Grading the world on how it treats refugees

One year ago, 181 nations gathered in Marrakech to sign the Global Refugee Compact, hailed at the time as a historic framework for a more equitable way for the world to support refugees. This week, world leaders are gathering in Geneva for the Global Refugee Forum to assess progress made since the signing.

The reality is that the gap between the needs of refugees and the support for them continues to grow. The number of refugees worldwide has grown to nearly 26 million, reflecting new waves of displacement from places like Venezuela, which have added to the toll of longer-term conflicts from Afghanistan to Syria and South Sudan.

Some countries have stepped up. Ethiopia's new Refugee Proclamation facilitates greater freedom of movement and access to school and work. Colombia is seeking to expand work opportunities for people fleeing the meltdown in Venezuela. Uganda leads as an example of the positive benefits of integrating refugees into economy and society. And Germany's efforts in processing and integrating asylum seekers are showing policy success alongside political strain.

But for every country stepping forward, more are stepping back.

In 2016, 37 countries committed to resettle refugees; today, just 25 have active resettlement programs. Once a global leader, the US. has retreated from its commitment to resettle refugees -- cutting its refugee settlement ceiling from a historic average of 95,000 (by the International Rescue Committee's calculation) to just 18,000 this year -- and is seeking to restrict asylum rights. EU leaders' inability to reach agreement on responsibility sharing condemns more than 40,000 refugees to living in limbo on the Greek islands.

Even when refugees are offered safety, there are still too many barriers to rebuilding their lives, particularly with jobs. Refugee women are hit hardest. Only two of the 10 highest refugee-hosting countries mandate equal pay for work of equal value, and in seven of those countries, there are restrictions on women working in entire industries.

This is a tragic waste of potential: We have calculated that refugee women could contribute up to $1.4 trillion to annual global GDP if employment and wage gaps were closed.

As conflicts become more protracted, millions of displaced children are losing the lifeline of education. NGOs like the International Rescue Committee have stepped up to fill the void with initiatives like our new $100 million LEGO Foundation play-based learning partnership, but a whole generation of refugee children remain at risk.

Without basic protections, women and girls can't work or get the education they need to rebuild their futures, but just 0.12% of humanitarian assistance in 2016-2018 went to gender-based violence responses.

The Global Compact represents an important -- voluntary -- promise to support host countries and refugees. But promises cannot become excuses for avoiding practical action that actually protects and improves lives. For the aspirations of the Global Compact to be realized, four things need to happen before the next forum.

First, every host country must support refugees into work and education -- the only roads to self-reliance. The EU should commit to an action plan that removes barriers to refugees, especially women, working. Donors must immediately triple their gender-based violence funding so women and girls can begin to work and learn safely. And we need to track our progress. All countries should include refugees in their sustainable development goal plans and reporting.

Second, every developing country that lets refugees work and get an education should get real long-term financing from the World Bank and others. We must move beyond short-term humanitarian funding cycles, otherwise our progress will wane with each one.

Third, despite the tremendous need, education accounts for roughly 3% of all funding in emergencies. The European Commission has led the way by committing to 10% -- all others should follow.

Last, resettlement needs to be rescued from the US retreat. The European Commission should collectively pledge at least 30,000 places, a pledge expected to be made at the Forum. This is very welcome, but far from enough. We need political will to ensure these pledges translate into places. And it must be matched by a commitment to scale up to 250,000 by 2025, a perfectly fair and achievable target.

There's still a chance to make the step-change in global responsibility sharing the Global Compact promised. But it will take more than words.

David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, is a former foreign secretary of the United Kingdom. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

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