From an interview with Volker Türk, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, on a new refugee compact now in draft:
Why a new international agreement? Does this mean the Refugee Convention is not fit for purpose?
The Refugee Convention focuses on rights of refugees and obligations of states, but it does not deal with international cooperation writ large. And that’s what the global compact seeks to address.
What tangible difference will the compact make in the lives of refugees or the communities that host them?
We would see better education for refugee boys and girls, as well as better access to health services for all refugees, and more livelihood opportunities. We would also see a different way host communities engage with refugees, hopefully moving away from the encampment policies that we still have in too many countries.
The compact would make sure that countries like Lebanon are supported. Not just from a humanitarian perspective but from a development cooperation perspective. And that’s what is new.
Also, we would hopefully get more resettlement places and more ways refugees can move to third countries – such as through family reunification, student scholarships, or humanitarian visas so refugees can travel safely (what we call ‘complementary pathways’).
UNHCR is trying to resettle refugees in other countries, especially the countries that are hosting them. UNRWA is against that.
UNHCR is trying to move refugees away from camps and into normal housing. UNRWA is against that.
UNHCR is trying to reduce the number of refugees worldwide. UNRWA is against taking away refugee status from a single Arab who descended from someone who lived in British Mandate Palestine in 1947 – even if they become citizens of other countries.
The irony of UNHCR talking about how much Lebanon needs help supporting a million Syrian refugees is that at the same time, according to the UN, any of them who are descended from Palestinian Arabs must have a completely separate organization with different rules, different definitions and no hope of resettlement.
It has never been so clear that UNRWA must be dismantled.
Interestingly, the draft compact does not, as far as I can tell, include the exception written in the Refugee Convention to not apply to Palestinian Arabs covered by UNRWA. That exception is probably implied, though, since this compact is meant to complement the Refugee Convention whose rules UNRWA spits upon every day of its existence.
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