Pledging and the Global Compact on Refugees: An inclusive process for better implementation?
Forum on the Partnership Principle in the UN Global Compact on Refugees
Contribution by Najmah Ali, Policy, Advocacy and Communications Officer, International Rescue Committee
9 June 2022
In December 2018, 193 states affirmed the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), a framework aimed at strengthening solidarity with refugees and their host countries, enhancing refugee self-reliance, as well as expanding access to durable solutions, such as resettlement or safe and dignified returns. This momentum provided renewed energy for advancing responsibility-sharing and protection efforts, at a time of increasing and challenging refugee situations across the globe.
Since then, the urgency of these objectives has only become clearer, compounded by the triple threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing conflicts, and climate change. According to UNHCR, there were 3.5 million more refugees at the end of 2020 than five years ago (in 2015); 9 in 10 refugees continue to be hosted in countries with developing economies; and less than 1% of refugees have access to durable third country solutions, such as resettlement. Three years on, GCR commitments and implementation have been weak and do not adequately address the scale of global needs.
A cornerstone of the GCR is its partnership approach. It aims to involve a range of stakeholders, some of whom are traditionally marginalised in global multilateral processes, in efforts to advance refugee protection and empowerment. These include civil society organisations (CSOs), local municipalities, private actors, and refugees among others. Despite existing challenges around clearly defining who constitutes each group, the importance of collaborative partnerships and involvement of a range of stakeholders in the GCR process was clearly reaffirmed during the High Level Officials Meeting (HLOM) of December 2021. During this mid-term review of progress towards the GCR, stakeholders called for the further strengthening of partnerships, including meaningful refugee participation in GCR implementation.
A primary vehicle for advancing the implementation of the GCR is pledge-making. By pledging concrete actions and contributions, states and other stakeholders have sought to advance the objectives of the GCR and achieve tangible benefits for refugees and host communities. These may involve financial, material, or technical support, committing a set number of places for resettlement and complementary pathways, or through policy change and civil society initiatives. 1 400 pledges were made at the first Global Refugee Forum (GRF) in 2019; as of May 2022, these have risen to 1 636.
GCR pledges demonstrate the partnership approach in action, including its strengths and limitations. On one hand, the actors making pledges at the GRF were diverse, including governments, civil society organisations, the private sector, and refugees themselves. The role and commitment of non-state actors to the GCR’s implementation has only continued to grow. CSOs globally have mobilised to ensure greater accountability in implementing the GCR, including by monitoring progress on existing commitments, partnering on pledges, and advocating for greater transparency and accountability.
On the other hand, however, the implementation of pledges has been inadequate, with states’ commitments being less inclusive in some cases, not adequately reported on and not proportionate to the scale of current global needs. The adequate funding of refugee responses, as well as the effective and inclusive distribution of this funding, has been a notable challenge for state pledges. There is a significant gap between needs and response, and currently only 95 out of 814 pledges have been reported by states as implemented in the last three years. States’ commitment to truly advancing the GCR objectives remains doubtful, highlighting the need for a more transformative approach to the GCR process.
In order to effectively meet the objectives of the GCR and uphold the partnership approach principles, this blog post calls on states, particularly wealthier and more stable ones, to firmly recommit to the GCR ahead of the second Global Refugee Forum (GRF) due to take place in 2023. First, they must significantly expand their commitments to GCR objectives, including by committing to more and better funding for both emergency and protracted refugee situations, as well as resettlement, and promptly deliver on existing pledges. Second, they must strengthen the transparency and accountability of their pledge implementation. Third, they must ensure that civil society organisations particularly those at the frontlines of refugee response are meaningfully included in their pledging processes and the delivery of funding, in line with localisation objectives agreed in other relevant fora, such as the Grand Bargain.
