A group of political leaders, experts and human-rights activists, headed by former Canadian foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy, is calling for an overhaul of the global refugee system in order to address the worst displacement crisis since the Second World War.
In a new report Thursday, the World Refugee Council warns that the challenges facing the world’s 68.5 million forcibly displaced people cannot be resolved by the current approach, which sees developing countries bearing the brunt of the crisis. Mr. Axworthy predicts the number of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) will grow by the millions each year if the system isn’t revamped soon.
“The basic point of our work as a council was to develop action-based measures that could be implemented and draw on political support that will directly affect and improve the situation for refugees and also build a system for the future,” he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
The independent council, formed in May, 2017, operates out of the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., and is supported financially by other foundations and the Canadian government.
The council’s 126-page report calls for the creation of the Global Action Network for the Forcibly Displaced, a group of stakeholders – governments, civil society organizations, the private sector and refugees – that would implement the report’s 55 recommendations.
Mr. Axworthy said mid-sized liberal democracies, such as Canada and the Nordic countries, are in a good position to help establish and lead the network, especially as other developed countries turn their backs on refugees. He said Canada can take an international leadership role on this front, as it did in the 1990s with the Ottawa Treaty to ban anti-personnel mines around the world – a campaign Mr. Axworthy led as foreign affairs minister at the time.
“Canada is one of the countries that still continues to put forward a prescription for open refugee policies. But there’s a lot of people who have really fallen by the wayside,” Mr. Axworthy said.
Without directly naming U.S. President Donald Trump, the report blames a surge in “nativist politicians” for vilifying refugees for political gain with their constituencies.
“In some cases, such as the United States and Hungary, political leaders have made the calculus that their road to political power lies in closing the doors to refugees and immigrants,” it says.
The report calls for an overhaul of the funding models that finance organizations such as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which is entirely dependent on voluntary contributions from governments. It recommends the UN Secretary-General launch political discussions aimed at changing that funding system to one of mandatory “assessed contributions,” in which countries must pay in order to be a member of the agency.
UN agencies and other organizations working with refugees also need to revisit the way their funds are spent, the report says. For example, although the number of internally displaced people is more than twice that of the world’s refugees (people displaced outside their home countries), just 15 per cent of funds requested by the UNHCR are intended for IDPs.
Ratna Omidvar, an independent Canadian senator who sits on the World Refugee Council, said she was impressed by the report’s recommendation to freeze the assets of political leaders responsible for forced displacement and funnel the seized funds into initiatives that support refugees and IDPs.
“This notion is that we could repurpose the improper gains of corruption and the improper gains of oppression and redirect them back to source countries for improvement,” Ms. Omidvar said.
PARLIAMENTARY AFFAIRS REPORTER
The Globe and Mail, January 23, 2019