UN hails ‘decisive shift’ in refugee assistance at global meet

Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), speaks about the closing of the Global Refugee Forum to summarise pledges and outcomes, during a press conference, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, 18 December 2019. [Martial Trezzini/EPA/EFE]

The UN hailed Wednesday (18 December) a “decisive shift” in the approach to helping surging numbers of displaced people, after a summit ended with billions in donations and concrete promises to simplify refugee integration.

The Global Refugee Forum, which opened in Geneva on Tuesday, saw high-level speakers like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lambast the current lack of international solidarity in caring for the world’s some 26 million refugees.

But as the meeting concluded late Wednesday, the UN refugee agency hailed that it had “secured wide-ranging and substantial commitments” to turn the tide.

In all, it said more than 770 pledges were made for financial support but also for things like improving refugee access to employment, education, electricity, infrastructure and promises of more resettlement spots for the most vulnerable.

“Refugee situations are crises only when we let them become so, by thinking short term, by failing to plan or work together across sectors, and by neglecting the communities they arrive in,” UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi said in the statement.

“At this forum, we have seen a decisive shift towards the longer-term view,” he said.

The meeting was the first of its kind, pooling together heads of state, government ministers but also business leaders, humanitarians and refugees themselves.

It was convened exactly a year after the UN General Assembly in New York adopted the Global Compact on Refugees — a framework aimed at creating a more predictable and equitable approach to providing assistance to refugees and host communities.

Not all EU countries joined the ‘Global Compact’.

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At the end of 2018, nearly 71 million people were living in forced displacement due to war, violence and persecution, including nearly 26 million people who had fled across borders as refugees.

‘Making of success’

With a full 80% of the world’s refugees living in poor and developing countries, which often feel left to shoulder the heavy economic and societal costs alone, burden-sharing was high on the agenda at the meeting.

Erdoğan, whose country is the world’s biggest refugee host, on Tuesday criticised wealthy nations for setting “tiny” refugee quotas and for not providing enough financial support to Ankara and others accommodating large numbers of displaced people.

Grandi voiced hope Wednesday that the forum had laid the foundation for “better responses to refugee crises”, pointing to a broad range of commitments made by governments around the globe.

“The forum has the making of success,” he told journalists, stressing though that “to make it a success… is the responsibility of all of us”.

UNHCR said it had received a number of major financial pledges, including more than $4.7 billion by the World Bank Group, and $1.0 billion from the Inter-American Development Bank.

In addition, a broad range of states and other entities had jointly pledged more than $2.0 billion to support refugees and host communities.

The private sector meanwhile made a wide range of pledges, including funding and initiatives making at least 15,000 jobs available to refugees, as well as some 125,000 hours per year of pro bono legal counselling.

The UN also welcomed that more resettlement spots had been offered in third countries for the most vulnerable people already living as refugees.

The European Commission said 30,000 resettlement places had been offered throughout Europe for 2020.

UNHCR meanwhile estimates there is a need for 1.44 million resettlement spots worldwide next year.

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