The Promise and Potential of the Global Compact on Refugees

Volker Turk

International Journal of Refugee Law, 2019


Volker Turk reflects on the Global Compact on Refugees and its potential to shape collective approaches to refugee situations. He describes the context for the formulation of the Refugee Compact (increasing numbers of forced displacement, the majority hosted in developing countries, containment and externalization of asylum processing by some countries), the scope and objectives of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework and its implementation so far, initiatives of the World Bank to support refugees and their host communities, as well as the formulation of the Refugee Compact, its key elements, and its relationship to the Migration Compact. Key messages:

  • The answer to the high number of refugees can be found in a more robust, comprehensive, and good-faith application of the tenets of protection. This requires that the international refugee protection system be better capacitated to absorb the growing pressures
  • The success of the Refugee Compact depends upon the engagement of a wide range of actors. Currently 93 per cent of UNHCR’s funding is provided by just 10 countries. Partnerships are pivotal, e.g. development actors can complement humanitarian assistance by supporting host communities, and the private sector can introduce initiatives to stimulate job creation and economic growth benefiting refugees and their hosts.
  • New arrangements in the Refugee Compact represent the best that can be achieved in a document that aims to articulate commitments for everyone, but which is at the same time voluntary and legally non-binding. While the text does not meet all the ambitions of everyone, it does provide a means to achieve a more sustainable response to displacement and to improve the lives of refugees and their host countries and communities.
  • The fact that the resolution on the Refugee Compact was put to a vote in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly showed how seriously States take the responsibilities set out in the Compact and the import they attribute to it, as well as how such a non-binding text could nonetheless influence State behavior.