UN hails ‘decisive shift’ in refugee assistance

Billions of dollars pledged and promises to open more refugee settlement places touted by UN as key results of summit.

Filippo Grandi, right, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, greeted Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis at the opening of the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva [Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA]
Filippo Grandi, right, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, greeted Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis at the opening of the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva [Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA]

The United Nations has hailed a “decisive shift” in the approach to helping surging numbers of displaced people, after a summit ended with pledges to donate billions and concrete promises to simplify refugee integration.

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

Turkey hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees, the highest number than any other country, and has provided more than eight billion dollars in aid.

But as the meeting concluded late on Wednesday, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) hailed securing “wide-ranging and substantial commitments” to turn the tide.

In all, it said more than 770 pledges were made for financial support and efforts to improve refugee access to employment, education, electricity, infrastructure, as well as promises of more resettlement spots for the most vulnerable.

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“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 a 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, bringing together heads of state, government ministers but also business leaders, humanitarians and refugees themselves.

Some 70 major sports organisations also attended, including the International Olympic Committee, the English, Irish and Scottish Football Associations as well as AC Milan and Juventus. Their participation was aimed at making sport more inclusive of refugees and using sporting opportunities to help them integrate into their local communities, according to a statement on the English Football Association’s website.

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.

Representing the Council of Europe at the Global Refugee Forum, Director of Human Rights Christophe Poirel underlined the importance of multilateral cooperation: “[The] time has come for enhancing multilateral cooperation, for increasing synergies, to ensure that the fundamental rights of those who had to flee their countries of origin due to wars or other reasons are respected.” 

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.

With a full 80 percent 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.

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

In addition, a broad range of states and other entities had jointly pledged more than two billion dollars 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.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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