High Commissioner’s High-Level Panel on Somali Refugees

Written by May 21, 2014 0 Comments
Newly arrived refugees wait to be registered at the transit centre in Dolo Ado in Ethiopia last month. UNHCR/J. Ose

Newly arrived refugees wait to be registered at the transit centre in Dolo Ado in Ethiopia last month. UNHCR/J. Ose

In November 2013, High Commissioner Guterres convened a High-Level Panel (HLP) on the Somali Refugee Situation. The Panel included experts and scholars from the international community, academia, and the private sector.

There are more than 1 million Somali refugees, and most are concentrated in states located near Somalia: Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Yemen and Uganda. This is a classic protracted refugee situation, as most refugees are not ready to voluntarily return to Somalia, and resettlement and local integration options are quite limited. As an element of High Commissioner Guterres’ Global Initiative on Somali Refugees, the HLP was asked to take a fresh look at UNHCR’s PRS (Protracted Refugee Situation) paradigm to see what new strategies might be developed.

The HLP took note of the tripartite agreement on voluntary repatriation between the governments of Kenya and Somalia and UNHCR, signed in November 2013, but recognized the “dangers of hasty or forced repatriation” and highlighted the need “to actively pursue other creative solutions.”

The Panel generally endorsed the overall goal of a “comprehensive plan of action” for resolving the protracted situation—a plan that would require the participation of hosting and donor states, the private sector, the Somali diaspora, civil society, development actors, and other international organizations. While leaving the terms of such a plan to be worked out among the various stakeholders, the HLP nonetheless identified a number of “principles” that could inform that process:

  1. Solutions for Somali refugees will be differentiated according to their diverse needs.
  2. International protection must be offered to Somali refugees as long as they need it.
  3. Refugee camps should be opened up through increased mobility and livelihood opportunities.
  4. Refugee participation will be maximized in all actions. Refugees are assets, not burdens; self-reliance activities can help achieve their potential and also prepare them for eventual return.
  5. Return must always be voluntary, safe and dignified. A realistic repatriation program will be piloted, and implemented where conditions permit.
  6. Help will be offered to refugee communities, host communities, and communities to which refugees will return.
  7. New actors will be engaged in finding solutions: including the private sector, the Somali diaspora, women’s groups, and development agencies; their contributions may be in asylum countries as well as in areas of return in Somalia.
  8. The Somali Federal Government’s commitment will be encouraged, at the same time as engaging regional administrations within Somalia.
  9. Modern forms of communications will be used to enhance refugee lives.
  10. Resettlement opportunities must be expanded.
  11. Naturalization should be considered for long-staying refugees.
  12. There should be an adequate interlink between solutions for refugees and IDPs.
  13. The xenophobia faced by Somali refugees around the world needs to be challenged.

If comprehensive solutions are not immediately available, members of the Panel generally supported a shift in strategy under which

asylum [w]ould evolve from a “care and maintenance” approach to one where human potential could be fully realized, and suffering, stagnation and marginalization reversed. This will mean a significant reconceptualization of the refugee experience with a view to making it a positive and transformative one through a focus on self-reliance, skill-building and access to livelihoods opportunities. This may in fact help to transform the situation within Somalia, and will certainly help prepare refugees for eventual return.

As next steps for the Global Initiative on Somali Refugees, UNHCR will organize a regional dialogue in Spring 2014 with affected states, and work towards a global dialogue on Somali refugees to agree a plan of action with the international community.

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Trip to Bangkok and Northern Thailand

In early November 2013, I traveled to Northern Thailand and Bangkok with T. Alexander Aleinikoff, the current United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees. The primary purpose of the trip was to visit the UNHCR staff serving thousands of refugees in Northern Thailand. The trip also coincided with a meeting in Bangkok of the agency’s “innovation fellows” — individuals selected from among thousands of UNHCR employees around the world and committed to finding better ways to carry out the UN refugee agency’s mission of offering legal protection, emergency relief, and long-term solutions to help the millions of displaced people around the world.



For years, I’ve been drawn to the problems faced by those displaced from their homes by persecution and violence. Not only are the lives of many of these individuals extraordinary, but their stories also showcase unresolved problems of transnational governance that are shaping our world. I’ve worked on refugee and migration issues as a lawyer, a government official, and a scholar at Stanford University, where I lead the university’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. In the last year, the Institute has worked in partnership with UNHCR to support innovation in the design of refugee communities, in the use of technology, and data analysis. Our initial efforts have brought together leading architects and UN planning experts, and helped connect Stanford students skilled in technology and design within UNHCR. This trip was a chance to learn more about the challenges UNHCR faces, and to plan further steps in our collaboration.


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The Responsibility to Solve

Written by May 4, 2014 0 Comments

A bit of shameless self-promotion.  Stephen Poellot and I have co-authored an article on protracted refugee situations that will be published in the forthcoming issue of the Virginia Journal of International Law.

In the article, we contend that the international community has a legal and moral duty to seek solutions to long-standing refugee situations.  We call this obligation “the responsibility to solve,” and abbreviate it as R2S—an obvious play on the well-known R2P (responsibility to protect).

We suggest that R2S follows from the international community’s duty to promote human rights and human security, foundational principles of the international refugee regime (such as burden-sharing), and commitments implicit in the Refugee Convention and Protocol.

The Virginia Journal of International Law has kindly permitted us to provide a pre-publication link here.

The article was first presented as the annual lecture of the Program on Law and Human Development at Notre Dame University in March 2012 (co-sponsored by Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies and the Center for Civil and Human Rights).

Exhausted and uncertain about the future, a line of Syrian women and a young girl queue to register at an impromptu registration centre set up by UNHCR and partners just outside Arsal. UNHCR/ M. Hofer/ November 2013

Exhausted and uncertain about the future, a line of Syrian women and a young girl queue to register at an impromptu registration centre set up by UNHCR and partners just outside Arsal.
UNHCR/ M. Hofer/ November 2013

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Welcome to UNHCR’s Global Views Blog

Written by May 3, 2014 0 Comments

Last month UNHCR announced that the millionth refugee has been registered in LebanonAcross the region UNHCR has counted nearly 3 million Syrian refugees. Meanwhile, crises in Syria, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan have displaced tens of thousands of persons. The violence from which these refugees flee is horrific, the hardships they and their families endure are tragic.

These emergencies emerge alongside long-standing (“protracted”) refugee situations. As noted in UNHCR’s Mid-Year Trends 2013, the number of global refugees has passed 11 million, and there are more than three times as many internally displaced persons (21 million) as there were a decade ago.

These emergencies, these numbers, these long-term crises call for massive protection and assistance efforts by the international community. And while many states have been generous—in providing millions of dollars in assistance, asylum space, and resettlement opportunities—the human needs still far out-strip the relief efforts. The practical measures of assistance and the end of conflict required are well described in numerous UN and NGO reports—I will not rehearse them here.

What we seek to provide in this space is a place for practice and research to come together. What is the best we know about the causes of displacement, the needs and concerns of refugee communities, the scope and nature of mixed migration flows, effective strategies for self-reliance, and innovation in refugee protection and assistance?

I will welcome outside contributions to the discussion, running the blog in a “moderated” format. Visitors are encouraged to comment on contributions. I invite you to join us in this discussion—and this journey.

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