Global refugee summit must not deliver ‘empty words’: Activist refugee

GENEVA (AFP) – This week’s global summit aimed at boosting support for the world’s refugees should look to the displaced themselves for direction, a refugee leader said on Monday.

“We need actions and we don’t just need empty words,” said Mohammed Badran, a 25-year-old Palestinian who in 2013 fled Syria for the Netherlands, where he founded a network of refugee volunteers to help the local community.

He is one of around 60 refugees taking part in the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva this week, where heads of state, government ministers, and business and civil society leaders are gathered to discuss ways to support refugees and host communities.

The forum, which officially opened yesterday, is the first follow-up meeting after countries last December adopted the so-called Global Compact on Refugees.

Badran – who in 2016 was the only refugee to address the UN’s refugee and migrants summit in New York – told AFP he was pleased to see a broader representation of refugees themselves at this week’s event.

But he pointed out that refugees still make up “less than two per cent of the total number of participants at the forum”.

“We haven’t reached that level where we really ensure meaningful refugee participation,” he said, insisting that refugees themselves hold the keys to determining the best way of supporting and integrating displaced people.

At the end of 2018, nearly 26 million people were living outside their home countries as refugees.

Badran lamented that the conversation around them had been hijacked, with political actors painting refugees as a danger and a drain on the societies that host them in a bid to win points.

“Refugees are being used as pawns for political gains,” he said.

To counter the negative narrative, it is important that refugees have the opportunity to get an education, work and contribute to the societies they live in.

Through Badran’s organisation, for instance, some 600 refugees in the Netherlands volunteer to care for disabled children, help do gardening for their elderly neighbours, or provide Arabic classes among other tasks.

As refugees, “We have no money to do projects. We only have refugees as a human resource,” he said, stressing the need to ensure “meaningful refugee participation” at a local, national and global level.