Background to the International Refugee Congress
It is by now widely recognized by practitioners and policy makers that the distribution of the world’s large and growing refugee population is highly uneven. 84% of the world’s refugees are hosted by low and middle-income countries. While the world’s six wealthiest countries host less than 9% of all refugees, least developed countries (LDCs) host almost a third of the total. Such figures starkly underline one of the central weaknesses of the international refugee regime, namely the absence of a fairer and more equitable distribution of responsibilities for international refugee protection. The New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants, adopted in September 2016, and the subsequent process of developing a Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), offer a potentially historic opportunity to create a more comprehensive and predictable approach to responding to large-scale refugee movements, as well as to develop new normative frameworks for international responsibility sharing.
Civil society organisations (CSOs) from all over the world have engaged intensively in efforts to influence international policy making related to refugees for decades. The GCR process – and other international decision-making processes– have given CSOs some opportunities to contribute. However, with some exceptions such as the formal consultations organized on the GCR, this has often been ad hoc, and such efforts have stopped short of creating a mechanism to ensure that refugee-led organizations and CSOs in host countries are systematically included in policy discussions and negotiations. Thus, it appears that refugees and CSOs from the countries that host the world’s largest refugee populations have been largely underrepresented in these processes. For example, only 4% of the CSOs that participated in the Summit on Refugees and Migrants in September 2016 came from the top 5 refugee-hosting countries. As refugees and the communities and countries that host them are the people most affected by forced migration across international borders, it is critical that they and their representatives play a leading role in shaping the GCR and other international policy making processes. The perspectives of those most affected by displacement need to be central to the global efforts addressing the consequences of forced displacement.
Starting in October 2017, a group of ten civil society organisations, including refugee-led organisations and networks, as well as national and international civil society organisations, came together to launch an international civil society policy consultation and development process designed to address this critical weakness. The aim of the process has been to facilitate the expansion of networks amongst refugee-led organisations and national civil society in the world’s major refugee-hosting countries (namely, Turkey, Lebanon, Pakistan, Iran, Uganda, Ethiopia, Jordan, Germany, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Chad and Kenya). It has promoted a participatory and inclusive approach to policy development, to contribute to a shared platform for the amplification of refugee and host community voices in international policy making processes. It is expected that such a platform will remain relevant beyond the Congress itself, and model an alternative way of working in which critical stakeholders can exchange and co-develop policy propositions in an inclusive manner.
The starting point of the International Refugee Congress 2018 was an extensive consultation process, launched in December 2017, which was designed to better understand the views and perspectives of refugee-led and national CSOs from the world’s top refugee-hosting countries. The consultation involved an online multi-language survey in Arabic, English, Turkish, Spanish and French, as well as in-depth interviews. 475 online surveys and 79 in-depth interviews were completed, and respondents included representatives from national, refugee-led, women’s, and other organisations. Responses to the online survey included views from nine of the world’s top refugee-hosting countries, covering 47 countries in total. Of the interviews completed, more than half were with refugee-led organizations.
Findings on top policy priorities of refugees demonstrate the need to address both the basic needs of refugees as well as to provide longer-term support in areas such as livelihoods and education. The prevalent focus on access to legal employment by respondents in countries around the globe suggests the widespread nature of restrictions on legal work faced by refugees, and thus represent a crucial area of improvement in refugee assistance.