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Civil Society Crucial for a Successful Summit

As part of our special series “The Road to UNGA,” Austin Schiano of the U.N.’s Give Me 5 campaign discusses the importance of engaging community-based actors to sustain long-term efforts to aid refugees and migrants.

Written by Austin Schiano Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
Two Syrian refugees, left, concentrate during an English lesson with a volunteer teacher in London. As the U.K. struggles to implement its commitment to resettle more than 20,000 Syrians, the government is counting on charities and community groups to help the newcomers adjust to life in Britain.AP/Adela Suliman

NEW YORK – On September 19, global leaders will come together at the United Nations Headquarters in an effort to create “a more coordinated and humane approach” to the crisis facing refugees and migrants.

It has become clear that no solution to such a crisis will be found solely within the text of ministerial documents. The long-term engagement of civil society and private sector partners will be crucial to creating a sustainable approach to the current migration crises.

The draft text for adoption recognizes the importance of the participation of these partners in the summit, alongside their practical work – receiving people at national borders, assisting populations with societal integration, responding to their needs, and finally galvanizing sources of long-term funding. The need for a multi-stakeholder approach on how these several moving parts would work in concert with UNHCR is indeed outlined in the annex of the document.

Private sector partners and global coordinated investment are indispensable factors in the forthcoming summit. That is because the World Bank, multilateral development banks and “a broader range of donors” are being called upon not only to fund refugee and migrant programs in conjunction with agencies like UNHCR and UNRWA, but also to fund the entire agencies themselves. This is a groundbreaking change in how resources will be allocated.

The recognition of the private sector’s importance is prevalent.

The draft text of the summit specifically calls to attention the “significant gap between the needs of refugees and available resources” and articulates a desire “to make humanitarian financing more flexible and predictable, with diminished earmarking and increased multiyear funding.”

Fully understanding the commitments made to various agencies’ budgets would require further research. But at this point, we should take serious note of the gravity of this funding situation. UNHCR for example, has directly outlined its needs for the 2016-2017 year, with private sector donations required to reach a target of over $250 million USD in 2016 and $300 million USD in 2017, for the agency to properly function.

In September 2015, in response to the global refugee crisis, the U.N. Global Compact (a U.N. agency that works to foster private-sector engagement in humanitarian action) created the Business Action Pledge in Response to the Refugee Crisis in partnership with UNHCR. This necessity for corporate engagement in refugee issues has gained significant attention, with President Obama launching “A Call to Action for Private Sector Engagement on the Global Refugee crisis,” and 15 large corporations making pledges to aid on these global issues.

On September 20, the day following the summit, President Obama will host the Leaders Summit on Refugees at the U.N. The president’s Summit, along with accompanying high-level meetings, will look to coordinate an array of business pledges on refugee issues.

While exploring high-level private actors is crucial in securing the needed funds and support, civil society remains a central force in successfully implementing any refugee action.

Civil society is comprised of the very people whom migration issues most affect. Their tireless efforts keep local communities intact. In an effort to showcase their tremendous importance as lifelines, the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) has organized for nine civil society speakers to speak during the summit. The UN-NGLS selected these speakers among more than 400 applicants, while keeping regional and gender balances in mind.

The civil society “Action Committee” for the summit is being co-convened by the International Catholic Migration Commission, International Council of Voluntary Agencies, and NGO Committee on Migration. This committee will serve as the key channel for funneling civil societies’ political input into the summit. It also presents a means for individual actors to contribute key points for civil society’s participation to the draft text.

The Action Committee has created a starting point for the key provisions that civil society actors hope to see in the outcome document called the “New Deal for Refugees, Migrants and Societies.” Through this process, organizations can endorse the “New Deal.” In doing so, they will strengthen the power of civil society as a whole, in presenting its own interests to member states. Leading civil society actors will also be hosting a Pre-Summit Strategy Meeting on September 18 to highlight advocacy strategies for the summit and to discuss their long-term visions.

Whether it is funding or action, the work of civil society and private sector organizations will be critical to any long-term sustainability of refugee efforts. Without the increased inclusion of both these partners, and breaking down silos among sectors, any coordinated approach will most certainly fail.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Refugees Deeply.


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