Humanitarian groups meeting in Switzerland for the first-ever Global Refugee Forum today say the international community needs to find “bold new solutions” to defend the human rights of refugees and the communities that host them.
The forum, co-hosted by the United Nations Refugee Agency and the Swiss federal government, brings together refugees, heads of state and government, UN leaders, international institutions, development organizations, business leaders and civil society representatives, for a two-day meeting at the Palais des Nations, in Geneva.
The UN estimates that worldwide more than 70 million people are displaced by war, conflict, and persecution. More than 25 million of them are refugees, having fled across international borders and unable to return to their homes.
‘A first critical test’
Addressing the forum on Tuesday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the international community needs to “reboot” its responses to the global crisis.
“We need a sweeping vision, to inspire and engage people and institutions across society – a broad alliance of governments, the aid community, businesses, development institutions, civil society, faith groups, academia, sports and the arts, and refugees themselves,” Grandi said.
The discussions at the forum will focus on six key areas: arrangements for burden and responsibility sharing; education; jobs and livelihoods; energy and infrastructure; solutions and protection capacity.
Jessie Thomson, vice president of CARE Canada’s Global Partnerships, said the forum provides a first critical test of world leaders’ intention to bring about a more sustainable and rights-based approach to the way the international community responds to the needs of refugees.
“The brunt of these crises is too often born by women and girls and other vulnerable groups who are frequently left in limbo for decades, with no solutions in sight,” Thomson said in a statement.
“For the first time in years, we have an opportunity to transform the way we respond to the rights and needs of refugees, but we need the political will of governments around the world to deliver on the ambitions set out in the Global Compact on Refugees.”
The global compact, which seeks to ease the pressures on host countries by among others expanding access to third-country resettlement, ran into fierce opposition from anti-immigrant and populist politicians when it was signed on Dec. 17, 2018.
‘Demonised and turned into figures of fear’
Grandi cautioned that refugee rights advocates cannot be “naïve” and ignore that reality.
“The protection environment today is complex and troubling,” Grandi said. “We see refugees who have fled for their lives being demonised and turned into figures of fear.”
Without naming names, Grandi denounced people who make “political capital by stoking public anxiety and directing it towards some of the world’s most marginalised and vulnerable people.”
“This is not only immoral, but narrows the space for practical solutions,” Grandi said.
A Canadian dilemma
Canada’s delegation to the forum is being led by Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino and includes senior officials from the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC) and Global Affairs Canada, as well as Mustafa Alio, founder and managing director of Jumpstart – Refugee Talent, an NGO that works on helping refugees to integrate in Canada.
“The Global Refugee Forum is an opportunity for Canada to work in partnership with states and other relevant stakeholders, to find and advance better solutions for refugees and the communities hosting them,” said in a statement Béatrice Fénelon, a spokesperson for the IRCC. “It is also an opportunity to translate the principles of the Global Compact on Refugees into concrete action.”
The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been under fire at home for its handling of the issue of irregular border crossings by tens of thousands of asylum seekers from the United States over the last two-and-a-half years.
- Canadians’ attitudes hardening against immigrants, refugees
- Canada resettled more refugees than any other country in 2018, says UN
According to statistics provided by the Canadian Border Services Agency, more than 50,000 people have crossed into Canada from the U.S. since early 2017, when the Trump administration began its immigration crackdown.
However, only about 10,500 refugee claims have been accepted so far, while more than 9,300 cases have been rejected. Nearly 29,000 cases remain pending, according to government statistics.
During the fall federal election campaign outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer blamed Trudeau for eroding public trust in the system by failing to stop the flow of people crossing into Canada from the U.S. outside official border points. The Liberals, he argued, have undermined Canada’s legacy of welcoming newcomers through a system based on compassion, the rule of law and human rights.
The Liberals also face criticism from the left-of-centre New Democratic Party, which is calling on the Trudeau government to tear up its “Third Safe Country” agreement with the U.S., arguing that under President Donald Trump Canada’s southern neighbour can no longer be considered a safe country for refugees.