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UNHCR unveils ‘panoramic’ approach to displacement crisis

1 May 20230 comments

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee Filippo Grandi has outlined a new and multi-faceted approach to deal with the global challenge of forced displacement.

Speaking at the University of Melbourne’s Law School last week, Mr Grandi described his vision to address rising numbers of refugees and displaced persons as a “panoramic”, “all of route” approach.

“The world is a more complicated and complex place with increased geopolitical divisions,” Mr Grandi said.

“And conflict is aggravating suffering for people around the world and this has been made worse by the pandemic. And the climate emergency wreaking havoc especially among those who have done the least to create it.

“And our economies are under pressure, deepening inequalities, anxieties and frustrations, particularly for the most vulnerable.

“It is obvious that – to solve these challenges – we must work together as nation states with clear responsibilities to address what is one of the great challenges we face and we must all uphold international law, including those related to asylum seekers and refugees,” he said.

Mr Grandi laid out a set of policies and interventions “that work together as part of an all-of-government strategy with international cooperation at its heart”.

“None of these suggestions are – on their own – a silver bullet; nor are they simple,” he said.

“They will require policy makers to use different tools available both at home and abroad. And they will take, I dare say, a bit of political courage.

“The foundation of this approach is that states must work together to meet their responsibilities as members of the international community. It is also crucial to address the practice that unfortunately I see too often in different countries of demonising refugees and migrants, by portraying them as the cause – for example — of unemployment, of insecurity, of the erosion in values. Scapegoating, misinformation and hate speech are simply unacceptable.

“As one advocate told me here in Australia: changing how we deal with refugees starts with changing the way we speak about them.”

Mr Grandi said the approach required a “panoramic” view of population movements, “moving away from the almost obsessive focus on just controlling arrivals at borders, to looking at their geographical complexity – literally at all steps of the long migratory routes”.

“A big priority is to ensure the rescue of people on the move who are in distress — adrift at sea or lost in the desert. Evading responsibility and allowing people to die on route, as happens too often, is simply inhumane,” he said.

“Access to seek asylum at borders (without being turned away or violently pushed back, which happens increasingly) must also be granted. For those who do seek asylum and protection, their cases must be heard and adjudicated. For countries like Australia and others, this means ensuring that the system is sufficiently resourced and that the process and procedures for deciding cases are effective.

“The system, however, must be both fair and efficient, and also rigorous, — ensuring protection for those who need it and the quick return – in dignity and in compliance with their human rights – of those who do not. And in places with suitable safeguards, readmission agreements (sending refugees back to a country where they have already sought asylum) can be made.

“Such a system will also restore public confidence in discredited asylum systems. It will enable states to send an important message: that while they will continue to extend international protection to those who need it, their systems are able to identify and return in a dignified manner those who do not qualify for it, thus hopefully weakening traffickers.

“And another crucial point is the need — especially in industrialised countries — for an honest conversation about establishing proper, legal, substantive migration pathways to keep economies and social systems going, and to provide proper entry points for migrants without overburdening the asylum channel. I am pleased to hear that Australia is committed to reform in this area.”

Mr Grandi said the approach also meant building and strengthening asylum systems, inclusion and integration mechanisms in countries closer to places of origin so that they can provide the protection that refugees lack at home.

“And for those countries that host the bulk of refugees, most frequently next to the epicentre of the crisis, we need much more responsibility sharing from the rest of the world. This can take many forms,” he said.

“Resettlement – the process of taking recognized refugees from one country of asylum to a third country – is one important and visible way to share responsibility. It establishes a life-saving, life changing pathway for the most vulnerable and takes space away from the traffickers.

“Other avenues, like scholarships, work visas, pathways for work, study, the arts and sport, as well as family reunification, should be explored with the same vigour and generosity we have seen for resettlement.

“But these pathways will inevitably be limited. Most refugees will stay where they are, hence, the importance of supporting them and their host communities, especially in countries with large refugee numbers, or with help, information and assessments in transit countries. Contributions to humanitarian responses, including through UNHCR, are crucial. Donors, including Australia, have been generous, but our budget is hardly ever more than 50 percent funded.

“Equally important is to include refugees in national services, for example education and health, and to properly resource those systems. Especially in countries who do not have many resources.

“A real game changer, especially since the launch of the Global Compact on Refugees in 2018, has been the growing involvement of major development actors like the World Bank and other international financial institutions.

“Another important development has been the involvement of the private sector, both as philanthropic givers and as real partners in the responses. The Australian private sector played a critical role in this over the past years, with our national partner, Australia for UNHCR, having recorded almost half a million Australian donors over the past two decades as well as numerous companies that participate in real partnerships, bringing expertise and know-how to refugee responses around the world,” Mr Grandi said.

He said that most refugees and displaced people stay as close to their countries as possible.

“Because, contrary to perceptions, usually refugees want to go back home. Almost 90 per cent of the forcibly displaced people in the world are in low-and middle-income countries. This percentage was even higher until the flight of millions of Ukrainians throughout Europe.

“But most Afghans, for example, are in Iran and Pakistan. Rohingyas in Bangladesh. Syrians in Turkey, Jordan and in Lebanon (where one in four people in a very small country is a refugee).

“My point is that while the refugee and displacement crisis is enormous, of global importance, and requires international cooperation, the bulk of this crisis is in countries closest to those in conflict; so, it is not – despite what some media and politicians continue to repeat – it is not an “emergency” in wealthy countries. It is not an emergency here in Australia either,” Mr Grandi said.