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15 Jun 2017


UNHCR Consultations 2017: SSI in Geneva working for greater outcomes for refugees

The consultations are by invitation only, and involve high-level discussions and decision making between the UNHCR and delegations from countries around the world. They take place during a week that also includes the UNHCR Annual Consultations with Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), making for a big week of discussions about the global refugee crisis.

UNHCR Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement: 12–14 June

After a first day that gave participants a snapshot of the state of humanitarian responses to the refugee crisis around the world, day two was a chance to drill down into the some of the issues faced by organisations like SSI on the ground.

The day began with a performance by South Sudanese slam poet Emtithal “Emi” Mahmoud, who received a standing ovation. Emi’s poetry painted challenging scenes of life in South Sudan, telling those in attendance: “Loss is deeply personal, if you speak with hate people respond in kind. If a person speaks to you with humanity, you respond likewise.”


With that poignant start to the day, SSI’s representatives and the other NGO participants split off into groups to take on problems in some specific areas. 

In a session on starting or expanding refugee resettlement programs, some key questions stood out: what role does integration play in expanding refugee resettlement, and, how do we measure the success of resettlement programs?

A standout during a panel discussion for a session on how the private sector engages in refugee resettlement was Andrew Vilcsak from accommodation sharing company Airbnb. Mr Vilcsak spoke about a platform the company launched last week for 16,000 properties being offered for free or heavily discounted prices to refugees in the USA.

Screenshot of a Tweet from the UN Refugee Agency. The Tweet says: "A new Airbnb platform will make it easier for people to open their homes to refugees and displaced people".

Another session on community sponsorship programs for refugee resettlement offered some particularly interesting insights into a model currently being developed in Canada. The Global Refugee Sponsorship initiative aims to support other countries considering private sponsorship models, demonstrating the value of sponsorship in building welcoming communities.

Late on the second day attendees discussed the importance of effective communication to increasing public confidence in refugee resettlement. The UNHCR showcased some great, positive media campaigns that have proven to be effective.

The Australian delegates, including SSI, ended the day with a reception with the Australian Ambassador, and a meeting with the UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Turk.

A screenshot of a Tweet from SSI Manager of Humanitarian Services Yamamah Agha. It says "NGOs will continue to play an incredibly important role in the development of the global compact: Vulker Turk @SSI_Tweets #UNHCRngos".

There has been a lot to take in over the first two days of the consultations. With one day still to go there are sure to be even more opportunities for SSI to learn about how refugee resettlement is happening around the world, and to showcase to the world the work we’re doing here in Australia.

UNHCR Annual Consultations with NGOs: 14–16 June

After a busy few days at the UNHCR Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement, the SSI delegation in Geneva jumped straight into the second part of the visit: the UNHCR Annual Consultations with Non-Government Organisations (NGOs).

While the Tripartite Consultations involve high-level discussions and decision making between the UNHCR and delegations from countries around the world, the NGO Consultations are a chance for all NGOs that work with refugees to discuss issues in a global forum.

This year’s NGO Consultations focused on the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, which encourages the UNHCR to work with a broader coalition of partners—the private sector, academia, media, and refugee diasporas themselves—for better outcomes for refugees.

In the opening sessions, before the consultations began to focus in on specific issues, Senior UNHCR officials spoke about the impact the framework is already having on the ways the UNHCR is engaging with refugee NGOs.

Some sessions, for example, looked at improving identification and protection for individuals in vulnerable situations, such as women at risk, unaccompanied and separated children, survivors of trafficking, refugees with disability, and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

Other sessions turned to ways that the private sector and civil society (i.e. organisations and bodies that don’t represent government or business) have been able to help address challenges like rescue at sea, alternatives to detention, trafficking, and racism and discrimination.

A highlight of the consultations was the theme of refugee voices in the response to the global refugee crisis. Leaders from Australia, such as Najeeba Wazefadost from the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network and Aarash Bordbar from the Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network, were inspiring voices in the discussion.
It has been refreshing to see the UNHCR increasingly recognising the importance of refugees themselves being involved in part of the solution.

As part of that theme, one stand-out session looked at the global refugee work of women and girls. Australians were again well represented in the discussion, with Tenneh Kpaka from the Australian National Committee on Refugee Women giving an eloquent presentation on the need to prioritise the voices of refugee women and girls.


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