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U.S. NGOs to attend UNHCR Dialogue on Protection
December 04, 2009

The comments below are concentrated around the themes of outreach, identification, and partnership; protection of vulnerable groups; and livelihoods. Effective outreach and identification are critical both to provide necessary assistance and also to ensure equitable access to durable solutions, including resettlement—and must therefore take place long before refugees find themselves in protracted situations. These comments reflect initial thinking by some U.S. based NGOs on the areas where we would like UNHCR and governments to concentrate particular attention and resources.


NGO Partnerships in the Identification of Urban Refugees

Experience has shown that NGOs with long-term presence in the communities are uniquely situated to partner with UNHCR and governments. NGOs long-standing relationships with often marginalized refugee communities can help to facilitate registration processes and identify vulnerable refugees. Drawing on NGO resources can help keep down costs and ensure that refugees are not actually harmed in the process of officially identifying themselves in places where they live “illegally” and/or in places of abject poverty. These same NGOs often have equally strong relationships with local communities and organizations, which is essential to promoting community tolerance and acceptance of refugees.

Partnering with National Governments

From the onset national governments hosting large urban populations need to be involved and supported. In urban settings it will be essential whenever possible to provide assistance through national structures and to avoid the creation of parallel institutions and services. This facilitates the buy-in and involvement of the national government and allows national institutions to benefit from opportunities for capacity building and from programs of technical assistance. Serving refugees in host country hospitals and schools may also help build community relations. Funneling resources through national structures may also help streamline scarce resources and reduce waste. Finally, working closely with national governments may provide important advocacy opportunities to encourage policies and laws that better protect urban refugees.

Durable Solutions

The goal of “ensur[ing] that all refugees within a given country and region enjoy similar standards of treatment and have equal access to durable solutions opportunities” is one that NGOs share with UNHCR. In practice numerous barriers exist to accomplishing this goal, including but not limited to difficulties with identification and outreach. Given the considerable potential value of partnership with the NGO community in identification and outreach activities, NGOs look forward to working with UNHCR to increase refugees’ enjoyment of fundamental rights and access to local integration, voluntary repatriation, and resettlement. 

With regard to resettlement, in some contexts UNHCR may find it helpful to look toward NGOs’ capacity for outreach to identify particularly vulnerable cases for referral. In addition we urge UNHCR to use the offer of resettlement as leverage to release refugees from detention and to secure work permits and other rights for greater numbers of refugees who will remain in host countries.


Institutionalizing AGDM to Maximize Protection and Ensure Effective Programming 

Full institutionalization of UNHCR’s Age, Gender and Diversity Mainstreaming (AGDM) initiative is key to successful implementation of the urban policy. As noted in several places in the document, certain populations and groups may be more vulnerable in an urban environment. This makes it all the more critical that AGDM is fully integrated into UNHCR’s urban operations and strongly supported at every level of the organization. UNHCR’s implementing partners should also be held accountable for age, gender and diversity mainstreaming in their programs.

Meeting the Needs of the Urban Refugee Child

One of the most difficult to identify and most vulnerable groups in urban areas is refugee children. At present, too many refugee children are forced by necessity to work in inappropriate and dangerous situations in order to help support their families. In many situations, these children are denied access to schools due to their “illegal” status, lack of necessary documentation, language barriers or inability to pay school fees. Unaccompanied and separated children are in an even more precarious situation, often subsisting as “street children” and subject to many forms of exploitation. 

In implementing the new urban policies, UNHCR should work closely with national and international child welfare organizations to ensure refugee children living in urban environments are identified and registered so as to ensure their protection, access to basic care and assistance, and education. Whenever the custody or welfare of the child is in question, immediate access to a Best Interest Determination procedure should be arranged, so as to guarantee both short term and long term protection and to consider options for a durable solution.

Identifying, Protecting and Serving Refugees with Disabilities

The urban policy notes in several places the challenges of identifying, registering and serving refugees in urban areas. This is particularly true for refugees with disabilities. Many are confined to their homes due to lack of mobility and social attitudes, and thus are even more likely to be “hidden” from public view and even less likely to be identified, registered, or integrated into mainstream or specialized services. To ensure the protection of urban refugees with disabilities, it will be important to provide disability awareness training to all data collection officers, protection officers, community service officers and partner organizations conducting commun

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