Refugees are an integral part of society; treat them with dignity

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By Caroline Njuki

The summit on refugees and migrants during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly refocused the world’s attention on an issue that has been growing in importance over the last couple of years.

President Obama also hosted a leaders summit on Day Two of the General Assembly in an effort to rally support and recommitment by nations to increased funding towards refugees around the world.

The summit on refugees and migrants follows the World Humanitarian Summit hosted by Turkey in May that was dominated by discussions on displacement especially the Syrian crisis.

It came up with an agenda for humanity centred around five core responsibilities that include political leadership to prevent and end conflict, upholding the norms that safeguard humanity, leaving no one behind, changing peoples lives from delivering aid to ending need and investing in humanity.

The Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015 make explicit commitment to facilitate orderly, safe and responsible migration and mobility of people through implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies. The goal is to reduce inequality within and among countries.

By the General Assembly dedicating its business to refugees and migrants, the Secretary General has helped to focus attention on this critical issue at a crucial time for humanity.

The New York Declaration, the outcome document of the Summit expresses the political will of world leaders to save lives, protect rights and share responsibility globally. It is also the basis for intergovernmental consultations for the next two years that will culminate in a Global compact in 2018 for refugees and migrants.

For the Horn of Africa, displacement is not new neither has it been seen as a crisis. This does not mean that the region has not experienced its share of both internal and external forced displacement with the Somali displacement going on for more than two decades and the South Sudan displacement resuming since the outbreak of war in 2014.

In Darfur, displacement continues with hundreds of thousands internally displaced or seeking safety within the region and around the world.

Countries in the Horn have continued to open their doors to displaced populations and not once have large scale movements of people fleeing threats or violence been turned away.

FRAGILE ENVIRONMENT

Despite this continued support and openness, displaced populations continue to put a strain on host communities that more and more have fewer opportunities for economic success, access to social services in an already fragile environment.

Displacement in the Horn of Africa continues to be protracted lasting an average of seven years. This calls for a different approach of protecting and assisting displaced populations with recognition that refugees have the potential to contribute positively to the economic and social development of their host countries.

Refugees that have means of livelihood to support themselves and their families are much more likely to return to their countries of origin once situation allows. Refugees with skills are the engine needed to drive development in their countries once they return.

Provision of social services for the refugee populations needs to be integrated with those of the host communities which calls for a different model of funding that is sustainable in the long run. Parallel systems of assistance do not only breed hostility and suspicion between host and refugee populations but also denies a more sustainable long term response for both host and refugee populations needs.

The engagement of development agencies in this process is key, as displacement is not just a humanitarian issue. There is need to build capacity within agencies and different actors on how to respond and plan around displacement especially where protracted displacement is envisioned.

A model of funding that supports this approach that incorporates the host community is crucial in refugee protection.

Already, assistance is taking shape internationally with the support of multilateral organisations such as the World Bank for instance through the recently announced Concessionary Finance Fund and is recognised in the New York Declaration.

Dialogue and a closer collaboration including joint planning of interventions between development and humanitarian actors and governments in the region is required to reduce the divide that currently exists and leading to a nexus of both approaches.

Innovative approaches to durable solutions that are more development focused will ultimately ease the suffering of those displaced and those that host them.

Ms Njuki is the Regional Migration Coordinator at IGAD

This article was first published by Kenya’s Daily Nation