Tackling policy failures on #WorldRefugeeDay and beyond

by 20th Jun 2016
Hanaa, from Lebanon Hanaa, from Lebanon CARE

CARE International UK's CEO Laurie Lee and Senior Policy Advisor Howard Mollett outline recommendations from CARE towards the Global Summits on Refugees launched on World Refugee Day.

In a new short film launched on #WorldRefugeeDay today, CARE documents how one woman, Hanaa from Lebanon, reached out to support Taghreed, a refugee from Syria; how their families now live as one; and how both women have come to love each other as sisters. Three minutes long, it’s a powerful call to action for the rest of us living in much wealthier countries to show the same generosity.

One of the most remarkable things about the current global refugee crisis is the extent to which ordinary people have mobilised to support people fleeing war, persecution and crisis. Similar community-to-community support is happening around the world, and as CARE we support these efforts in countries as diverse as Pakistan, Germany, Canada, Kenya and Greece.

But the responsibility for supporting refugees is ultimately that of governments, and it is governments which have fallen woefully short.

In under three months, world leaders will gather in New York for two major summits – a summit of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on 19th September on refugees and migrants co-hosted by the Governments of Jordan and Ireland; and second, a Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis, hosted by President Obama on 20th September. Today, CARE publishes five recommendations towards those Summits and calls on governments to act on these.  

Below, I outline five flaws in the current approach to refugees by governments, and then summarise our five recommendations to tackle these.

Five failures in government policy: 

  • Failure 1: There has been a total failure amongst governments to share the responsibility for hosting refugees on a fair basis. Global resettlement needs continue to vastly outpace offers from governments to support resettlement. The vast majority of displaced people are hosted by developing countries. Even with the 2015 influx in Europe, Germany is only the fourth largest refugee hosting country, behind Turkey, Lebanon and Pakistan, and slightly in front of Iran and Ethiopia.[i] No other western nation even makes the top 10. Countries like Kenya have hosted much larger numbers of refugees than most donor states for much longer. 

  • Failure 2: The closing of borders around the world means that people are trapped inside warzones, including inside Syria, whilst others are forced to risk their lives, including travel over sea and deserts, to find a place of refuge. People who seek a place of refuge from violence and persecution should be given a fair hearing, and safe and legal routes to escape the violence. While they await their case to be heard, they should not be detained or treated in an otherwise inhumane fashion.

  • Failure 3: Governments and aid agencies struggle to address the specific threats faced by women and girls who flee conflicts and natural disasters, including sexual violence and trafficking.[ii] Displaced women are also organising themselves, for example, setting up ‘safe space’ for women and children, but these efforts get little recognition or support, or are even obstructed by some host governments.

  • Failure 4: Poor countries hosting the majority of the refugees do not get enough support. Today CARE launches a major new study from Jordan which shows how four in five refugees there now live under the poverty line, and the Jordanian economy itself is also incredibly stretched. Yet commitments made at the London Conference on the Syrian Crisis to support Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have yet to be delivered. Of the 6 billion US Dollars pledged, only USD$1.6 billion had been committed as of last month. The inadequate support to these states impacts on their willingness and capacity to guarantee the rights of refugees, which means they often live in “legal limbo.” For example, an estimated 200,000 refugees still lack a valid Ministry of Interior card in Jordan, while an estimated 70 percent of Syrian refugees and almost all Palestinian Refugees from Syria (PRS) in Lebanon lack a valid residency permit. This impacts on their access to livelihoods, health and education services. It also means refugees live in constant fear of detention or deportation.

  • Failure 5: Root causes are inadequately addressed. Worsening violence against civilians – both indiscriminate and targeted – has been a major driver of refugee flows from Syria, Iraq and other countries in conflict. Earlier this year, governments failed to agree new mechanisms to strengthen respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL) to stem this violence at the World Humanitarian Summit (May 2016). Unless Western governments start to also hold themselves –  their own military forces or allies – accountable for IHL, then it will be hard to convince any other states or fighting parties to respect IHL. Likewise, inadequate action on climate change will also result in ever-spiralling population displacement.

