Final day of a gathering on refugees aiming to boost the global response and foster inclusion.
The first Global Refugee Forum comes at the end of a tumultuous decade in which the number of refugees worldwide has doubled to well over 25 million.
From 16–18 December, the international community is coming together to announce bold, new measures to ease pressures on host countries, enhance refugee self-reliance, and find lasting solutions for those uprooted from their homes by wars and persecution.
Check back here throughout the day for updates from Day 3:
Concrete pledges to transform refugees’ lives
As the Forum draws to a close, it’s time to take stock of how the commitments made over the past three days by governments, interational organizations, businesses and other stakeholders will benefit the lives of millions of refugees around the world.
In all, more than 770 pledges have been made in areas including school places for refugee children, job opportunities, new government policies, access to clean energy, improved infrastructure and support for host countries and communities.
There were also major financial pledges, including some US$ 2.2 billion pledged by the World Bank Group, a similar announcement from the Inter-American Development Bank of US$ 1 billion, while a broad range of states and other stakeholders pledged financial support for refugees and their host communities of over US$ 2 billion.
The private sector also offered substantial commitments, with more than US$ 250 million pledged by business groups and initiatives launched that will lead to at least 15,000 jobs being made available to refugees. There will also be some 125,000 hours per year of pro bono legal counselling.
“Public support for asylum has wavered in recent years. And in many cases communities that host refugees have felt overwhelmed or forgotten,” said UN High Commissioner Filippo Grandi. “But refugee situations are ‘crises’ only when we let them become so, by thinking short term, by failing to plan or work together across sectors, and by neglecting the communities they arrive in. At this Forum, we have seen a decisive shift towards the longer-term view.”
🗣️Words < Action 💪
— UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency #RefugeeForum (@Refugees) December 18, 2019
Getting to college: refugees discuss how to ease access to higher education
Mainstreaming mental health care in emergencies
Arafat Uddin, a Rohingya refugee who fled violence in Myanmar in 2017, is now a trained psychosocial volunteer in Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee settlement, in south-east Bangladesh.
“Before working as a psychosocial volunteer, I did not realize that our body and mind are connected. There was a lot of restlessness in my mind. I did not understand why I felt such tiredness and was thinking all the time about Myanmar,” he explained in a video shown at a Forum panel on mental health. “Now I understand that I felt physically exhausted due to my mental fatigue.”
Many refugees like Arafat suffer mental distress. The training he received from local NGO and UNHCR partner Gonoshashaya Kendra helped him to better understand his own issues and lead mental health workshops to help other refugees in the vast pop-up city of bamboo-framed and plastic-roofed homes.
“After attending the workshops, we can now deal with our distress. If we feel anger in ourselves, we know how to manage it,” he said, explaining that others in the community are now more at peace: “If people still feel distressed, after the workshops, they know that they have an opportunity to speak to the psychologists in the camps.”
One in five people who have experienced war or other conflict over the last 10 years have mental health conditions, according to the World Health Organization, WHO. Some five per cent suffer serious disorders, such as bipolar disorder, psychosis, severe forms of depression or posttraumatic stress disorder.
Just days before the Global Refugee Forum, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement passed an important resolution calling for more investments to respond to mental health and psychosocial needs of people affected by armed conflicts, natural disasters and other emergencies.
The need to make mental health and psychosocial support an integral part of the humanitarian response in crisis and emergency situations around the world was discussed in depth at the panel today organized by the Government of the Netherlands, the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and WHO.
“Improving refugee mental health is no luxury but a vital element of the protection response,” argued Peter Ventevogel, UNHCR’s senior mental health officer, at the panel. “It helps build social cohesion within refugee communities and improves outcomes in health, livelihoods and education.”
UNHCR, WHO and IOM co-sponsored a special issue of the journal Intervention with 28 articles on mental health of Rohingya refugees including the story of Arafat.
Seeking financial inclusion for refugees and host communities
Having access to bank loans, credit lines, savings accounts and payment services are vital if you plan to buy a home, set up or expand a business, or even go shopping.
But for refugees, and too often the communities that host them, accessing the formal financial sector is one of the biggest challenges they face.
At the Global Refugee Forum expert panelists today sought to identify ways to include the underserved refugee market – along with their host communities – in the financial system, in a supported, sustainable and scalable way,
“As an organization committed to unlocking capital to help underserved communities thrive, Kiva is proud to work together with UNHCR in bringing financial services to displaced populations around the world,” said Lev Plaves, of crowdfunding platform Kiva.
The development and private sector have a unique role to play in advancing access to financial services to refugees, by bringing together public and private funding to create market-based incentives.
The Forum heard about recent examples of financial inclusion projects in development around the world, including a four-year programme to promote access to financial and non-financial services for refugees and host communities in Uganda.
Under the measure, backed by UNHCR, the Grameen Credit Agricole Foundation and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), around 100,000 refugees and Ugandans will be able to access credit and savings, 70 per cent of them women.
Kiva, meanwhile, has recently established an institutional Refugee Investment Fund which will work with institutional investors to provide capital to scale up proven refugee lending programs around the world, combining government support with private sector investment from leading foundations and faith-based investors.
In Jordan, the Dutch Entrepreneurial Development Bank FMO is piloting a risk-sharing facility for Syrian refugee entrepreneurs under its European Commission-funded NASIRA program, with technical assistance provided by the Commission.
