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Addressing the displacement crisis
Our world today is experiencing a humanitarian crisis of historic proportions. More people than ever – over 125 million – are in need of emergency aid. Over 60 million people, more than half of them children, worldwide have fled their homes as a result of conflict and persecution, many of them trapped for decades without any possibility to learn, work and build a future. The crisis has touched almost every region of the globe, including Europe. But even though Europe has recently seen a staggering increase of asylum-seekers, developing countries are still host to over eight in ten of the world´s refugees.
The international community needs to step up in order to face these challenges. That is why next week's ministerial meeting, the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and State Building in Stockholm, and the first ever World Humanitarian Summit coming up in May in Istanbul are extremely important as they offer opportunities for political leadership and action.
While receiving countries and communities struggle to shelter the world´s forcibly displaced, those who help often do not have the means to do so. Humanitarian organisations like UNHCR have been warning for years that funding is insufficient to cover the rapidly growing needs. With humanitarian appeals regularly underfunded by some 50 per cent, not only do millions of people go without some of the most basic human necessities, but they also are not given the tools they need to rebuild their lives and become self-reliant. To break this vicious cycle, several things are needed.
- Most importantly, peace. We must stop the violent conflicts that are pushing tens of thousands of people to flee every single day, and prevent new ones from breaking out. Fifteen conflicts have erupted or reignited in the last five years alone, displacing millions of people. Almost half of all peace agreements in the world fail within five years. We need to build stronger partnerships, coordinate better and target development aid more efficient. During the Stockholm meeting, gathering leaders from conflict affected countries as well as donors, civil society and UN agencies, participants will agree on a "new deal for peace" to more effectively prevent armed conflict and extinguish the flames of conflict before they threaten the social, economic and political fabric of societies.
- Unearmarked funding. There is also an urgent need for more, more flexible and more predictable, resources. The world is unpredictable in so many ways that humanitarian funding should not be. Unearmarked support enhances efficiency, lowers administrative costs and allows humanitarian organisations to be flexible and quickly respond to emergencies. Sweden is UNHCR´s largest donor of unearmarked support, increasing its core contribution to 715 million SEK this year. This flexible funding has been key in enabling a rapid response to recent displacement crises in Central African Republic, South Sudan, northern Iraq, Ukraine and Nigeria. But overall, an increasing share of international humanitarian funding is tied to specific activities – only 15 per cent of UNHCR´s total funding last year was unearmarked. Restricting the use of humanitarian funding risks slowing down responses, politicising aid and hitting people affected by forgotten crises the hardest. A High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing convened recently by the UN Secretary-General recommended that donors increase the share of unearmarked funding to 30 per cent of their contributions in line with the principles of Good Humanitarian Donorship. We fully support this proposal and hope others will as well.
- Opportunities for jobs and education. In crisis after crisis, refugees get stuck in camps for decades. Humanitarian aid has long stopped being a short-term measure, with many of the world's refugee situations now lasting on average some 20 years. Millions of displaced and stateless children risk growing up as a lost generation, with no chance to get an education, jobs or citizenship. This is not only unjust, unsustainable and an enormous loss to themselves and their societies, it also risks generating new tensions and displacement, and increases young people´s vulnerability for exploitation, including by extremist groups. Education and access to livelihoods are crucial elements of conflict prevention, and should be a central focus of more closely interlinked humanitarian and development programmes. In Syria and elsewhere, Sweden and UNHCR are looking into new strategies to create such opportunities.
- Include women and local voices. National and local actors are often the first responders to humanitarian emergencies, and they are also the last to leave. To build stronger partnerships with these actors is key to find lasting solutions to protracted refugee crises and to make refugees and host communities more resilient and less dependent on aid. Women and their representatives are particularly important in this regard, but too often their voices go unheard. Women face specific risks, often carry the bulk of daily responsibilities, and can play an important mediating role in communities. Their knowledge and experiences are essential to delivering efficient aid and building lasting peace.
As we prepare for the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul next month, many of these issues will be put on the agenda, in a common effort to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian action for the benefit of the world's most vulnerable people. Changing the way things are done is never quick or easy. It requires innovative thinking, political commitment, adequate resources and genuine cooperation. But it is possible, as we saw last December when – in the face of increasing concern over the acceleration of global warming – world leaders agreed to sign the Paris climate deal. Today's humanitarian crisis is no less worrying, and its effects are both immediate and long-term. Addressing it will need a similar level of resolve and cooperative spirit, based on the recognition that in today's globalized world, human suffering, although caused by conflicts raging far away, ends up affecting us all.
Isabella Lövin is the Minister for International Development Cooperation of Sweden.
Filippo Grandi is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.