Currently, pledge matching is being explored by UNHCR and states as a way to improve progress towards the GCR objectives. This refers to ‘…pairing pledges made by host countries to facilitate greater inclusion, protection, and support for people forced to flee with pledges made by donors to provide the financial, material, or technical support necessary for their implementation.’ While welcome, greater details, planning and transparency will be needed throughout this process to ensure that it remains inclusive and effective.
While pledge-matching has great potential to incentivise and facilitate joint progress on pledges, more information is still needed as to what this method entails in practice, including how pledges are identified and matched. The current infographic on UNHCR’s website, which aims to explain the pledging matching process is not very detailed or prescriptive in this regard. One way pledge-matching can be demystified is by providing more granular detail on the specific actions that can be taken, such as how CSOs can put themselves forward for matching or how much states need to commit to pledges to progress on GCR implementation.
2. Pledging: A vehicle for progress on GCR implementation?
At the first GRF in 2019, civil society organisations demonstrated their significant commitment to the GCR objectives, which was newly reiterated at the recent HLOM. One clear illustration of this was the sheer number of pledges made by CSOs, covering all key areas of the GCR’s focus. With 172 pledges, CSOs were the largest pledging group at the Forum in 2019.
According to UNHCR’s pledge analysis, compared to other actors, pledges by civil society are also more inclusive of marginalised groups such as women and girls, children and youth and LGBTIQ+ persons. One such example is the Queer Sisterhood Project pledge addressing the needs of queer refugee women through a range of means such as psycho-social support and training and education. As of December 2021, UNHCR also notes that CSOs had implemented 66 % of their 2019 pledges – a notably higher completion rate than the 45 % of all other actors’ pledges.
Such CSO mobilisation around GCR pledges has already resulted in positive outcomes for refugees. For example, RefugePoint pledged to provide complementary pathways and practical support in priority situations in Africa and the Middle East. Together with partners, such as UNHCR and the Shapiro Foundation, they were able to support 6,500 refugees to reach safety in 2020. In addition, the Global Refugee-Led Network, as part of their pledge to support meaningful participation of refugees and host communities in decisions that affect their lives, were able to launch Refugee Skill Up, a series of capacity building workshops for refugees reaching over 100 refugees or refugee-led organizations in 2021. Further initiatives have included the large-scale delivery of pro bono legal support for refugees, or the innovative engagement of private sector actors.
However, despite this inclusive process and the many initiatives driven forward by CSOs since 2019, there are significant questions around the states’ commitments to effectively address forced displacement. Ongoing challenges include the limited funding of pledges and limited reporting by governments, in particular. Of the 1,626 total pledges listed on the GCR pledge dashboard, as of December 2021, only 163 pledges have been fulfilled, 611 were listed as in progress, with 47 in the planning stages. This means that the status of close to half of the total pledges – 805 are unknown. Of those pledge with an unknown status, 400 were made by states (a 49% non-reporting rate), and 141 by CSOs (a 42% non-reporting rate) (see figure 1).
Figure 1: Rate of implementation of states compared to CSOs
This raises serious concerns around GCR implementation, transparency and accountability. States are primary responsibility-holders for the GCR, making it particularly vital to understand the status of all of their pledges. The dashboard also reveals that 83 % of pledges are made by an individual actor and only 17 % are joint, which calls into question the extent to which the partnership approach is being utilised in GCR implementation.
Moreover, the pledges put forward by states do not reflect the principle of equitable and predictable sharing of responsibility, a core tenet of the GCR. InterAction’s report on state commitments underlines that 70 % of all the pledges made at the GRF were made by the main refugee-hosting countries, such as those states neighbouring Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Donor countries, like the US and those in the EU, comprised solely 13 % of all top crisis-related pledges, failing to show meaningful solidarity with those states hosting the vast majority of the world’s refugees.
