The fate of Refugees and the UNHCR



The UNHCR is a crucial part of the global humanitarian aid structure. In recent years work has been delegated to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international organizations (IOs) due to their specialization in regions and access to more diverse funding. The UNHCR has developed respect across the globe and enjoys a large amount or independence with in the United Nations structure. This delegation of work strengthens humanitarian projects over all however, Secretary General-elect Antonio Guterres, argues that the UNHCR’s influence needs a binding international legal structure to best serve the refugee community.


Delegation is good. In the global humanitarian marketplace the UNHCR is the coordinator among international, state, and local NGOs and IOs. Though it is often argued that further involvement of local leaders and experts is needed, local expertise is invaluable to such a large and overarching organization such as the UNHCR. James Peck highlights this as a strength of the UN and United States approach to humanitarian issues in his novel, Ideal Illusions. As the overseer of coordination and international authority, the UNHCR is also able to call public attention to regional issues, which media may ignore, heightening global awareness and perhaps mobilizing action.


This type of delegation does not aid anyone when a military force is involved. Both Peck and Pierre Krahenbuhl of the Red Cross argue that pairing with a military force in a crisis blurs the lines between humanitarian, political and humanitarian strategies. This blurring creates bias and allows governments and rebel groups to bar the UNHCR and it’s allies from accessing those in need. The cost of perceived bias in humanitarian work is too great for this approach to be useful. Not only does it limit access to those in need, it also puts aid workers in danger. Neutrality and independence are often seen as humanitarian organization’s greatest strength, through which they can build trust with any actor.


Antonio Guterres, the newly elected UN Secretary General, believes that the UNHCR must prepare for an even bigger blur in the lines surrounding refugee and immigrant crisis. As the numbers of these immigrants grow and more factors influence them, he argues that the UNHCR prepare a greater legal framework to handle these populations. With a legal framework, those who flee climate change, war or any other crisis will not be deported back to the nation they have fled. Such infrastructure will also crackdown on human rights abuses committed such as smuggling and trafficking, and lastly “host country fatigue” will not be such a burden to nations in close proximity to crisis nations. Amnesty International has a similar suggestion and suggests eight recommendations to combat these issues. Each of these suggestions would allow quicker reaction to crisis, which cause refugee populations and allow the UNHCR and its allies to expand its scope and address the internally displaced populations, which have been even more neglected. Such approaches would also prevent deals such at the one recently made between the EU and Turkey. This deal, which the UNHCR had no hand in, is leaving refugees in Greek detention centers or returning them to the horrible condition, which they fled, simply so that the Turkish people can participate in Europe’s Schengen area. This expulsion of refugees is cruel, but it is also a result of a lack of coordination between nations to take on the burden of the refugee population and the “ host country fatigue” that EU nations feel in the wake of their own economic recovery.


Currently, the UNHCR has independence and reach that does not require hegemonic backing to be effective. IOs have this as well, in some ways more so because of the autonomy that they enjoy with out ties to nation states. The UNHCR’s only reliance on UN member countries is the need for them to take in refugees and funding for humanitarian missions. Though with the aid of IOs, funding can be found by different means if needed. In order to make the UNHCR more effective in the future a legal infrastructure must be built and agreed to my member states. Not only that but the UNHCR must continue to utilize its strengths of neutrality, publicity, coalition, and independence. These are strengths that NGOs and other arms of the UN do not enjoy. Going forward, especially with increase migration due to climate change, the UNHCR’s ability to adapt for the future will determine the fate of many populations.


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