POST TIME: 23 September, 2021 07:23:29 PM
Why does UNHCR face difficulty to tackle refugee problem
The main concern nowadays has been with protracted refugees who are living in dangerous and unsafe camps for a long time, estimated at about 17 years per. Sometimes, refugees return before the situation becomes normal in their country of origin.
Muhammad Estiak Hussain

Why does UNHCR face difficulty to tackle refugee problem

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is a global organization that works to save the lives of refugees, forcibly displaced people, and stateless individuals, as well as to preserve their rights. The legal basis of UNHCR is based on the Statute of UNHCR which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 1950 and 1951 Refugee Convention. But there are challenges which are seriously hampering the works of UNHCR.

Complexities in defining refugees

The UNHCR defines refugee as a person who has fled their country because of a well-founded fear of persecution for the reasons of race, religion, nationality or political opinion and is now outside the country of his nationality, unable or unwilling to take advantage of that country's protection for reasons other than personal convenience.

Scholars point out various limitations of this definition of 1951 Convention. Firstly, this definition is mainly Europe centric. The criteria of refugees given in this definition cannot fulfil the criteria of refugees all over the world. Secondly, a person has to cross an international border to be considered as a refugee. But they cannot always cross an international border for many reasons. Thirdly, the definition regards refugees as individuals not as groups. But refugees are a group of people who find shelter for their habitation. Fourthly, the definition emphasizes political persecutions. But political persecution is not the only factor of the refugee crisis. And finally, this definition does not mention anything specifically about protecting women and children rights, although they are more vulnerable than others.

Problems of durable solutions

As part of its core mandate, UNHCR offers three durable solutions for refugees: voluntary repatriation, local integration, and resettlement. Voluntary repatriation refers to refugees returning to their countries of origin. The main challenge of repatriation for UNHCR is waiting for a long time until the end of conflict. During this prolonged period, refugees are in most cases deprived of basic human rights, do not meet basic needs and have a lack of social and educational opportunities. The main concern nowadays has been with protracted refugees who are living in dangerous and unsafe camps for a long time, estimated at about 17 years per. Sometimes, refugees return before the situation becomes normal in their country of origin.

Local integration has been a challenging solution as states perceive refugees as a burden to the local economy and threat to national homogeneity. UNHCR has conceived the idea of Development through Local Integration (DLI) to facilitate permanent integration through providing integrated community development assistance. The growing reluctance of northern states to provide sufficient assistance has been a challenge for UNHCR to implement DLI and to encourage local integration in southern states.

Lastly, the transfer of refugees from one country to another that has agreed to accept them and eventually offer them permanent residence is known as resettlement. UNHCR conceived the idea of the “strategic use of resettlement”. This idea develops a notion that resettlement representing tangible mechanisms can be used as a state strategy to make friendship and good relationships by showing solidarity with a country of first asylum.

Funding dilemmas in refugees’ assistance

UNHCR is dependent on funding from donor countries and agencies to run. It has no internal income generating options but to depend on voluntary contributions of its donors. Donors wish to see how their funding will be spent to make the life better for refugees. Sometimes, the usage of funds is subject to several restrictions and requirements for particular countries. The major donor countries seem to support those which are geographically or politically close to them. For example, African refugees get much less support from South-east Europe. African great lakes refugees get one tenth of total financial assistance according to Kosovar refugees in Albania. Sometimes donors opt to unilateral and bilateral funding policies to control over specific outcomes. The earmarking process of particular countries is absolutistic than their voluntary contribution. Also for domestic pressure specific governments have to respond to specific refugee issues.

Restrictive policies from countries

Restrictive policies on refugees from various countries, especially the developed countries, seriously hampers the UNHCR mandate of refugee protection. If countries are not willing to cooperate with UNHCR, it cannot force them. Countries like Australia, the United States, China follow seriously restrictive border policy for refugees. Australia has a very bad relationship with Indonesia because of the refugee problem. They accused Indonesia for giving permission to refugee carrying boats to sail through their water route and reach Australian border. The United States also put serious border control policy, especially after the election of President Donald Trump. Restrictive policies by developed countries also encourage other under-developed countries to pursue restrictive policies. While industrialised countries are complaining about refugees, developing countries are increasingly disillusioned with the absence of effective burden sharing.

Mixed migration

Mixed migration refers to the movement of people for a variety of different reasons.These people have often been forced to leave their homeland by war or persecution, or are on the move to find a better life. Mixed migration is not safe. What is more, it can embrace the integrity of the asylum system and fuel public hostility to refugees, regardless of their legal status. It can also force countries to impose restrictive border controls which may violate the right of free movement of its citizens and especially refugees’ right to seek international protection.

UNHCR is working for refugees from the cold war period. But the situation becomes harder as the time goes. It had a great contribution in Bangladeshi refugee crisis in India of 1971 by facilitating India with financial support and aid. Again it is still working for Rohingya refugees with a number of NGOs to help Bangladesh with facilities to face the current refugee problem. But in order to be more effective in solving refugee problems and fulfillment of its mandates, UNHCR needs to counter these challenges with appropriate measures.

The writer is a student, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka