UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, together with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society actors in Asia and the Pacific region, on Friday recommitted to enhanced collaboration to work towards sustainable solutions for the forcibly displaced and stateless.
In collaboration with the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) and the Asia Pacific Network of Refugees (APNOR), UNHCR's Regional NGO Consultations for 2023 were held in Bangkok, Thailand on September 14-15.
The in-person and virtual event brought together over 180 participants, representing 161 organizations from 19 countries in Asia and the Pacific to discuss topics around the central theme of "Promoting Inclusion for Sustainable Solutions."
Currently, there are over 7 million refugees or asylum-seekers and 5 million conflict-affected internally displaced people (IDPs) in the region, as recorded at the end of 2022.
Most of those displaced live in increasingly protracted situations in countries where they have found refuge.
"Inclusion is a complex subject, often misinterpreted, but when dissected covers many of the key issues we collectively work on to find local solutions for refugees: education, livelihoods, skills and healthcare," said Indrika Ratwatte, UNHCR Director for Asia and the Pacific.
The consultations provided an opportunity for humanitarian partners in Asia and the Pacific to discuss best practices and approaches on how including displaced populations and stateless people in all aspects of life contributes to resilience and long-lasting solutions for the benefit of the whole society.
"Meaningful inclusion requires a shift in thinking that those forcibly displaced are not beneficiaries of support but are assets,” said Keya Saha Chaudhury, ICVA regional representative for Asia and the Pacific.
“They make important contributions to the communities that they are a part of and by extension require supportive policies and protections to really enable their inclusion," she added.
“Among the specific topics discussed were how UNHCR, NGOs, and community-based organizations can cooperate with and support member States to promote inclusion in national systems.”
"Empowering refugee-led organizations is essential. These organizations possess an intimate understanding of the communities they represent and can serve as valuable intermediaries, bridging communication gaps, and facilitating community-driven solutions,” said Najeeba Wazefadost, APNOR Executive Director.
“Secondly, promoting gender balance is imperative. Member states should actively work to ensure equitable representation of women in decision-making processes at all levels, both within refugee communities and in engagements with government bodies," she also said.
Throughout the Consultations, participants also acknowledged the important role that refugee-led organizations and civil society play in the refugee response.
They also stressed encouraging countries in the region to engage in resettlement and complementary pathways; to necessitate social-economic inclusion as well as the need for predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing.
"We need to think of innovative ways to incorporate the skills that refugees bring to the host communities,” said Hafsar Tameesuddin, APRRN co-secretary general of Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network.
“We need to ensure that refugees have a platform to utilize those skills and be able to contribute to society so that they can go from vulnerable groups to capable communities," she added.
Recommendations from the discussions will be presented at the UNHCR Executive Committee in October 2023 and inform and support the global NGO consultations in Geneva in June 2024.
The first UNHCR-NGO Regional Consultations were held in July 2021 and focused on the social-economic inclusion of refugees in the context of Covid-19.