High-Level Dialogues on UN Agreement on Refugees Taking Place in Geneva

The last round of high-level dialogues on the new UN agreement on refugees is currently taking place at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. The Global Compact for Refugees, as the agreement is formally called, is the UN’s principal response to the growing refugee crisis. It must be finalized by September next year, which is the two-year deadline states gave themselves at the world’s first UN summit dedicated to refugees and migration in 2016.

The Raoul Wallenberg Institute’s Research Director, Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen, is participating in the new dialogue. We took the chance to ask him a few questions about the proceedings.

How is the Raoul Wallenberg Institute contributing?

In addition to the 193 states that will eventually sign on the compact, a number of academic experts and NGOs have been invited to participate in the discussions. In addition, I have worked with a smaller group to come up with concrete proposals and language for the final agreement.

Where are the sticking points in the negotiations?

That the global refugee regime is in need of reform is hardly in dispute. Along with rising numbers of refugees, the responsibility for providing protection is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. The result is a world where refugee rights are reserved for the few lucky enough to evade the sophisticated migration control, while the vast majority of the world’s refugees are referred to a life in semi-permanent limbo, with no prospects for integration and intimately dependent on constantly underfunded humanitarian aid.

Many, including myself, had thus hoped for a global agreement that for the first time would secure proper commitments to international responsibility-sharing. The current negotiation mandate, however, sadly falls short of that. Early attempts to insert firmer commitments in regard to resettlement or financial responsibility-sharing were roundly rejected at the 2016 UN summit.

What do you hope can be achieved?

Where the new compact can nonetheless make a difference, is to help reform the way refugee protection is conceived and delivered. Rather than humanitarian aid and camp-style management of refugees, the new model emphasizes development perspectives and the social inclusion of refugees into host states’ societies. The key is to enable access to labor markets, education and national healthcare from the very start. To achieve this, the new framework will bring together a broader set of actors, including financial institutions, and invest more in social innovation. It is, however, essential that core refugee and human rights are not pushed to the side in this process in favour of more managerial or economic logics. Hence, I and others are pushing for the inclusion of references to legal standards and commitments in the final text.


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