Blog post written by Jean-François Durieux, Senior Research Associate of the Refugee Law Initiative and expert analyst. This post forms part of a series of blog posts analysing the potential and shortcomings of the Global Compact on Refugees.
To capture the organic relationships between the Global Compact on Refugees [GCR], the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework [CRRF] and the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants [NYD] is not an easy task: there is a fair amount of repetition across the three instruments, and moreover ‘what flows from what’ is not immediately clear. Building upon para.69 of the NYD, the CRRF appears as an annex to the Declaration, but it is also an integral part of the GCR – which is somewhat circular since the last paragraph of the CRRF alludes to the ‘adoption in 2018 of a global compact on refugees’. To be sure, the objectives of implementing the CRRF(in para.18) are identical to those of the GCR (para.7), namely: to ease pressures on host countries; enhance refugee self-reliance; expand access to third country solutions; and support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity.
In the final analysis, it seems that the actual ‘global compact’ for (and not just ‘on’) refugees, i.e. the instrument that encapsulates the high-level commitments of states and international organizations and the principles underpinning those commitments –chief among which is international solidarity- , is the NYD itself. Once the CRRF and GCR are cleared of the many elements copied and pasted from the NYD, they reveal their potential as instruments truly complementing the latter: the so-called Programme of Action in the GCR in effect offers ‘tools to operationalize burden- and responsibility-sharing’ (para.31) , and the CRRF provides a template for combining such tools in response to a particular refugee situation.
Neither the tools nor the template are strikingly original, in that they mainly reflect what UNHCR has been able to identify as good practice. The value of this approach should not, however, be underestimated: short of binding rules on responsibility-sharing – which, sadly enough, seem out of reach at the present time – a recommendatory listing of sound institutional arrangements and operational tools can go some way towards firming up state commitments: indeed, it can boost confidence in an international regime that critics often present as outdated and ineffective; and, above all, it carries the potential of making collective responses to future as well as protracted refugee situations more predictable – an explicit objective of the GCR pursuant to its para.3.
So far, so good. What states have committed to in the NYD (para.68), however, is not just more predictable, but indeed more equitable sharing of the burden and responsibility for hosting and supporting the world’s refugees. In this sense, the international refugee regime actors are strongly invited to move beyond their traditional comfort zones and ‘business as usual’. In the collective ‘toolbox’ of the regime ‘key tools for effecting burden- and responsibility-sharing’ assume particular significance, and it is against their use that the delivery of states and international organizations against NYD objectives and commitments must be assessed.
‘[P]rogress towards the achievement of its four objectives’ remains the ultimate measure of ‘success under the GCR’ (para.102). To quickly build consensus around credible indicators of impact seems, however, to represent an overly ambitious goal. What is within reach, provided sufficient attention and resources are devoted to it, is a credible measurement of the extent to which states equip themselves with, and make use of, the burden- and responsibility-sharing tools they have ‘blessed’ in adopting the GCR. Within this framework, the first level of assessment is national, and the second is situational. Let us consider each level in turn.
National (country by country) assessment
At this level, we would be looking essentially for ‘policy tools’. Let us take a few examples.
1) Regarding financial burden-sharing
The ‘mobilization of timely, predictable, adequate and sustainable public and private funding’ (CRF, para.32) is an elusive goal unless the necessary financing tools and mechanisms are available in both giving and receiving states. While the same paragraph stops short of ‘naming’ such tools and mechanisms, it contains a number of descriptors [flexible, multi-year, additional, grants, ‘high degree of concessionality’, ‘de-risking arrangements’…] making it possible to assess their existence within the arsenal of donor states. On this score, UNHCR and/or independent monitors can also learn from history: fifteen years ago, within the context of UNHCR’s ‘Convention Plus’ initiative on ‘Targeting Development Assistance for Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement’, much hope was pinned on ‘transitional’ funding lines as vehicles for incorporating refugee needs in development aid policies. Few donors had established such funding lines, however, and where they existed their focus on ‘recovery’ complicated their re-deployment from countries recovering from conflict (i.e. essentially countries of origin in refugee parlance) to countries facing a refugee crisis – a difficulty also later experienced at the multilateral level in respect of the UN Peacebuilding Fund.
