Opinion by Anila Noor – Eliasib Amet Herrera – Shaza Alrihawi (displaced)
Inter Press Service
Displaced, Dec 07 (IPS) – Over the past two years, the global refugee response has been tested. The world is being rocked by the greatest pandemic in over a century, while waves of refugees have fled from Afghanistan, Myanmar, Belarus, and Tigray. So, where do we go from here? Next week, the international community will convene to take stock of the successes and shortcomings of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), a unique multilateral mechanism built to ensure the protection of one of the most vulnerable populations. This marquee Compact is up for review, but unlike other review processes, the participation of the people whose lives are shaped by the decisions to be made in the review process will be marginal. Unfortunately, only 1 in 50 of the invited attendees at the UNHCR High-Level Official’s Meeting (HLOM) to discuss the GCR are refugees.
We urge the international community to raise the bar. UNHCR should commit to 25% refugee participation in the 2023 Global Refugee Forum and create a refugee seat in UNHCR’s governing body, EXCOM, by 2023. As representatives of affected populations, refugees add a unique perspective to the global debate on refugee policy that is not represented by Member States, UNHCR, or NGOs. By increasing our representation fully and meaningfully in these high-level discussions and bodies, we can help to shape policies that are informed by our lived experiences and drive systemic changes. Inclusive refugee policies and meaningful participation must span gender and sexual identities, religion, ethnicity, those with disabilities, youth and elders, those affected by sexual and gender-based violence, among other identities.
While COVID-19 made improving the global response to the refugee crisis more urgent, it also demonstrated the importance of refugee-led organizations (RLOs) in the refugee response. There is documented success in the power of including RLOs in the global vaccine rollout for refugees. In Uganda, the Refugee-Led Organisations Network, which brings together 34 RLOs in Africa, is on the frontlines of the COVID response, providing life-saving support to refugees and helping them to access vaccines. In the absence of specific government campaigns targeting refugee access to the vaccine, these groups have kept their community informed and protected – challenging vaccine misinformation, to translating crucial information about COVID-19 into refugees’ native languages. These kinds of refugee-led initiatives around the world are vital to fighting vaccine hesitancy and making sure refugees are protected.
Until we are included in all decisions about the lives we lead, policies will continue to fail. Our request for broad-based inclusion of refugees and resources to meet the full range of our experiences and identities is the only form of participation that will create sustainable change and enable a more effective global refugee response.
Anila Noor, AFP Eliasib Herrera and Shaza Alrihawi are steering committee members of the Global Refugee-led Network (GRN), a Refugee-Led Organization (RLO) composed of refugees groups in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, MENA, and the Asia Pacific.