective regions.
In another step towards inclusion and transparency, the GRN is pleased to announce the launch of its new Membership Portal. Accessible on the GRN website, this Portal provides an opportunity for GRN members to engage and collaborate on policy positions and activities. Through the portal, GRN members will have access to GRN-only materials, such as advice, training modules, thematic conversation boards, and more. The GRN looks forward to broadening its membership and continuing to advocate fiercely for refugee inclusion in the decision-making processes that directly affect their lives.
For more information, please contact Amer Alkayed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Refugees Call on World Leaders to Pass the Mic at the Two-year Review of the Global Compact on Refugees
Geneva, December 15, 2021: 130 refugees, joined by their allies, called on the international community to not leave refugees behind during a historic pandemic, while undertaking the first two-year review of the Global Compact on Refugees. During the virtual evaluation of the multilateral mechanism that aims to support and protect the world’s refugees, representatives from around the world reinforced the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on the 79.5 million forcibly displaced people. The pandemic and limited refugee-focused support is exacerbating the health, livelihood, and education risks faced by refugees. As countries implement stringent measures to contain the historic pandemic, the right to asylum has been undermined. Nearly 170 countries fully or partially closed their borders at the peak of the outbreak, including 100 that halted asylum processing. Although many hoped the pandemic would ease international tensions and lead to ceasefires, conflicts continued to rage, including in Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan.
“Today, the global picture is mixed—the countries with the fewest resources continue to bear the most responsibility, but, importantly, we have seen an expansion of the support base, with states, development actors, the private sector, and civil society also stepping up. We need to recognize those contributions and accelerate progress,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Refugees themselves have stepped up to address these challenges. Refugee-led Organizations (RLOs) provided life-saving services to their community in the face of the global pandemic, supported refugees in danger, and provided direct funding to support their community’s vital work. Despite the refugee community’s leadership, they remain an underrepresented voice in policy discussions at all levels, including a ceiling of 2% in international policy discussions.
At the High Level Officials Meeting convened UNHCR and Switzerland, RLOs, Member States, and other stakeholders advocated for the international community to better engage, fund, and partner with refugees. “I would like to remind everyone of why we are discussing refugee participation—why does it matter? We refugees organized to do this work because current policies are not working and we need to do better. And in 2021, for refugees, this is a matter of life and death,” added Najeeba Wazefadost, Asia-Pacific Representative to the GRN Steering Committee.
The Global Refugee-led Network (GRN), which is proudly by and for refugees, worked in the lead-up, and during this year’s HLOM to ensure refugee voices were centerstage in the policy debate. GRN’s pre-HLOM refugee stocktaking event brought together over 100 refugee leaders to put forward a refugee-first agenda. The collaborative and inclusive refugee agenda includes:
25% refugee participation at the 2023 Global Refugee Forum;
Refugee representation on UNHCR’s Executive Committee by 2023;
Increased direct, flexible funding for RLOs;
Enhanced refugee access to equal, quality health treatment.
The GRN welcomes the inclusion of these priorities in the official HLOM outcome document prepared by UNHCR. The GRN’s new report, Power & The Margins: The State of Refugee Participation, strongly supports this agenda. The report offers a comprehensive review of the progress made since the 2019 Global Refugee Forum, evaluates the current state of refugee policy-making, and charts a clear path forward.
“Meaningful refugee participation requires a capable, networked, and well-resourced refugee civil society. The GRN works to support refugee-led organizations around the world to ensure they can meaningfully engage in policy processes,” said Shaza Alrihawi, European Representative of the GRN Steering Committee, during her intervention at the GRN-led Meaningful Participation Side Event on Monday, 13 December.
There is significant momentum for greater refugee inclusion in decisions about their lives. GRN, along with Australia, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands, the Open Society Foundation, IKEA Foundation, the International Federation of the Red Cross, Oxfam, and Independent Diplomat significantly contributed by launching the Refugee Participation Pledge. The Pledge, which was drafted by refugees in 2019, is designed to ensure that refugees will be in the room and meaningfully engaged for policy debates. It also requires signatories to monitor and report on the progress they have made to include refugees, at upcoming high-level meetings and fora.
The United States, CARE Global, and Save the Children are among the latest to officially back the Meaningful Participation Pledge. In a strong show of support for meaningful refugee participation, both the United States and Germany included a refugee in their official delegation for the first time, at the recently concluded HLOM. This follows Canada’s leadership in 2019 when its delegation to the Global Refugee Forum was advised by and included a refugee.
"We are honored to have Dauda Sesay as our first-ever refugee advisor at this year's UNHCR High-Level Officials Meeting on implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees,'' said Nancy Izzo Jackson, Senior Bureau Official, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. “Mr. Sesay is a community advocate and founding member and president of the Louisiana Organization for Refugees and Immigrants, assisting other refugees and immigrants with integration into the United States. Mr. Sesay's experience, actions, and commitment to community, and those of countless other refugees, mobilize and inspire us to improve our collective efforts to support refugee inclusion. We value refugees’ active participation and commit ourselves to including their critical voices on refugee issues in future delegations."
These achievements will further entrench the growing movement to increase refugee participation in policymaking discussions about them. Nevertheless, much work remains to be done. “The refugee community is powerful – we are human rights activists, innovators, first-responders, and entrepreneurs. It is time for the international community to pass the mic to the refugee community. We want to partner with you to be part of the solution,” advised Eliasib Amet Herrera, Latin America Representative to the GRN Steering Committee.