On the recipients’ side, the inclusion of displacement issues in national development and poverty reduction strategies cannot be taken for granted: it is, at best, work in progress – and this progress needs to be measured. National ownership of comprehensive refugee programmes, a buzzword throughout the GCR (on this, see Alex Aleinikoff, The New Paradigm of National Ownership: Some Thoughts on GCR Draft 3) must translate into budgetary policies that facilitate the absorption of refugee-targeted development, as well as humanitarian, aid. Importantly, this rule also applies to states of origin, not least in view of the GCR’s fourth objective of supporting conditions there for return in safety and dignity. The GCR could have been more explicit and detailed on this point, considering that to achieve this objective may require more than the ‘existing political and technical mechanisms for coordinating humanitarian, peacebuilding and development interventions’ (para.88).
2) Regarding physical burden-sharing
In introducing ‘key tools’, the GCR acknowledges (para.32) that contributions to burden- and responsibility-sharing by the international community as a whole go beyond funding. It is surprising, therefore, to find resettlement and other pathways for admission to third countries relegated to the next section of the document, somewhat lost among other ‘areas in need of support’ and under a rather misleading heading of ‘Solutions’. Indeed, when it comes to measuring progress or success ‘under the GCR’, physical burden-sharing should be treated in exactly the same way as financial burden-sharing. Here, too, policy instruments must be in place before they can be deployed in particular situations – a message aptly conveyed by the GCR where it insists (para.95) on the availability and predictability of complementary pathways. To achieve fairness in the distribution of refugee caseloads is likely to remain a vexing challenge; it is eminently possible, nonetheless, to track and assess the availability of burden-sharing facilities within states’ immigration policies, including but not limited to properly-so-called refugee resettlement programmes.
It is often assumed that ‘host countries’ – which the GCR conservatively equates with states bordering refugee-producing countries – will do their utmost to transfer a substantial part of their refugee caseloads to states further afield. In some cases, however, the laws and/or policies of those frontline states themselves create obstacles to refugee mobility, hence hinder or slow down resettlement and other forms of regular refugee emigration. Like financial burden-sharing, physical burden-sharing requires sound policies at both ends, which means that nearly all UN Member States should be subjected to the kind of ‘policy progress assessment’ which this paper recommends.
3) Regarding refugee self-reliance
The above mentioned post by Alex Aleinikoff made the observation that ‘the Programme of Action has become a document primarily concerned with assistance to hosting states rather than one establishing programs to help refugees rebuild their lives’. While enhancing refugee self-reliance still stands as one of the GCR’s four objectives, its relationship to the primary goal of ‘easing pressures on host countries’ is definitely less clear than as regards access to solutions in third countries or even in countries of origin. One can argue, however – very much in the spirit of the NYD – that host state policies that capitalize on refugee agency and actively promote self-reliance are not only likelier to attract innovative, additional funding from development aid donors, but also contribute, in their own right, to lightening the ‘burden’ which the presence of idle, dependent refugees imposes on their hosts. This line of argument was probably too politically sensitive to explicitly appear in the GCR; this should not stop us, however, from developing indicators capable of proving or disproving – but in any case measuring, through time – the implicit link between refugee self-reliance and burden-easing. The NYD contains, at any rate, important commitments and even tentative targets regarding refugee education (paras.81 and 82), employment and income-generation (para.84). Whether national policies actually permit compliance with those commitments and progress towards those targets needs to be assessed.
Situational assessment (re: performance within a given situation)
Let us now turn to what I called the ‘situational’ level of performance monitoring. The question to be answered at this level is no longer whether burden-sharing tools (including national policies and mechanisms) are available in anticipation of the ‘next refugee crisis’, but rather whether, to what extent and within what coordinating framework those tools are actually deployed and put to use in a particular refugee situation. This is, obviously, the ultimate measure of ‘success under the GCR’ – though it still falls short of assessing the impact of a particular comprehensive response on the fairness of the global refugee regime.