“Besides debt funding to be provided by investors, there is a need for philanthropic money in the more remote refugees settlements to support financial service providers opening their branches, create marketing materials in the language spoken by refugees, and provide non-financial services to refugees when needed,” said Philippe Guichandut, of Grameen Credit Agricole Foundation.
Transforming refugees lives through work
On Day 1 of the Forum, a panel featuring governments, business leaders and refugees looked at ways of boosting self-reliance among refugees through access to decent work.
One of the beneficiaries of such an approach is Famara, a 25-year-old refugee orginally from Gambia. He has described how getting a job with Japanese brand UNIQLO at one of their stores in Milan, as part of the company’s programme to help refugees find work, has transformed his life.
German refugee higher education fund gets new partner in Denmark
For years, young refugees around the world have faced a stark fact as they struggled to study in a new country. Only around 3 per cent ever manage to access university-level education.
There’s been a bright spot though: since 1992, the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI) has offered scholarships to refugees to enter tertiary education. In all, 15,500 young women and men have had a chance to get an undergraduate degree through the programme.
Now DAFI has a new partner: Denmark.
“Denmark is happy to announce a 10 million DKK (US$1.5 million) contribution to the DAFI programme in order to support young refugees in achieving a foundation for self-reliance and becoming active and contributing members of society – while in displacement and upon return,” said Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Rasmus Prehn.
The partnership should enable more refugees to access the programme. Overall, the aim is to raise the number of refugees who can access tertiary education from 3 percent to 15 percent by 2030, according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
In 2019, a record number of over 8,000 students in 54 countries have been part of DAFI and next year the German government’s contribution will stand at 13.4 million Euro.
“Together we will support UNHCR to ensure access for refugees to university education in their countries of asylum. We encourage more countries to join our initiative,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. The Saïd Foundation and the Asfari Foundation in the United Kingdom also support the programme.
Denmark and Germany announced the partnership at the Global Refugee Forum, and UN High Commissioner Filippo Grandi said it epitomized the event’s aim of empowering refugees.
Felix Sesay, DAFI student in Ghana and a refugee co-sponsor of the Forum, concludes: “DAFI has changed my life fundamentally, I am really happy that so many more refugee youth will be able to benefit from this scholarship programme!”.
Clean Energy Challenge launches
The availability of energy resources for things like cooking and electrification is a major issue facing refugees and the forcibly displaced globally, with most having limited or no access to energy, let alone from clean and sustainable sources. Some 90 per cent of refugees living in settlements worldwide currently have no access to energy at all.
In response, UNHCR today launched the Clean Energy Challenge, an ambitious agenda to enhance clean energy access for refugees and host communities. It invites States, the private sector, NGOs, development actors and other stakeholders to join forces in ensuring that all refugee settlements and nearby host communities will have access to affordable, sustainable and modern energy by 2030,in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
What this means in practice is that all refugees and host communities will have access to clean energy to cook their food and adequate electricity to power their lives. Street lighting and common spaces such as schools, hospitals, community centres and businesses will be powered by cleaner energy, and water supplies will be made more efficient.
The Challenge is both a high-level vision statement, and a tangible expression of international solidarity in support of refugees and host communities, which will require bold and concrete action from 2020 onward. In response, almost 40 states and stakeholders have already come forward with their own energy pledges.
“We have a unique opportunity to come together and deliver a fundamental human right, one that so many often take for granted,” said UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Kelly Clements
“It will not only boost the basic safety and protection of refugees, but also enable them to learn, establish businesses and be more productive members of their communities. This Challenge – ensuring that refugees and generous hosts can have access to clean energy – can only be achieved by us all working together”.
Joining the Challenge represents an expression of support for its goals and a common belief that climate action is a joint responsibility. Find out more by visiting the dedicated web page and watching the explainer video.
Join the Clean Energy Challenge: #HumanitarianEnergy
What are the best solutions for refugees? Let’s ask them…
Some 3,000 delegates are attending the Forum representing governments, international organizations, the private sector and civil society among others, all coming together to find new approaches and solutions to the global displacement crisis.
But when it comes to identifying what support is of most benefit to refugees, who better to ask than refugees themselves?
That is exactly what UN Secretary-General António Guterres decided to do, taking advantage of the presence of some 80 refugee delegates at the Forum to ask them what the international community should be doing to help improve the lives of refugees.
The responses from Hina, Trésor and Diego were clear: education, inclusivity and a chance to become self-reliant and give back to society.
A sweet surprise from Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream
Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream has given the Forum a sweet surprise by launching a new flavour, Cone Together, as part of their ongoing work to support refugees.
The new awareness-raising flavor combines chocolate waffle, salted caramel and vanilla ice-cream. It also comes with extra commitments to help refugees.
As long-time members of UNHCR’s #WithRefugees coalition, Ben and Jerry’s used the launch to pledge to guide at least 400 refugees a year through their Ice Academy by 2022 and bring on 250,000 people to support refugees through local campaigns.
The Ice Academy promotes refugee entrepreneurship through business education, helping refugees launch their own companies and also giving them first-hand experience of running a business through managing their own ice-cream stand. This is how Joudy, an Academy graduate, spent her day when she was on the programme:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOufvJzJxHc&t=15s
For more information, please visit the Global Refugee Forum web page
Originally published on UNHCR on 18 December 2019