Prospects seem grim for the world’s 22 million refugees.
The United States and Europe are slamming doors. Kenya is forcing Somalis in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, to go home — even if it’s not safe to return. Uganda is desperate for funding to feed almost one million Sudanese who have flooded across its border.
The world is aware of the problem. What it lacks is solutions and the consensus to act on them. That’s where Canada comes in. With little media fanfare, the World Refugee Council held its first meeting last week in Geneva. Created by a group of Canadians and chaired by one of the country’s political heavyweights, former cabinet minister and statesman Lloyd Axworthy, the group is on the hunt for innovative solutions to the global refugee crisis.
Though inspired by a United Nations initiative, Canada is running the show outside of the international body.
“There’s only so much that can be achieved within the UN system, and there’s a real appetite for innovative thinking,” says Carleton University professor James Milner, research director for the Council.
Among many ideas, the team will examine new ways to apply technology and engage the private sector to support refugees — like the Elevate Initiative. This program, supported by Canadian businessman Frank Giustra’s Radcliffe Foundation, helps Syrian refugee women in Jordan become entrepreneurs. Women receive business training, and are supplied with basic consumer goods to sell at an affordable price in their communities. Or Radcliffe’s Ascend Initiative, which pulls together such corporate giants as Coca-Cola and Microsoft to take care of needs like housing and social programs for refugees in Greece, thus taking financial pressure off the struggling Greek government.
Programs like these help refugees become self-sufficient, while also making an economic contribution in their adopted homes. In this case, refugees are no longer seen as a burden, but a benefit, explains Council member Jessie Thomson, director of CARE Canada’s Humanitarian Assistance and Emergency Team.
“We have to think about engaging refugees themselves in their own well-being,” adds Paul Heinbecker, former Canadian ambassador to the UN and deputy chair of the Council.
In typical Canadian fashion, diversity aids creativity. The 23-member Council considered gender balance (with 11 women and 12 men), and members from the global north and south. Four Council members have been refugees themselves. Private-sector representatives like Per Heggenes, chief executive of the IKEA Foundation, bring business insight to the table. There’s even a youth representative: Tunisian blogger and activist Aya Chebbi.
Those differing perspectives will create balance as the Council tackles the most pressing issue: the inequality faced by developing nations who bear most of the burden of caring for refugees. While Canada, the U.S. and European countries face tens of thousands of refugee arrivals, countries such as Jordan and Uganda are dealing with millions. Eighty-six per cent of refugees are sheltered by developing countries.
Over the next year, the Council will travel around the world, meeting political and business leaders as well as refugees, with a report set to be released in 2018. Then the Council will use the political clout and international respect of its ‘heavy hitters’ like Axworthy, Heinbecker, and former Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete to build global consensus for its solutions.
We’re proud to see Canadians step up and do what we do best: bring people together to solve the world’s greatest challenges.
This article originally appeared on Post Media News.