The Skoll World Forum Session: ‘Refugees and Migrants: Economic and Social Integration’
In today’s increasingly harsh and divisive political climate, refugees and migrants are often portrayed by politicians as well as policy makers and sometimes even human rights advocates as a ‘burden’ for host states. This is accompanied by a reluctance to receive refugees and asylum seekers, with destination states in the Global North actively seeking to prevent such individuals from reaching their territory through visa regimes, carrier sanctions, offshore detention and pushbacks and pullbacks at sea and on land.
But what if the narrative moved away from this? What if refugees and migrants were viewed as being of great value to host states and their communities by providing cultural and social diversity, creating new jobs and businesses, and bringing a much-needed economic boost? Surely this would improve both the lives of refugees and migrants as well as the host communities themselves?
These questions were canvassed in yesterday’s panel discussion on Refugees and Migrants: Economic and Social Integration. The panel ‘walked the walk’ on the idea of inclusion, featuring two inspiring young leaders who are also refugees: Sana Mustafa, a Syrian refugee, and Salim Salamah, a Syrian Palestinian refugee, who are both Founding Members of the Network for Refugee Voices.
Susan Myers, Senior Vice President of the United Nations Foundation opened the panel, highlighting its focus on ‘personal experiences, local solutions and more effective policy making’, which in doing so, ‘will make a strong business case that migrants are to be invested in and partnered with’ and outline a model that ‘starts with the power of proximity that brings people together’.
Effective Social and Economic Integration
The presence of refugees and other migrants can be a win for host communities as well as the individuals themselves. Panelist Robert Annibale, Global Director of Inclusive Finance Citigroup Inc, encouraged us not to think of refugees as merely destitute, but as educated and skilled individuals full of potential. Uganda is often cited as the role-model for refugee integration through an approach that upholds basic rights, including the right to work, to attend school and move freely within the country.
Refugees are also given land for resettlement and cultivation and can participate in training on running a small business. As Kelly T Clements, Timothy Shoffner and Leah Zamore highlight, ‘Uganda has chosen inclusion over marginalization’, which fosters self-reliance and resilience and empowers refugees to benefit their communities. The Ugandan approach also challenges the popular assumption that the presence of refugees takes jobs away from locals.
A Refugee Studies Centre report referenced by panelist Premal Shah, Co-Founder and President of Kiva, shows that 40% of refugees who were employers created and provided work for Ugandan nationals.
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Sana Mustafa, a refugee who fled Syria in 2013 and now lives in the United States, said a first step in getting refugee policy right is to give those on the move a voice in decisions made about them.
With other refugees, she last year set up the Network for Refugee Voices, a coalition of 40 refugee organisations with the motto: “Nothing about us without us”.
“Development projects for 50 years for refugees have been done without us,” said Mustafa, whose father was arrested and disappeared in Syria and whose mother and two sisters are now scattered across Turkey, Jordan and Germany.
The network is taking part in the design of a new U.N. compact on refugees now under negotiation.
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Sana Mustafa, Founding Member, Network for Refugee Voices
The zero draft of the Global Compact on Refugees in its current state reads like a list of recommendations and best practices, without suggesting actionable or concrete solutions. The draft calls on the international community to meet the “needs” not “rights” of refugee and host communities and stays away from issues like refugee human rights and access to justice.
The Programme of Action makes extensive recommendations related to “voluntary repatriation” but nonrefoulement is not mentioned in the document. The Compact must reinforce and add to the refugee protection regime in place and take a rights-based approach to new solutions.
As The Network for Refugee Voices, we are happy to see that the zero draft recognizes the need to consult refugee communities in these processes; this is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. Refugee self-reliance requires refugee participation in designing and implementing these policies; we should be empowering refugee-led initiatives and including refugees in decision-making.
We acknowledge our responsibility to do our part to make this document as ambitious as possible. We look forward to collaborating with member states and stakeholders to ensure the GCR is practical, effective and sustainably implemented.
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The Network for Refugee Voices Call for Refugee Participation in the Negotiation of the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees
[24 January 2018] A delegation of the Network for Refugee Voices concluded a two-day visit to Geneva where they spoke at the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response’s high-level conference on ‘Participation is Power: Keep it, Share it or Give it away?’ and met with policy makers, humanitarian organizations and the UN Refugee Agency.
Throughout the visit, the representatives of the Network for Refugee Voices pressed for refugee participation in the upcoming negotiations of the Global Compact on Refugees. In particular, the Network for Refugee Voices reiterated to the representatives from UN Member States that only direct input from refugees can ensure sustainable and effective refugee policy that will benefit refugees as well as host-communities.
Commenting on the visit, Osama Salem, founding member of the Network for Refugee Voices said: “We are pleased to finally see Member States calling for the participation of refugees in the discussions that affect them the most. We hope other key stakeholders will soon follow their example and ensure that refugee-led organizations’, such as the Network for Refugee Voices, voices are heard in refugee policy negotiations”.
During the Conference - facilitated by the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response - which focused on the implications of a shift in power away from organisations providing humanitarian assistance to people affected by crisis, the Network for Refugee Voices set out its recommendations on how to reform the humanitarian system and the humanitarian response to the refugee crisis, to prioritize the empowerment of beneficiaries.
“Participation must be seen as a human right. INGOs must shift their focus to engage affected communities; beneficiaries must be represented at all levels of policy design, implementation and coordination. This human rights based approach will not only increase the impact of programs, but will also improve integration,” concluded Adam Elsod, founding member of the Network for Refugee Voices.
The Network for Refugee Voices recommendations for the Global Compact on Refugees can be found in the Network’s non-paper which was submitted to UNHCR during the tenth annual High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges in December 2017 to ensure that the Global Compact on Refugees and its Programme of Action are ambitious, effective and sustainable.
The horrors of Aleppo continue to shock the world and the war has displaced millions. Syrian activist Mohamed Alsaud calls on the EU to involve the Syrian diaspora and the refugees themselves in efforts to tackle the issue at stake.
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Syrian Refugee Calls For Refugee Inclusion At UNHCR Thematic Discussion "Towards a Global Compact On Refugees"
On 10 July, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) held the first thematic discussion of the Global Compact on Refugees. The Compact will be adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2018 and impact the lives of refugees around the world. Iyad Kallas, Syrian refugee, representative of the Network for Refugee Voices, and the only refugee to address the assembly called for inclusive discussions on refugee policy.
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A year after the New York declaration, Refugees Deeply asked a delegation of refugees what impact it has had so far and where it has fallen short.
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Read the NRV's Declaration: http://www.unhcr.org/5975a8a82e5.pdf