BEIRUT: The UNHCR’s international protection chief expressed hope in his organization's ability to resettle one million refugees over the next ten years while calling for the plight of refugees to be seen within a humanist prism.
In a conversation at the American University of Beirut, Volker Türk, the Assistant High Commissioner for UNHCR, called on all those involved to ensure that the issue does not get mired in politics and instead engage in an empathic and humane dialogue.
"Those who are engaged with refugees and listen to their stories know their struggles," he said.
The discussion revolved around the UN's Global Compact on Refugees, which sets a framework for host countries to get the support they need and enable refugees to lead productive lives.
"The GCR puts forward that no country can do it on its own and it does require international support," he said.
The GCR, a 27 page voluntary and none binding document, was affirmed on December 17, 2018, by the United Nations General Assembly. It is the product of two years of extensive consultations between member states, international organizations, refugees, civil society, the private sector, and leading experts.
At its core, the GCR seeks to accomplish four objectives: ease the pressures on host countries, enhance refugee self-reliance, expand access to third-country solutions and support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity.
This is accomplished by propping up the international response to large movements of refugees and protracted refugee situations and setting a blueprint for equitable responsibility-sharing.
"It deals with the immediate emergency concerns and the humanitarian development side of things, including infrastructure and health," Türk said, adding that despite the document being none binding, "it does add a layer of peer pressure in the hope of getting countries to the fore and contribute."
Refugee crises have been on the rise since 2011, with 65.6 million individuals forcibly displaced worldwide because of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations as of 2017.
Given that the international limelight is quick to fade once a new crisis erupts, Türk credits the GRC for its ability to guarantee that "sustained attention is paid to the refugee situation, including the one in Lebanon."
Lebanon is currently hosting some one million Syrian refugees, who flooded in following the outbreak of the bloody neighboring civil war, now in its 8th year.
The small Mediterranean country is the largest host of refugees per capita, as it also hosts some 450,000 Palestinian refugees according to UNRWA, scattered across 12 camps. This has taken a toll on its already dire infrastructure and contributing to its economic downfall.
A fragmented political response and internal bickering have slowed the repatriation effort, while the Syrian government's adoption of a policy of dissuasion has also struck fear in those wishing to return.
Concerns have arisen over a certain number of the Syrian government's policies, including legislation that allows the government to claim abandoned property, fear of conscription in the military, and the withholding of national identity cards.
This, Dr. Tarek Mitri, a policy professor at the university, said could be attributed to the demographic engineering being undertaken by the Syrian regime.
Yet Türk, who visited Syria and held discussions with Syrian authorities prior to his trip to Beirut, maintained that cooperation with the regime is ongoing while support is being offered to those who make their way back.
"We discussed the return issues, including that of civil documents and sensed that they do want to work with us on these issues," he said.
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