The Global Compact on Refugees: A breakthrough opportunity in addressing the protracted refugee crises in East Africa

Author: Juliet Nyamao
Human Rights Attorney, Kenyan Bar

In recent years, the world has witnessed an explosive increase in the number of refugees and internally displaced persons. The upsurge in forced displacement has increased the demand for humanitarian assistance and strained the limited resources of host nations, majority of which are developing economies. The resulting economic strain compelled the international community to develop sustainable mechanisms for protecting refugees and displaced persons in alignment with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

According to the UN refugee agency report, 9 out of 10 refugees live in developing countries, with limited access to basic services like health, education and food. Sub-Saharan Africa hosts the largest proportion of refugees and displaced persons globally. The East Africa region hosts a large proportion of refugees in Africa. Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia collectively host over 2.2 million refugees, many of whom are fleeing war, human rights violations and adverse climate changes. Despite the tremendous hospitality of these host countries and generous donations towards humanitarian funding, the gap between needs and humanitarian funding has continuously widened.

On 19 September 2016, world leaders  at a United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants in New York, United States, unanimously adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. This declaration was adopted specifically to address the plight of thousands of refugees and migrants confined in refugee camps with little hope of returning to their home countries. The  Declaration  reaffirmed the principles of refugee protection enshrined in the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Refugees. During the Summit, Member States further agreed to work towards the adoption of two critical documents: a global compact on refugees, and a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration.

The Global Compact on Refugees was premised on four key objectives:

  • easing pressure on host countries,
  • enhancing refugee self-reliance,
  • expanding access to third-country solutions and
  • supporting conditions in countries of origin to enable safe, voluntary, and dignified returns.

The Compact was founded on principles of sovereign equality of Statesresponsibility-sharing, non-discrimination, and realisation of human rights. This Compact acknowledges a collaborative strategy in enhancing and improving livelihoods, while tackling challenges for communities in countries of origin, transit and destination. The Compact is consistent with the purpose and object of the United Nations Charter, which emphasises international co-operation in solving global problems, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.

The Compact will hugely and desirably aid the response to the protracted refugee crises in the Eastern Africa region, as it would translate the principles of international cooperation and responsibility-sharing into practice. Despite East Africa bearing the greatest burden of the refugee crises and shouldering much of the responsibility, the international response has often remained insufficient and underfunded to the detriment of the refugees. Many host countries, majority of whom are developing economies, continue to face portentous humanitarian challenges as well as perennial food insecurity.

The protracted refugee crises has been exacerbated by the lack of political will, donor fatigue and inadequate funding. However, the Compact provides a basis for reliable and reasonable burden- and responsibility-sharing  commitments among all United Nations Member States, to include hosting and supporting the world’s refugees. Several mechanisms have been endorsed to facilitate burden- and responsibility-sharing. Firstly, through a periodic Global Refugee Forum, UN Member States have the opportunity to make both financial and non-financial pledges towards the implementation of the compact. The forums are crucial to ensuring accountability and compliance by Member States. Secondly, host countries may establish national leaderships to coordinate and facilitate the efforts of all relevant stakeholders working to achieve a comprehensive refugee response. The national leadership would guide the development of comprehensive refugee response plans to align with the national policies and priorities. Thirdly, the establishment of a Support Platform would facilitate precise support for refugees, host countries and communities, in line with the host country’s ownership and governance of the process. This would be fulfilled through implementation of a comprehensive policy initiative to ease pressure on host countries and build self-sufficiency among the refugees.

Additionally, in order to achieve the 5th UN Sustainable Development Goal, the Compact establishes a program of action that specifically targets women in conflict and seeks to promote gender equality and empowerment. Sexual and gender-based violence, trafficking in persons, and sexual exploitation and harmful practices experienced by women in refugee settings will be addressed by this program. Women living in refugee camps disproportionately face grievous human rights violations simply due to their gender. The program seeks to ensure these vulnerable women are protected, and able to seek redress for human rights violations.

Therefore, the Global Compact on Refugees has provided a breakthrough  opportunity to reinforce a global comprehensive response to the protracted refugee crises in East Africa. Proper implementation and enforcement of the recommendations of the Compact portends to improve livelihoods and protect the plight of refugees in the region. However, the success of the Compact will rely on successful mobilisation of political will, and sustainability of political engagement in addressing the widening gap between humanitarian needs and humanitarian funding. By emphasising on international co-operation, and burden and responsibility-sharing commitments, the Compact has the prospect of transforming lives and offering better protection for refugees as well as the residents of host countries.

About the Author:
Juliet Nyamao is a Human Rights Attorney admitted to the Kenyan Bar. She received her LLB from Moi University School of Law (Kenya) and LLM from Georgetown University Law Centre (USA). Juliet completed her fellowship in Leadership and Advocacy for Women in Africa at Georgetown University Law Center. She is currently a fellow at the American Bar Association-USA.

2 Comments on “The Global Compact on Refugees: A breakthrough opportunity in addressing the protracted refugee crises in East Africa”

  1. […] Nyamao, The Global Compact on Refugees: A breakthrough opportunity in addressing the protracted refugee cris…, […]


    Well done, Juliet on a very good piece

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