Each of these challenges is within the power and resources of governments to address. Towards the Summits in September and beyond, governments should consider the following five recommendations:

  1. Accept their fair share of refugees. Each state should identify specific numbers of refugees they are willing to host as part of a coordinated global effort to meet annual resettlement needs identified by UNHCR, or at least 10 percent of the total refugee population. Within the EU, for example, states should work together to agree to a fair and coordinated approach to sharing the hosting of refugees; including through the re-allocation of refugees in Greece. 

  2. Provide safe and legal routes for people to seek refuge and claim asylum, for example enabling people to apply for asylum at embassies in their home or neighbouring countries and expanding family reunion opportunities for refugees.
  3. Protect and empower displaced women and girls, for example, through taking explicit steps to ensure their voices are heard in defining the priorities and monitoring implementation of programmes funded in the crisis response.

  4. Increase funding to benefit local communities and refugees in the developing countries, which host the vast majority of displaced people. Importantly, this funding should include an explicit focus on tackling xenophobia and promoting social cohesion, as well as supporting the livelihoods of both refugees and the host community. Funding should also be tied to tackling the ‘legal limbo’ facing refugees through states simplifying the registration process and guaranteeing their rights in line with the UN Refugee Convention.

  5. Accompany commitments at the Refugee Summits with wider steps to address the root causes of displacement, especially through demonstrable steps to reverse the declining respect for International Humanitarian Law and through more concerted action to tackle climate change.

We need governments to deliver on each of the above towards the Summits in September and beyond [1]. The challenge is not one of politicians lacking the technical know-how or information, but rather they lack political will. To overcome this, we need to show governments that ordinary people – their voters – care. On 12th September last year, tens of thousands of ordinary people came out into the streets shocked by the images of Aylan Kurdi and calling on their governments to do more on the “#REFUGEESWELCOME” marches. There is talk of another major global day of citizen action being convened before the Summits in September. CARE will again be there, and we will look for other creative ways to mobilise our supporters to show heads of state that the public cares about these issues.

World Refugee Day is just one day, but the discrimination, poverty and suffering faced by refugees like Taghreed is a daily experience. It is a deeply disturbing that the current response of so many wealthy governments risks unraveling everything that has been learned about how to protect and assist refugees, and the rights agreed in the UN Refugee Convention. While today this impacts people from Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, who knows who else this might affect in the years to come, including closer to home?

So on World Refugee Day please help us share the stories of Hanaa and Taghreed, as well as the policy recommendations between now and the Global Summits. Last year CARE delivered aid to over five million displaced people and there are thousands of people in local groups and networks helping out too. Voluntary activists and NGOs can go so far in assisting people fleeing for their lives. But now we need Governments to step-up to exercise their responsibilities.


[1] A ‘zero draft’ outcome for the Jordan/Ireland UNGA Summit will be circulated by end June, and the final outcomes negotiated by end July. For the Obama Summit, the process runs up until the Summit itself to rally strong commitments by states to host refugees and fund the wider response.

[i] http://247wallst.com/special-report/2015/09/21/10-countries-sheltering-the-most-refugees/4/

[ii] http://www.unhcr.org/uk/protection/operations/569f8f419/initial-assessment-report-protection-risks-women-girls-european-refugee.html

Laurie Lee

I joined CARE in August 2014, because I believe strongly in our focus on economic development, gender equality and people holding governments accountable. My focus at CARE is on ensuring we have the best people to do the job we do, to support our teams on the ground in over 70 developing countries, and to ensure we continuously improve our ability to monitor the impact of our work, and learn how to do it even better.  

Prior to CARE I worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for seven years, advising them on development policy issues in Europe and Africa. Before that I worked for the British government. I managed British development programmes in South Africa and Afghanistan. He worked in 10 Downing Street to prepare the G8 Gleneagles Summit on Africa in 2005. And I ran the DFID Trade Policy Unit until 2008.

One good thing I've read

One of CARE’s goals is to help the 2 billion people – including 1.1 billion women – without access to financial services, to get them. This great and easy book, Portfolios of the poor: How the world's poor live on $2 a day, by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford and Orlanda Ruthven, explains why there’s no such thing as living 'hand to mouth'. The poorer you are, the more you need financial management tools.

Email: Lee@careinternational.org

Twitter: @lauriejlee