First Global Refugee Forum Registers Pledges to Improve Refugee Protection
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The first-ever Global Refugee Forum took place from 17-18 December 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The official summary reports that more than 770 pledges and contributions were submitted by a broad range of actors, including governments, humanitarian actors, private sector entities, educational institutions and international organizations.

The next Global Refugee Forum will take place in 2023, with a mid-term review meeting in 2021.

The first-ever Global Refugee Forum – an opportunity to “rally behind the aspirations of the SDGs of leaving no one behind” – generated hundreds of pledges and contributions towards implementing the Global Compact on Refugees. The Global Compact on Refugees was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 17 December 2018.

More than 3,000 representatives of governments, the UN system, civil society and the private sector as well as 70 refugees participated in the Forum, which convened from 17-18 December 2019, in Geneva, Switzerland. The event was organized by the governments of Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Germany, Pakistan and Turkey, in partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It was co-hosted by the government of Switzerland. 

Delivering opening remarks, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recalled that during his experiences as the High Commissioner for Refugees he saw “a fundamental human trait: the will to kindness” and the impulse to help a person in trauma. He said he also learned that generosity is not always proportional to wealth, and “the world owes all countries and communities that welcome large numbers of refugees a debt of gratitude” as well as the shouldering of that responsibility. He said the UN will advocate for including refugees in regional frameworks and national development plans and reviews, as well as in the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework.

The Forum reported the widest range of commitments ever for the forcibly displaced, including through employment, legal support and education.

UNHCR Filippo Grandi linked the Forum to the SDGs’ goal of leaving no one behind. He said refugee situations only become crises through short-term thinking, failing to work together across sectors, and neglecting the communities where refugees arrive.

The Forum had six areas of focus: burden and responsibility sharing; education; jobs and livelihoods; energy and infrastructure; solutions; and protection capacity. Each area was supported by a coalition of co-sponsors who formed alliances of support and advocacy, and identified opportunities for making pledges and contributions. More than 30 “whole-of-government” and “whole-of-society” consultations took place at the country and regional levels to identify possible pledges and contributions.

The Forum’s official summary reports that around 770 pledges and contributions were submitted during the event by a broad range of actors, including governments, humanitarian actors, private sector entities, educational institutions and international organizations. This composition of supporters represents “a considerable increase” in the level of engagement of many states and organizations in the Global Compact’s implementation. Per the summary, more than 350 pledges relate to improving laws and policies, such as pledges to:

  • continue to receive and admit refugees;
  • adopt “out of camp” policies and strengthen asylum systems;
  • allow refugees and asylum seekers to work and access financial services; and
  • include refugees in countries’ national development planning and national systems for education and health.

The summary also notes a commitment “to further and deeper engagement” by development actors and multilateral development banks, expressed through a range of financing and policy instruments, with almost 250 pledges containing “some form of financial component.” An initial analysis presented in the Forum’s summary indicates: USD 2.2 billion pledged by the World Bank Group, through a dedicated funding and financing window for refugees and host communities, in addition to a separate window of USD 2.5 billion aimed at supporting private sector investment in creating jobs in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence; USD 1 billion committed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB); and over USD 2 billion in financial commitments by “a broad range of States and other stakeholders.”

The Global Refugee Forum also registered more than 200 pledges and contributions from the private sector, representing “the widest range of commitments ever for the forcibly displaced.” These commitments include more than USD 250 million in funding, the direct employment of more than 15,000 refugees, a joint legal community pledge with NGOs to provide more than 125,000 hours of pro bono legal services per year, and other pledges related to education and training, women’s economic empowerment, connectivity, business development services and innovative financing.

By the Forum’s summary, more than 130 pledges were made towards expanding access to education for refugees, focusing on supporting the inclusion of refugees in national systems. 

The good practices, pledges and contributions announced during the Forum are featured on a digital platform launched at the Forum. The Platform will continue to collect and share good practices.

The first Global Refugee Forum also featured the launch of Support Platforms to reinforce three regional refugee responses, namely the MIRPS in Central America and Mexico, the Nairobi Process facilitated by The Intergovernmental Authority on Development in the East and Horn of Africa, and the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees. The Support Platforms are situation-specific arrangements for burden and responsibility sharing provided for in the Global Compact on Refugees. Their purpose is to galvanize political commitment, mobilize assistance, facilitate coherent humanitarian and development responses, and support comprehensive policy initiatives.

Other launches at the Forum included the Asylum Capacity Support Group and the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network, which seek to make the best use of, build upon and expand existing knowledge and expertise on refugee protection, in support of the objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees. The UN Development Programme presented its SDG Impact Accelerator (SDGIA), launched with the Government of Turkey, which aims to accelerate entrepreneurs for market-creating innovations that tackle the challenges of refugee populations and host communities in Turkey. Subsequently, SDGIA’s solutions and best practices could be replicated and applied to Least Developed Countries (LDCs). 

The Forum was preceded by a day of special events dedicated to the refugee cause. It was supported by a social media campaign that emphasized that #EveryoneCounts.

UNHCR has developed a mechanism to track the implementation of pledges and contributions, and the next Global Refugee Forum will take place in 2023. A mid-term review meeting in 2021 also will serve as a tool to assess progress and maintain momentum for implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees.

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