Ahead of 5th Formal Consultation on the Global Compact on Refugees, a side event was held at United Nations in Geneva with the participation of refugee-led and other civil society organizations as well as Marmara Municipalities Union representing the local governments in host countries.

On 11 June 2018, a side event titled “Shared Responsibility, Shared Humanity - Putting the Voices of Refugees and Host Communities at the Center of Policymaking: Perspectives from the International Refugee Congress” was held at United Nations (UN) in Geneva. The side event was chaired by Volker Türk, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection. “A couple of years ago, we wouldn’t have had an event like this.” said Volker Turk, reflecting on progress made in increasing refugee participation at the side event.

“Refugee participation richens us in significant ways”
Ambassador Naci Koru, Permanent Representative of Turkey to the UN Office in Geneva conveyed his welcome remarks and added “Turkey hosts over 4 million refugees of which 3,5 million is Syrian. The responsibility should not be solely on the shoulders of hosting countries. There is indeed a need for a real change for creating a more balanced international protection system.” Following his speech Ambassador Carl Hallergard, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to the UN Office in Geneva referred to the significant efforts Turkey is making in hosting a large number of refugees and asserted “How can we talk about refugees without hearing the voices of the refugees themselves? This is the aim of this meeting. Refugee participation richens us in significant ways.”

What happened at the International Refugee Congress?
Metin Çorabatır, President of Research Centre on Asylum and Migration (IGAM) briefly mentioned the background of the International Refugee Congress which had been convened on 10-11 May 2018 in Istanbul, bringing together 156 participants, representing 98 refugee-led and other civil society organizations from 29 countries as well as Marmara Municipalities Union. Then Meryem Aslan, Oxfam Country Director of Turkey conveyed key messages of the Congress which had resulted in a unanimous call for all actors to put the participation of refugees and host communities at the centre of their policy and programme actions, and to work together in unity, collaboration and coordination. She emphasized that all policy papers of the Congress were produced mainly by host community and refugee-led organizations.

After the introductory speeches, representatives of refugee-led and host community organizations presented some of the concrete propositions arising from the Congress on how to enhance the participation and representation of refugees and the communities and countries that host them.

“Tomorrow the sun will shine, and I love tomorrows...”
Ravda Nur Cuma from Ravda Nur Association in Turkey discussed the access of refugees to services. Reminding attendees the need for optimism for the future, she remarked “Tomorrow the sun will shine, and I love tomorrows...” Fadi Hallisso from Basmeh and Zeitooneh in Lebanon emphasized that urgency of humanitarian response must not trump participation of affected communities and added “We need an end to critical decisions taken about refugees without consulting them.”

Bassam Al-Kuwatli, Managing Director of RMTeam International in Turkey conveyed the outcomes of the Congress on legal rights and asylum and said “Voice of refugees can be heard by promoting refugee-led organizations.” Didem Rastgeldi Demircan from the Foundation for the Support of Women’s Work in Turkey presented the propositions from the Congress on the priority area of women and displacement. Lastly, Shaza Al-Rihawi from Network of Refugee Voices in Germany addressed representation and participation of refugees and alleged “We need meaningful participation, not a show-off. No one knows better than refugees themselves what their problems are and what they need.”

“Municipalities shoulder a great level of responsibility”
Following the panel discussions, Burcuhan Şener, Director of Marmara Municipalities Union Migration Policy Center (MAGA) asserted that local governments do already take part in almost all priority areas of the communiqué. “In terms of responsibility sharing, in the first place, municipalities shoulder a great level of responsibility, together with other stakeholders. We have seen some examples that municipalities create their own database which is open not only to themselves but also the NGOs and other bodies which operate within their municipal borders. This is an enormous example of sustainable and multi-stakeholder manner of work.” said Şener.

Pointing out the wide range of services to refugees alongside the host communities, she called the attention of the audience to the very fact that municipalities have been already working in the field together with the other stakeholders. Şener added “Municipalities are one of the closest institutions to the refugees and host communities. So they should not be omitted and should be included as part of the discussion not as the substitute of refugee-led organizations, NGOs and other stakeholders but as another important actor of the process. Because this multi-stakeholder approach is necessary for us to better understand the existing situation, to prevent repeating actions, waste of time and resources and highly vital for future projections with the perspectives and experiences of all who are in the field.”

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