Refugees International applauds President Barack Obama’s leadership in hosting the September 20th Leaders’ Summit on Refugees on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly. For the more than 21 million refugees worldwide, this Summit comes at an urgent and critical time.
As established, the Obama administration requires concrete commitments from the participating states as a prerequisite of attendance. Conceived in this way, the Summit can build a new foundation for assistance and engagement. We support the three pillars of the Summit as described by the United States State Department: “1) increase funding to humanitarian appeals and international organizations, 2) admit more refugees through resettlement or other legal pathways, and 3) increase refugees’ self-reliance and inclusion through opportunities for education and legal work.”
Refugees International advocates for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people and promotes solutions to displacement crises. Our missions to the field and resulting reports highlight the urgent need for more humanitarian and development aid, as resources are becoming more stretched by the day. The United States remains the leader in humanitarian assistance and continues to play an essential role in the global refugee response. However, all donor states must do more as humanitarian funding appeals continue to fall short at an alarming rate. New and existing donors simply must step up.
However, all donor states must do more as humanitarian funding appeals continue to fall short at an alarming rate. New and existing donors simply must step up.
While some of the policy discussion has rightly focused on the protracted nature of displacement, we must not forget that refugees are continuing to flee violence daily. During their perilous journeys to safety, women and children are at a particularly high risk of further victimization, including gender-based violence and human trafficking.
While additional humanitarian funding and resettlement pledges are absolutely vital and we welcome that inclusion in the Summit agenda, we are particularly pleased to note that the issue of livelihood opportunities for refugees has been prioritized.
From Lebanon to Malaysia, Refugees International continues to witness devastating impacts on refugee populations due to the lack of livelihood opportunities. Often faced with limited access to legal work in host countries, refugees struggle as the meager resources they fled with quickly run out and their extended families abroad can no longer send money to help. The tragic consequence is, as a result, refugees are often exploited in the informal/illegal employment marketplace. Refugee-hosting countries must also provide opportunities for legal documentation, such as birth certificates, and support public education about the process to obtain such documentation.
It must be noted that progress has also been achieved. New, groundbreaking policies in refugee-hosting countries could positively impact the lives of refugees. Turkey, which now hosts the largest population of Syrian refugees and has welcomed Uyghur refugees as well, has taken some positive steps towards granting Syrians access work and education. However, Refugees International remains deeply concerned regarding the EU-Turkey agreement and its implementation. After two years of debate about whether Syrian refugees in Turkey should be eligible for work permits, the Turkish government has stated that some Syrians will be offered permission to work. The decision is encouraging both for ensuring refugees’ rights are respected but also for promoting self-sufficiency. More countries need to commit to providing legal work opportunities. And while Turkey’s policy demonstrates progress, the implementation of work permit policies – as well as others that are being considered around the world – must be carefully monitored.
While Refugees International applauds the Leaders’ Summit for its focus on these and many other critical refugee issues, we anticipate and hope that the Summit will result in a stronger and more diverse set of actors who will continue to respond and increase their commitments to the desperate plight of refugees today.