Reflections on the Global Refugee Forum and the Road Ahead in 2024

By USCRI January 3, 2024

The Global Refugee Forum drew to a close last month in Geneva, Switzerland.

But the work toward fulfilling its lofty aspirations must only be beginning.

At the GRF, the world’s largest gathering on refugee and displacement policy, more than $2.2 billion in financial commitments were pledged to support refugees and refugee-hosting communities around the world.

Since pledges are non-binding commitments, the work lays ahead to ensure the momentum, connections, and platitudes made in Geneva deliver for refugee and refugee-hosting populations across the globe.

Here are some reflections on the GRF from the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), which sent a small delegation to Geneva.


Refugee Inclusion: More Than a Tagline


More than 300 refugee delegates attended the 2023 GRF, more than four times the total in 2019 at the first GRF.

This spike in refugee participation was apparent—refugees and others who have experienced forced displacement were often featured as panelists in high-level side events.

“Nothing about us without us” is a common mantra among groups who argue that decision- and policymaking must include the people most affected by the decisions and policies themselves. For too long, refugees have not had such a seat at the table.

This emphasis on refugee inclusion is refreshing. It recognizes refugees are more than passive recipients of protection— they are active agents of change.

However, refugee inclusion and participation must be more than tokenistic, ‘check-the-box’ exercises. They must be meaningful and substantive— which only comes through consistent consulting and follow-through.


Actions Back Home Matter


Hours before the GRF began, news broke in the United States that the Biden administration was reportedly open to instituting a new border authority to expel migrants without asylum screenings—something akin to the expulsions conducted under the Title 42 public health order that expired in May 2023.

This latest development in supplemental negotiations between the U.S. Congress and the White House created an odd juxtaposition with the convening of the GRF across the Atlantic. Amid all the pledges and platitudes in Geneva from U.S. representatives about protecting refugees, the United States was considering a return to the same policies that harmed thousands of asylum seekers seeking protection during the previous administration.


“In a world of finite resources and bandwidth, some crises will inevitably receive less donor, diplomatic, and media attention than others— which is an application of ‘selective humanity’ simply unfit for the 21st century.


The United States was hardly alone. Alongside its government’s pledges in Geneva, the United Kingdom revived plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda through emergency legislation.

This gulf between pledges and actions matters. It matters outside of the U.S. and U.K. asylum systems, as well.

In the days after the GRF, Pakistan’s prime minister defended his country’s mass deportation and repatriation campaign against Afghan refugees in the British press, citing the U.K.’s Rwanda plan and “the situation in the U.S.” as evidence that “the West is no stranger to painful judgements that must be made in managing undocumented foreigners.”

This justification ought to give pause to American and British policymakers hell-bent on externalizing their asylum systems to third countries, which only shirks their states’ responsibilities under international law and puts vulnerable people at undue risk.


U.S. Support for Ukrainians Lags Behind


In early 2022, the United States and European Union both adopted temporary protection schemes to offer refuge to Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion. Both policies— the EU’s Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) and the United States’ Uniting for Ukraine two-year parole-sponsorship program— were created under the idea that most arriving Ukrainians would return to Ukraine after the war.

With the war now about to enter its third year, authorities have needed to extend the temporary nature of these schemes. The European Council extended the TPD until at least March 2025— and did so in September 2023 with more than five months before its expected expiration. While the United States extended and redesignated Temporary Protected Status for Ukraine in August, a re-parole process for Ukrainians has yet to be announced— and parole periods first granted to Ukrainians in early 2022 begin expiring in a matter of weeks.

At the GRF, officials and representatives from Poland, Moldova, and other European countries also discussed the robust support that Ukrainian arrivals receive in their communities. This support now stands in stark contrast to the situation greeting newly arriving Ukrainians in the United States, who since October 1 have lost eligibility for resettlement services and federal mainstream benefits based on their parole entry.


Ever-higher Displacement Demands More Systemic Approaches


Earlier in 2023, the number of forcibly displaced persons worldwide stood at 114 million people— a staggering number with no modern precedent.

By the end of the GRF, a new number was beginning to come into focus: 130 million. That’s the number of people the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) expects to be forcibly displaced or stateless by the end of 2024, according to the agency’s 2024 Global Appeal.

The GRF gave a platform to refugee crises that, at times, are overlooked, such as the Rohingya response in eastern Bangladesh or the displacement crisis in the Central African Republic.

But the sheer scale of ever-increasing displacement trends will continue to exacerbate how some crises become “forgotten.” In a world of finite resources and bandwidth, some crises will inevitably receive less donor, diplomatic, and media attention than others— which is an application of ‘selective humanity’ simply unfit for the 21st century.

The Syrian refugee crisis was supposed to represent a “tipping point” in the international community on refugee policy— resulting in the New York Declaration for Migrants and Refugees in 2016, the Global Compact on Refugees in 2018, and Global Refugee Forums every four years.

In the aftermath of this GRF, we should ask ourselves: Are we approaching a new tipping point? Should we be?

More systemic changes—to how refugee-hosting responsibilities are shared across countries, to who can access protection, to how the climate crisis is addressed, to how the entire refugee protection system operates, and other big-picture considerations—are needed.

Otherwise, it’s hard to imagine how the world can avoid passing more grim milestones by the next GRF in 2027.


USCRI, founded in 1911, is a non-governmental, not-for-profit international organization committed to working on behalf of refugees and immigrants and their transition to a dignified life.


For inquiries, please contact: policy@uscrimail.org



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