I am “blogging” (never thought I would use that word) from the High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges in Geneva, which is devoted this year to the Global Compact on Refugees. High Commissioner Grandi gave a lengthy opening statement [see the UNHCR story on the speech]. The HC stated that the next step in the process, following the two day Dialogue, would be the writing of a “zero draft” of the Compact, which would be shared with states prior to the consultation stage set to begin in mid-February.
Most of the HC’s points are by now familiar—the existence of the 13 pilot countries and regions for the CRRF, the important role of development actors, the need for the Compact to produce a strategy for practical, predictable, and sustainable responses.
What struck me was the overriding focus on hosting countries. So the HC identified a number of important “shifts” that are already occurring under the CRRF pilots:
- concrete steps taken in hosting states to advance refugee self-reliance and inclusion of refugees in national health, education and other systems;
- significant engagement of development actors (particularly the World Bank) to increase funding to refugee-hosting states;
- inclusion of refugees in national development plans;
- the establishment of regional CRRF plans (in Latin America and East Africa), and the widening number of widening partnerships, including among national NGOs, the private sector, cities and mayors, and sports organizations.
The underlying message here, it seems to me, is that little progress is likely to be made on traditional durable solutions in the current world situation: conflicts that create refugees are not ending, resettlement numbers are not expanding, and hosting states are not pursuing policies of local integration. Nor has UNHCR been successful in persuading states in the global North to abandon policies of closure, deflection and deterrence that prevent refugees from entering developed states. Hence the focus becomes one of advancing self-reliance and increasing development assistance to hosting communities. Essentially these are strategies for making lives in limbo more livable.
Maybe this is all that can be accomplished under present circumstances. And surely giving refugees greater opportunities to rebuild their lives and to contribute to communities that are hosting them is a better state of affairs than long-term dependency on the international community. But, in the end, how different is this picture from the bargain under which the international refugee regime has operated for years—with donor states in the global North “paying” states in the global South to keep refugees there?
In short, the central focus of the Global Compact on Refugees needs to shift from assistance to hosting states to the construction of a robust system of international responsibility-sharing (of which host-state assistance would be just one part).