To learn more about the GRN’s engagement at the HLOM, including interview requests, please contact email@example.com, follow @GRNRefugees and use @RefugeeVoices to see live reactions from those that matter most in refugee conversations and actions.
Notes to editors
The Refugee Participation Pledge:
[In accordance with the commitments established under goal 6 of the Grand Bargain to support a “Participation Revolution”]; we pledge to support the meaningful participation of refugees and host communities in decisions that affect their lives. Participation should take into account the diversity within communities, including age, gender, and disability. This pledge will support the agency of those we seek to assist while improving the relevance, quality, transparency and accountability of that assistance. We furthermore commit to share experiences on the implementation of this pledge at subsequent Global Refugee Forums and/or high-level officials’ meetings.
Put Refugees at the Heart of Refugee Policy and Programmes
Geneva, December 1, 2021: As the High-Level Officials Meeting (HLOM) prepares to get underway at UNHCR in Geneva (December 14 to 15), the Global Refugee-led Network (GRN) calls on the international community to scale and expand efforts to include the people most directly affected by the ongoing global refugee crisis in decision-making processes.
COVID-19 continues to upend all aspects of lives globally with disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities. The world’s growing population of 26 million refugees, which dwarfs the entire population of Australia, is even more vulnerable and underserved. The recent tragedy in the English Channel is a profound reminder that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic demands that refugee voices and experiences be better served rather than pushed down the agenda.
Policy-making devoid of insights from those directly implicated is not effective. Refugees have long campaigned for greater inclusion in a more participatory international and domestic processes with minimal traction. As officials meet to take stock of refugee experiences and globalresponses in the midst of the greatest pandemic in over a century, which constrains movement and access to vital services, the international community risks marginalizing and excluding refugee voices in the most important international discussion about their fate.
Ahead of the HLOM, more than 100 refugee leaders from nearly every region of the world, who are keen to reassert their dignity and chart a brighter future, held a landmark virtual Global Refugee Stocktaking Event. The diverse group called for:
25% refugee participation in the next Global Refugee Forum in 2023, reflecting an integration of age, gender and diversity. (The 2019 Forum only had 2% refugee participation.)
Refugee representation in UNHCR’s governing body, EXCOM, by 2023.
Secure equal, quality health treatment for forcibly displaced people, including access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Access to and flexibility with funding, particularly to help women, youth, LGBTQI and other often excluded refugee groups.
To learn more about the GRN’s engagement at the HLOM, including interview requests, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, follow @GRNRefugees and use #RefugeeVoices to see live reactions from those who matter most in refugee conversations and actions.
17th of March 2020
The members of the Global Refugee-led Network stand in solidarity with refugees and are fully mobilized to help contain the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate the impact on the most vulnerable, including refugees.
According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus) has afflicted over 168,019 people in at least 148 countries. We are yet to see the impact this will have on the global economy as countries like China to Italy go on lockdown. It is hard to navigate the unknown, but as we continue to better understand how to slow down the spread of COVID-19, we invite you to take this moment to remember the vulnerable communities who are being hit most by the border closures.
As we speak and consult with our refugee members in the region, we become even more concerned as the number of individuals with COVID-19 has increased exponentially, and along with millions of others, the future of tens of thousands of refugees has become more uncertain as countries have taken increasingly stringent containment measures. Millions of conflict-affected people - women, elderly, disabled, stateless, undocumented, children - are living in cramped refugee and displacement sites with desperately poor hygiene and sanitation facilities.
People around the world have been asked to take precautionary measures as simple as a hand wash with soap, social distancing, or simply calling the doctor. But the question is, do refugees have access to a phone to even call a doctor? Do those in camps have access to any primary health? Are refugees privileged enough to have clean water or soap? Do refugees have space for ‘social distancing’ in detention centers, when dozens are pushed into same cell? Do they receive ongoing health alerts, the way we do through social media or via internet access? Do they have safety protocols to follow?
This is not the time to turn our backs on people living in less fortunate situations than ourselves. We must support those in need during these extraordinarily challenging times.
We are following the COVID-19 situation closely, and taking precautionary measures to push for prioritizing the health and well-being of all, including refugees and migrants. We must keep our humanity alive and show solidarity with refugees and displaced people during this time of widespread uncertainty. Nations are closing their borders and abandoning those living outside them. Let us not forget them. It is time to show them that we are not leaving them behind and alone.
Therefore, we call upon the local, national, and international COVID-19 response actors as well as UNHCR and other UN agencies to immediately:
Enhance their emergency support to refugees in camps in response to the COVID-19 outbreaks.
Provide COVID-19 risk information packs that include safety protocols in multiple languages
Address the critical and urgent lack of hygiene materials in the refugee camp situation
Provide free health care access to Refugees who have shown positive results to COVID-19 testing
Provide access to health care services to all people affected by the Pandemic regardless of their status
Shift international aid to support refugees, including those whose livelihood has been impacted by the virus.
At the same time, we acknowledge the support, courage and commitment of health experts, doctors, and nurses that are working tirelessly to help the lives of people. We are seeking a number of bilingual health practitioners to join our webinar with refugees. We are launching a series of webinars on information on precautions and COVID-19 related health issues in different languages and therefore any support to boost preparedness and prevention to address the immediate health needs of refugees will be highly appreciated.
Please stay tuned as we launch our first webinar!
Global Refugee Led Network @grnrefugee