Similarly, the number of countries receiving resettled refugees has fallen steadily – from 34 countries in 2017 to a mere 21 countries in 2020 (see figure). Whereas the EU and the UK had committed to resettling 30 000 refugees in 2020, largely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic they resettled fewer than 10 000 refugees that year, addressing only 0.6 % of existing needs. Resettlement is yet to resume as its earlier pace, and these pledges were likewise not completely fulfilled across 2021 either.
Figure 2: Number of countries receiving resettlement arrivals
European resettlement efforts were already falling short of the EU’s capacity before the pandemic. Despite often stated ambitions for the EU to play a global leading role in resettlement, the percentage of global resettlement needs met by EU states has never exceeded 2 %. In order to make meaningful and sustainable progress on GCR objectives, uphold the principles of the partnership approach, and address the growing global protection and solidarity gap, states will thus need to significantly and equitably reinforce their contributions to GCR implementation.
Pledge-matching aims to support and accelerate the commitments already expressed, by matching different pledges with others with similar objectives. It aims to utilise partnership and collaboration so that states and CSOs can come together and complete the many pledges still in progress and address, to some extent, the large number of pledges that currently have an unknown status. This way of working also aims to address the challenges that CSOs, refugee-led organizations and hosting communities are experiencing when implementing their pledges, such as the need for financial, material or capacity support, by connecting them to donors’ commitments in these areas.
3. Challenges of GCR implementation: The Case of Financial Pledges
Amid GCR pledges, a particular shortfall concerns financial commitments. The GCR underscores the importance of public and private funding to enable refugee-hosting states to support displaced populations and host communities. However, this is one of the areas where states’ commitments and political will are lagging furthest behind, holding back global progress on responding to forced displacement. Two key challenges concern the scale of funding pledges for refugee responses, and the way this is disbursed to local partners and affected communities. Without adequate support from a broader range of states, CSOs, refugee-led organisations and host communities will continue to struggle to support refugee responses.
Firstly, funding commitments remain insufficient to address increasingly protracted displacement situations and the complex protection and support needs at play. The voluntary nature of GCR pledges has resulted in low funding commitments, and persistently underfunded refugee responses. Some key points related to financial pledges that illustrate some of the funding challenges include:
- Approximately a one sixth or 250 of the total 1 400 pledges made at the first GRF included financial commitments.
- Three pledging entities comprised almost 75 % of all financial contribution’s pledges – namely Germany, the EU institutions, and the Netherlands.
- According to InterAction, as of April 2021, only 65 states made financial and material pledges, amounting to 6.5 billion USD in total. This is shockingly low, considering that UNHCR’S 2019 budget was 8.6 billion USD.
A recent Danish Refugee Council (DRC), International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) joint report found that funding against refugee response plans remains extremely low in three key refugee situations, with Bangladesh receiving only 34 % of necessary funding, Uganda just 36 % and Colombia only 44 % as of September 2021.
To address this gap, the recent HLOM prioritised securing increased financial commitments, to address the need for greater funding. However, recent interviews with a subset of key donors such as the EU, Germany and the US revealed that they will not increase funding but rather will focus on sustaining existing funding in the coming years. This is discouraging, in light of the worsening impacts and scale of forced displacement globally. Thus, it would also be timely to investigate the intentions of less traditional donors regarding their planned funding to forced displacement to fully understand the existing gaps.
A second related challenge is the lack of financial contributions channelled directly to local actors, those organisations at the frontlines of refugee response, inhibiting them from contributing fully and in partnership to addressing forced displacement. CSOs and refugee-led organizations have continued to call for financial support that is local, direct, and longer-term. This funding could enable effective, sustainable, and targeted interventions to support refugees. Nevertheless, local civil society continues to be regularly excluded from funding sources.
