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Leaving No One Behind: A Commitment To Address Forced Displacement

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By Céline Füri and Julie Lafrenière

This post is the third of a seven-part series on the themes of the High-Level Leaders' Roundtables at the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, to be held May 23-24 in Istanbul, Turkey.


There are 60 million displaced people in the world. Every day, 42,000 more are forcibly uprooted by armed conflicts, natural disasters, persecution and inequality. Most aren't trying to reach Europe or faraway Canada. Their destinations are often those nearest to the emergency -- inside or around Syria, Sudan, Colombia, the Central African Republic, Yemen or Burundi -- places nowhere near G8 members and whose resources are already strained.

Media reports speak of waves and mass influxes, but the reality is a patchwork of deeply individual stories: women, men, children and elderly people leaving everything behind to rebuild elsewhere. After fleeing the horror and devastation that hit their homes, many face closed borders and discriminatory policies. The deal struck last March between Turkey and the EU reminds us that the universally recognized right to seek asylum can still be traded for political gain.

It is, of course, every country's prerogative to control its territory. But providing protection and dignity to those who have lost theirs is a shared responsibility of all. How can we accept, as a recent fair share analysis points out, that only three of the world's states are making an adequate commitment to resettle refugees?

Only one per cent of refugees worldwide have access to resettlement.

Wealthy countries -- including Canada -- should respond to global forced migration in three complementary ways:

1) Offer long-term, predictable financial assistance to countries on the first line of the crisis (those bordering Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria, etc.) so they can meet refugees' basic needs -- quite a challenge when they account for 25 per cent of the total population, like in Lebanon. Various NGOs from Canada and elsewhere are working alongside local partners to improve public services -- water, sanitation, health and education. Their programs also help refugees integrate in the labour market to prevent impoverishment and resentment of host societies. Over half of the funds currently needed for these efforts are missing.

2) Increase the number of refugees resettled to decrease pressure on first-line countries. Only one per cent of refugees worldwide have access to resettlement. This is especially relevant for countries like Canada that are far from the crisis zones and receive relatively few asylum applications. The Canadian private sponsorship program, where individuals can get involved directly in welcoming refugees, is an excellent way to maximize resettlement spaces and to facilitate integration among the host population. This complement to government programs should be replicated in other countries.

3) Avoid contributing to forced displacement by selling arms to governments supporting conflicts. This self-imposed limit, adopted in the name of human rights, is contained in the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which Canada should accede to.

These commitments are all the more important as displacement can no longer be looked at as a temporary anomaly: the average stay in a refugee camp is 17 years. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of refugees who manage to return home is the lowest it's been in 30 years, due to longer-lasting armed conflicts, exacerbated by more frequent climate problems like droughts and floods.

Assistance to displaced persons should be a basic responsibility of states, not an act of discretionary charity. World leaders will have a chance to commit to a courageous and realistic response at the first World Humanitarian Summit on 23-24 May in Istanbul, and the Summit on Refugees and Migrants in September in New York. It is critical that everyone do their part. Oxfam and other civil society organisations will be present to demand concrete action from governments and to commit to stronger programs for displaced persons.

Summits are a time for great declarations. While they generate necessary momentum, the real work takes place afterwards, away from the spotlight. That's when we must translate promises into concrete and durable actions to save and change lives.

Céline Füri is Humanitarian Programme Officer at Oxfam-Québec. Julie Lafrenière is Women's Rights Policy & Advocacy Specialist at Oxfam Canada.

This blog series on the World Humanitarian Summit was convened by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation. The views expressed in each blog are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of CCIC, its members, or other participating organizations.

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