The Global Refugee Forum: African experience is key

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The forum provides Africa’s refugee-hosting countries with a critical platform to mobilise long-term support.


Finding lasting solutions to Africa’s refugee crisis is a priority. The key challenge is to find holistic solutions for refugees and host communities that go beyond their immediate needs, and help reduce their future risk and vulnerability.

One way to encourage these kinds of solutions is through sharing lessons learnt and building bridges between affected countries, particularly those piloting the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF). Seven of the 15 CRRF pilot countries are in Africa. Their experiences are likely to feature prominently at the first Global Refugee Forum (GRF), which will kick off tomorrow, 17 December.

The forum will bring on board non-traditional refugee actors such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the private sector. This will serve as a critical platform to mobilise tangible support to Africa’s refugee-hosting countries which are themselves struggling to provide for their own populations.

International responsibility is a key element of the Global Compact on Refugees. The CRRF serves as the compact’s implementation framework. The expectation is that the developed world will come up with a support package that could fundamentally change the way refugees and host communities are treated.

A lot is also expected from participating African countries such as Ethiopia, which is both a co-convener of the forum (together with Costa Rica, Germany, Pakistan and Turkey) and a CRRF pilot country.

African CRRF pilot countries will feature prominently at the first Global Refugee Forum

To meet these expectations, African countries need to go to the forum with feasible project proposals tailored to changing the current refugee protection model by emphasising areas such as education, livelihoods and self-reliance. Africa hosts 25.2 million of the world’s 70.8 million displaced populations, and international support to Africa should reflect this.

The Global Compact on Refugees and its CRRF aspire to facilitate a comprehensive refugee response, creating the link between humanitarian aid and development aspirations. Their success, however, depends on clearly defining how the development-humanitarian nexus works.

African and other CRRF pilot countries’ experiences shared during the Global Refugee Forum will serve as a lesson as to how the link is working, and what needs to improve to sharpen its implementation.

In this respect, three points should be focused on: clarity on the allocation and implementation of humanitarian aid versus development funding and long-term commitment, more attention to the facilitation of socio-economic opportunities for refugee host communities, and the need to build the institutional capacities of refugee-hosting countries.

Current allocation of humanitarian versus developmental funding needs to be clarified

First, the current allocation of humanitarian versus developmental funding needs to be clarified. There seems to be confusion around whether the development funding provided to the CRRF pilot countries is additional or part of existing humanitarian funding. This lack of clarity blurs the line between humanitarian aid and development support, which makes quantifying deliverables and clarifying accountability of the different stakeholders difficult.

Related to this, there is a need to address the short-term nature of funding by most donors, which often lasts only two to three years. This makes long-term planning difficult. A good model for this could be the Swiss government’s 10-year strategy for the Durable Solutions Initiative in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development region, which other donors could learn from.

Second, the implementation of the CRRF’s humanitarian-development link should practically facilitate socio-economic opportunities to host communities. Key to the value of the CRRF is its recognition of the developmental needs of host communities. This makes more sense in the context that a substantial number of citizens of the CRRF pilot countries need humanitarian aid.

Currently, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs_,_ it’s estimated that over 30 million people require humanitarian aid in the seven CRRF pilot countries.

African countries need to go to the Global Refugee Forum with feasible project proposals

Host community members’ access to basic and social services is central. The CRRF’s current emphasis is on facilitating access to existing public and refugee schools and health facilities. However the amount of funding allocated to building additional facilities and for training personnel is unclear.

The focus should be on building facilities that are long-lasting as demonstrated by the experience in Malawi. At the end of 1980s, Malawi hosted 1.1 million Mozambican refugees. Malawi integrated the refugees through for example building additional schools and medical centres.

Years after the Mozambican refugees were repatriated, the facilities remained and continued to serve the host community. This is something GRF participants should try to model as an important bridge between short-term humanitarian imperatives and long-term developmental needs.

Equally important is providing host communities with access to job opportunities together with refugees. Ethiopia revised its refugee proclamation to offer refugees the right to work, among other things. Successful implementation of the proclamation, however, depends on the number of opportunities the country can create for the host community, which needs international support.

Third, the institutional capacity of African refugee host countries should be enhanced to activate the humanitarian and development link. This is a massive process that requires institutional overhaul. Most existing institutions working with refugees have the capacity to address only short-term emergency-type humanitarian responses. Combining humanitarian aid and development requires a whole new structure and set of skills.

Ethiopia has been trying to bring together the Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (which has been managing refugee responses for years) and the Ministry of Finance, which leads the country’s development plan. Ethiopia’s experience confirms that the humanitarian-development link requires a multi-year time frame. This makes commitment of predictable, transparent, long-term funding and technical support guided by the priority of host governments critical.

Most of all, addressing displacement responses are first and foremost political processes, albeit with important development dimensions. It is vital for humanitarian and development actors to show stronger commitment to refugee responses by sharing responsibilities.

The success of the humanitarian-development link between the GCR and its CRRF heavily depends on predictable and long-term development funding. The Global Refugee Forum provides an excellent opportunity for discussion of and commitment to this goal.

Tsion Tadesse Abebe, Senior Researcher, Migration Programme, ISS and Solomon Hassen Tegegne, Senior Researcher and Policy Adviser, Regional Durable Solutions Secretariat (ReDSS)

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