Both local and international humanitarian actors generally struggle to secure good-quality, direct funding for their programmes, and often receive only short-term funding. This negatively impacts frontline responders’ ability to address refugee situations, which are often protracted. Equally, there are issues with accessing longer term development funding, even if the protracted nature of displacement means this type of funding is increasingly relevant. Yet, despite the recognition of the benefits of applying nexus approaches that try to maximise the interlinkages between the humanitarian, development and peace sectors, structural barriers, including the lack of harmonisation and coordination within donor agencies, continue to pose challenges in applying both humanitarian and development funds (to address long-term underfunded refugee responses). Added to this, the COVID-19 pandemic has also hindered the ability of local organisations and civil society to respond at scale to refugee situations, as funds were often reprioritised to address the health emergency, leaving CSOs to make difficult decisions about how to appropriately use their limited available budgets.
As part of the Grand Bargain, an agreement between donors, UN agencies, the Red Cross movement and NGOs, there is a commitment to ensuring that 25 % of their funding is channelled to local and national responders as directly as possible – a commitment that should have already been fulfilled by 2020 (see figure 3). However, there are major difficulties in understanding what progress has been made already due to lack of financial transparency and common definitions around what constitutes a local actor. According to Asylum Access, funding provided to local actors rose to merely 3.1 % in 2020 compared to 2.8 % in 2016 (see figures 4 and 5). The support directed to refugees and refugee-led organizations themselves, too, remains very limited. Asylum Access also estimates that of the 30 billion USD in the global humanitarian system in 2021, less than 1 % of funding went directly to refugee-led organizations.
4. Towards the 2023 Global Refugee Forum
In the run up to the next GRF in 2023, there is an urgent need for states to recommit to the GCR through transformative action. CSOs and other partners have redoubled their engagement with the GCR framework as part of the partnership approach. However, the shortfall in state-led efforts (particularly as they are the duty bearers for the GCR) is hindering the implementation.
Firstly, more quality pledges are urgently needed, including on funding and resettlement, and existing pledges need to be promptly implemented in practice, to minimise the ongoing gaps in refugee support and to ensure alignment with the responsibility sharing ambitions of the GCR. In addition, these pledges must be reported transparently, shared equitably among states, and be inclusive of CSOs and local partners wherever possible.
Secondly, financial pledges must be a priority to address long-term underfunded refugee responses.
Thirdly, States must renew their commitment to direct this funding through local partners and refugee-led organizations in line with the Grand Bargain objectives. States must develop strong political commitments to strengthen funding and other support for refugee responses.
Fourthly, the strong dedication by civil society to participate in the GCR and the coordinating role of UNHCR can also be better leveraged. UNHCR has been encouraging pledge-matching as a method to reshape the pledging process, which can address some of the challenges raised in this blog post, including the lack of sufficient inclusion, the need to bridge existing financial and technical gaps and improve the level of completion of pledges.
Fifthly, we welcome ongoing plans by UNHCR to make the pledging process itself more transparent, accessible, and inclusive of civil society ahead of the next GRF. At the recent UNHCR GCR quarterly briefing, UNHCR committed to improving the GCR pledging system through various means, including a GCR pledge validation process, issuing pledging guidance and by making the dashboard more accessible and simplified. These steps to strengthen accountability and transparency are welcome: they may improve clarity over the status of pledges and blockages to their implementation, making it easier to identify, track, and advocate on the lack of commitments. However, major issues still remain around pledges themselves.
Finally, States must do more to ensure their pledges meet global needs. They need to take the examples and best practices provided by CSOs and lead a strong push towards more inclusive and accessible pledging.
Without increased solidarity, partnership, and a renewed commitment to the GCR, the increasingly dire situation of forced displacement globally will not be adequately addressed, with serious and long-lasting consequences for the people affected.
I would like to thank IRC colleagues for the completion of this blog post. In particular, I extend my thanks to Olivia Sundberg Diez, EU Policy and Advocacy Advisor, Niamh Nic Carthaigh, EU Policy and Advocacy Director, and Farida Bena, Director of Policy and Advocacy and Geneva Head of Office at the International Rescue Committee for their support, revisions, and patience on the completion of this piece.
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