A year after the United Nation’s General Assembly adopted the Global Refugee Compact to deal with the world refugees crisis, world leaders gathered in Geneva to weigh the progress made, and pledged more than $3 billion to support refugees and about 50,000 resettlement communities.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the Global Forum on Refugees divvied up the responsibility for dealing with the 25.9 million refugees who have fled war and persecution, mainly exiled in poor neighboring countries.
In addition to the $3 billion, Grandi said Germany, which has hosted hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, pledged about $1.9 billion. The Inter-American Development Bank pledged $1 billion to communities hosting refugees in Latin America. The World Bank also increased its funding for projects supporting refugees by 10%, to $2.2 billion.
At the end of 2018, nearly 71 million people were living in forced displacement due to war, violence and persecution, including the nearly 26 million who had fled to other countries as refugees.
The meeting this week in Geneva stressed the need to share the economic and societal burden of nearly 80% of the world’s refugees living in poor and developing countries.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country hosts a large amount of the world’s refugees, criticized wealthy nations for setting “tiny” refugee quotas and for not providing adequate financial support to Ankara.
Turkey hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees, about 3.7 million, following by Pakistan, with 1.4 million registered refugees.
“We cannot go into a world in which responsibility-sharing means some states keep all the refugees and some states pay all the money. We cannot do that, that is why we have resettlement, why we have different types of partnerships,” Grandi said Wednesday at the close of the two-day meeting.
Rising tide of refugees
The number of people fleeing their homeland has been surging. According to a new report by the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), the number of global migrants has increased from 150 million, to 272 million, in the past 20 years.
Contributing to these burgeoning numbers are the reasons why large numbers of people are being forced out of their homes, Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, said.
“People are being forced out for reasons — whether it’s gangs, whether it’s civil war, whether it’s a state collapse, whether it’s environmental degradation — things that a normal person would decide to flee from,” Selee said.
Along with the challenge of dealing with accommodating large amounts of refugees is the issue of who to let in. Countries are facing the question of who is a refugee and who isn’t. Some cases are clear cut, such as Turkey with the Syrians who are fleeing a brutal civil war; or Colombia with the Venezuelans fleeing their country’s revolution and subsequent economic meltdown.
But there are other cases, such as in Europe and the United States at the southern border with Mexico, in which they are trying to figure out who should be returned to their home country, and who actually has a legitimate claim for asylum or refugee protection.
“And, so some people say, OK, we’ll call all these people refugees. Then people say, let’s not expand the definition but at least accept that these people are forced migrants that aren’t leaving by choice,” Selee said. “They’re leaving because something has pushed them out. And there’s a recognition that we need to offer some protection to those people, whether or not we call them refugees.”
Another challenge facing host countries is the issue of mass flows of migrants, and the perception of migrants’ impact on communities.
Dany Bahar of the Brookings Institution said when you think of a refugee crisis today, you think about a huge inflow of people that come to a country in a very short period of time.
Bahar said economists who have been researching the effect of migration have found the perception people had — about how massive inflows of migrants and refugees have negative impacts on the local labor markets — is not really backed by research.
“When refugees are allowed to work, that helps a country that is receiving them to become more productive, to grow etc. When the country has the ability to integrate these refugees by allowing them to be part of society, take part in the public sector, health system and education systems, that is of course positive for everybody,” Behar said.
Lebanon has anestimated population is 5.9 million, with nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees. This makes it the country with the highest number of refugees per capita – with one refugee for every four nationals, according to the UN.
These numbers have placed an enormous strain on the country’s already fragile economy, society and politics.
“So in the case of Turkey and Lebanon receiving a lot of Syrian refugees, or in the case of Colombia receiving a lot of Venezuelan refugees, or Ethiopia receiving Eritrean and Sudanese refugees — these are countries that, to begin with, are lagging behind in terms of their infrastructure,” Behar said.
He said that is why international financing is so important, not only for humanitarian reasons to help people, but to get the services they need by sending financial aid to allow host countries to invest in infrastructure and capital, so that they can integrate these refugees.
All in all, more than 770 pledges were made at this week’s forum for financial support as well as improving refugee access to employment, education, electricity, infrastructure and promises of more resettlement spots for the most vulnerable.
Katherine Ahn and VOA Persian contributed to this report