The CRRF provides a basic template for such an assessment. At the same time, the challenges inherent in this exercise should not be underestimated. To begin with, the field of inquiry must be precisely defined. What is a ‘refugee situation’? And who are the actors, whose performance in response to a particular situation is to be assessed? The CRRF ‘pilots’ launched in 2017 (see: https://www.unhcr.org/5a2eb12b7.pdf) were for the most part country-based – the Somali refugee situation and Mesoamerica being exceptions to the rule. This approach has been criticised, including by the author of this post, for missing an essential ingredient of ‘comprehensiveness’: does it make sense to focus on, say, Tanzania without looking at the responses in other countries to the same refugee outflows, without distinguishing among different refugee caseloads in the target country, and without involving the country or countries of origin? I think not. If equitable (or at least acceptable) burden- and responsibility-sharing is the goal, the only logical ‘unit’ of assessment is a refugee caseload, defined by nationality (or habitual residence) and where necessary by a timeframe of displacement. This is a refugee ‘situation’ – for want of a better word. That some situations become more protracted in some host countries than in others should not distract us from this logic: to the contrary, examples abound to show that such ‘protractedness’ in effect results from a lack of situational perspective from the outset of the crisis.
Of course, the more time passes, the more scattered the refugee caseload becomes. The ‘regional CRRF’ developed around the Somali refugee situation goes in the right direction, but everybody knows that Somali refugees nowadays can be found – and must be protected – far beyond the IGAD region. Ditto refugees from the Northern Triangle of Central America: whither the US, Canada, Spain and other receiving states within the ‘regional’ CRRF? For the sake of operational effectiveness the outer limits of any refugee situation must probably be drawn somewhere – we should start thinking about reasonable scoping criteria. Two things are sure, however: (i) the single host country level is not the level at which a comprehensive refugee response should be assessed; and (ii) except where the state has collapsed, the performance of the country of origin should always be included in the assessment, not least in order to make good on the NYD commitment to ‘working towards solutions from the outset of a refugee situation’ (para.75).
One thing is to define and include those states that are the source of, or are directly affected by, a particular refugee situation. By definition, though, the comprehensive response will involve an additional set of states, as well as international organizations. From the standpoint of ‘third countries’, too, the ‘refugee situation’ is the appropriate point of reference, although it may end up challenging national preferences in the foreign aid and/or immigration policies of those countries. The most vexing question, however, is the following: how does one account for non-participation? If we cannot expect all members of the international community to contribute to all collective responses to refugee crises, what criteria should govern the composition of the relevant set of contributors to any particular response? As I wrote elsewhere (The Duty to Rescue Refugees, IJRL 28(4),653), there are competing considerations at play here, including special relationships and comparative advantage based on respective capabilities. The question of the ‘universe’ of accountability must, in any event, be resolved before one embarks upon an assessment of third state performance as defined above. It will inevitably surface, for example, when a Refugee Response Index (see https://daraint.org/2017/01/25/5420/refugee-response-index-rri/; https://devstat.com/devstat/the-refugee-response-index/) is applied – as I believe it should – at the situational level.
Where, on the other hand, the Refugee Response Index can be useful in its current format is in the assessment of non-performance, which is distinct from non-participation. As explained above, a contributing state’s ‘success under the GCR’ means deliberate and full use of the burden- and responsibility- sharing tools that state has at its disposal – including those it has acquired or adjusted in order to comply with its NYD commitments. Insufficient deployment of those tools in a particular refugee situation must be assessed as a failure. I insist on this point because I suspect that, in coming months and years, UNHCR may be tempted to highlight only ‘success stories’ under the GCR. While it is understandable, this temptation must be resisted. If commitments in the NYD and its implementing instruments are to be taken seriously, we must move beyond an enumeration of good practice, motivating as it may be. We must be able to show poor, as well as good, performance. Importantly, so that a poor rating does not become a curse, we must be able to show progress over time, both within a given situation and from one response to the next.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Refugee Law Initiative. We welcome comments and contributions to this blog – please comment below and see here for contribution guidelines.