UNHCR Appeals For Support To Address Refugee Resettlement Needs In Africa
The vast unmet need for refugee resettlement from Africa and the opportunities for communities to engage in the sponsorship of refugees were two of the key themes discussed when representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), governments and NGOs from resettlement states and other inter-governmental bodies gathered in Geneva for the 2017 Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement (ATCR).
Representation at the ATCR
Organised by UNHCR, the Government of New Zealand and NZ Red Cross, the 2017 ATCR took place on 12-14 June. It brought together representatives of 32 nations involved in resettlement, including 82 representatives of 28 governments and 74 NGO delegates from 23 countries, one refugee representative, 99 UNHCR staff, 13 staff of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and 6 representatives of the European Union and the Intergovernmental Consultations on Migration, Asylum and Refugees.
The Australian Government was represented by three officials of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection while the Australian NGO representatives present were from Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), Settlement Council of Australia (SCoA), AMES Australia, Settlement Services International (SSI), Victorian Foundation of Survivors of Torture (VFST) and Amnesty International Australia. Arash Bordbar, a Sydney-based engineering student who was resettled two years ago as an Iranian refugee from Malaysia, was Australia’s refugee representative. The practice of making up to five places available at the dialogue for designated refugee representatives was introduced when Australia chaired the dialogue in 2012 but, for the third time in six years, Australia was the only country to send a refugee representative. Arash (pictured with other Australian delegates, from left, Violet Roumeliotis of SSI, Melika Sheikh-Eldin of AMES and Dewani Bakkum of SCoA) was active throughout the dialogue, highlighting the needs of young refugees, protection concerns in Asia and challenging delegates about their use of words which dehumanise refugees, including “burdens”, “resettlement pipelines” and “beneficiaries”.
Seeking new partners as resettlement need grows
Focusing on the theme of “New Partners – New Approaches”, the 2017 ATCR explored ways of increasing and broadening resettlement as a durable solution for refugees, in line with commitments made by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2016 as part of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. Responding to the highest level of displacement since the end of World War II, delegates discussed strategies to involve new states in resettlement, build community-based sponsorship, increase the engagement of the private sector, introduce complementary pathways to traditional resettlement programs (including scholarship programs, family reunion and labour mobility programs) and broaden resettlement criteria. Noting that the New York Declaration provided a menu of options for the support of refugees, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Turk, said the challenge now was to move the declaration’s commitments from paper to reality. For this to happen, he said, the commitments needed to be translated to the national and regional level. UNHCR appealed for support from governments and NGOs to build a platform for action to put the Declaration’s draft Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework into operation as part of the planned Global Compact on Refugees.
The Declaration coincided with the largest international refugee resettlement response in more than 20 years. During 2016, with the help of 200 additional resettlement staff in the field, UNHCR referred 162,575 refugees for resettlement and saw 125,835 resettled through its referrals. Another 63,456 refugees were resettled through non-UNHCR processes, including Canada’s private sponsorship program and Australia’s Special Humanitarian Program. UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said UNHCR had not expected to achieve a record level of referrals and such a high level of departures. He noted that in 2016 the number of countries engaged in refugee resettlement increased to 37 and more attention was paid to private and community sponsorship.
However, the news for 2017 is less positive. The United States refugee resettlement program, which has been the largest by far for many years, has been cut substantially following Donald Trump’s election as President. UNHCR expects the global number of resettlement places available for UNHCR-referred refugees to drop by 43%, falling to around 93,000 places. Mr Grandi emphasised the importance of resettlement as a protection tool, noting that many refugees referred for resettlement were survivors of violence and that there were also increasing numbers of referrals of refugees from LGBTI communities, detained refugees and people with critical medical needs.
NGOs outline resettlement concerns and priorities
NZ Red Cross delivered a joint statement on behalf of NGOs represented at the ATCR, urging governments to work closely with civil society and UNHCR as the Global Compact on Refugees proposed by the New York Declaration is refined and put into action. In their statement, the NGOs also:
- Expressed regret about the US Government’s cut in its refugee admissions target from 110,000 places per year to 50,000 and emphasised the need for greater engagement of European states in resettlement.
- Stressed the importance of the humanitarian role of resettlement, insisting that it “not serve political objectives of migration control and deterrence”.
- Pointed to opportunities to use resettlement strategically to enhance protection for refugees who will not be resettled, citing South East Asia as a region where continued engagement in resettlement could enhance options for other durable solutions.
- Highlighted the pressing need for greater commitment to resettlement of refugees from Africa, given the scale of need, and to Rohingya refugees and other cultural and religious minorities living in countries of asylum in the Asia Pacific region.
- Asked states to give greater priority to the resettlement of children at risk, noting that the US Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program, the largest of its kind in the world, was under pressure because of the reduction in the US program.
- Commended new thinking about alternative pathways for refugees including a new Japanese initiative involving universities and the private sector.
The NGO statement also praised the expansion of Australia’s annual refugee program by 5000 places over two years but expressed concern that the extension of the Community Proposal Pilot will be included in, rather than additional to, the annual resettlement program. It criticised the Australian private sponsorship model as “prohibitively expensive, counterproductive and unfair”, encouraging states instead to examine the Canadian private sponsorship program and “its carefully designed distribution of cost and incentives”. The full text of the NGO statement is in Appendix B.