World events of the past decade have put the international refugee system under great stress. The challenges include a dramatic increase in the number of forced migrants, a significant shortfall in needed funding, inadequate international burden-sharing (with a de facto system of, in the words of the UN Special Representative for Migration Peter Sutherland, “responsibility by proximity”), the denial to most refugees of rights guaranteed by the 1951 Refugee Convention, state policies of deterrence and deflection that undercut the human right to seek asylum, and the persistence of protracted refugee situations caused by a lack of progress on solutions.
Some important conceptual steps have been taken. Most significant are the establishment of the Solutions Alliance, the agreement of major UN agencies and the World Bank on a new operational model based on comprehensive analysis and implementation and directed at refugee self-reliance, assistance to hosting communities and targeted attention to solutions, and commitments by the World Bank and other multilateral development banks (MDBs) to put displacement on the development agenda. These efforts, however, have not yet gained traction on the ground, where the majority of activities and funding go to traditional models of “care and maintenance” for displaced populations.
The need for action is apparent—both for the 60 million persons currently displaced by violence and conflict and because the “new normal” of large-scale displacement will define the future, as conflicts continue and climate change will soon be a major driver in forced migration.
The UN General Assembly’s High Level Meeting on Large Movements of Migrants and Refugees (September 2016) provides an opportunity for the identification of systemic improvements that can meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. The Secretary General’s report calls for a “global compact on responsibility-sharing for refugees” and describes some of the elements it could include. But the report does not specify the institutional and structural advancements that would be necessary to devise and implement such a compact.
What is needed is a mechanism—a platform—that will bring relevant actors together to (1) incentivize the comprehensive planning and programming toward collective outcomes now recognized as necessary, (2) support private sector involvement in responding to refugee situations, and (3) promote system-wide plans for solutions. To be effective, the mechanism will need to tap into new sources of financing, from development funding, foundations, and other innovative vehicles such as the issuance of bonds.
These functions could be located in a Global Action Platform and Fund for Forced Migrants (GAPF or Platform). The Platform would be a multi-stakeholder organization, constituted by UN organizations, donor and hosting states, MDBs, and representatives of displaced communities, the private sector, and civil society. An executive secretariat could be established, with participation by UNHCR, OCHA and a development organization.
The GAPF would adopt the following functions:
- incentivize comprehensive planning and implementation toward collective objectives: The GAPF could establish collective outcome goals (such as reducing the overall number of forced migrants while fully respecting the refugee conventions and all applicable human rights) as well as meeting relevant sustainable development goals (SDGs) on health, education, hunger and employment for displaced people. It could lay out criteria for effective action in displacement situations (most likely along the lines of the new model recently agreed to), and fund plans that make progress towards to overall goals and which meet the specified criteria. The comprehensive planning called for would join up humanitarian and development programming to achieve collective outcomes.
- support private sector initiatives to respond to displacement: the private sector can be mobilized to assist in displacement situations, both as a matter of corporate social responsibility and in pursuit of usual corporate goals. What is needed are innovative financing and insurance mechanisms to help distribute the risk of operating in zones of instability in order to incentivize private investment. The Platform could also establish a “clearinghouse” function that would match needs in the field with private sector actors interested in responding but unsure how and where to become involved.
- comprehensive planning for solutions: the current Syrian refugee crisis makes clear the need for a comprehensive global response for responsibility-sharing. Yet there exists no international architecture for convening stakeholders in large-scale displacement situations. The GAPF could establish such an architecture (perhaps patterned on the Solutions Alliance) that would be called upon to develop comprehensive plans of action for solutions.
There are a number of financing arrangements and vehicles that the GAPF could adopt. Existing multi-stakeholder platforms have relied upon multi-year grant-based instruments, commercial and concessional loans with interest buy-downs, bonds with guarantees, project finance for private sector investment, political risk and catastrophic risk insurance, corporate social responsibility, and remittance matching schemes.
In designing the Platform, it would be important to take account of the lessons of other multi-stakeholder partnerships, including those developed under the MDGs. These include the establishment of clear goals, addressing regional and global issues (beyond facilitating national plans), starting with a limited number of members and expanding slowly, and having a clear “theory of change.”
GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, is a good example of a platform that focuses on both financing and delivery. It draws together traditional direct contributions and innovative financing mechanisms, with the latter including the International Finance Facility for Immunization (IFFIm) where the World Bank provides a Treasury Function; the Advance Market Commitment (AMC) where the World Bank and UNICEF support GAVI; and the GAVI Matching Fund. The IFFIm issues bonds to accelerate GAVI-financed vaccination campaigns on the basis of legally binding multiyear pledges made by GAVI’s donor partners. Under the AMC, donors commit to guarantee the prices of vaccines once they are developed.
Important issues would need to be resolved up-front in establishing the GAPF. First is the Platform’s overall scope: should it apply to all forced migration situations or some subset of refugees, internally displaces persons (IDPs) and other forced migrants? Could it be expanded to all persons affected by humanitarian crises? Second, appropriate goals would need to be selected; consideration could be given to measuring success against SDG targets and indicators, to seeking to reduce the overall level of displacement or forced migration, or some combination of other goals. Third, structural issues would need to be considered, such as principles for deciding on “founding” members and the establishment of a secretariat.
It is proposed that a group of Friends of a Global Action Platform and Fund be constituted, with participation of member states (from the Solutions Alliance as well as other concerned countries), relevant UN organizations, the World Bank and other multilaterals, to advocate in favor of the concept. The GAPF could be referenced in the Outcome Document of the High-Level Meeting, with the GA taking note of the formation of Friends Group and expressing interest in its work.