Refugees at home: Dispatch from the Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union
Martin Chungong has been a passionate and committed supporter of refugees since he was elected Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in 2014. However, opening his home – and life – to two 20-year-old medical students who were forced to abandon their studies and flee their country, has given him new insight. "My experience with the Ukraine conflict has given me first-hand experience of what refugees go through in terms of trauma brought about by conflict, separation from families, uncertainty about the future, and disruptions in otherwise normal life patterns." Martin Chungong said of his experience in Geneva.
Moved by the plight of the young refugees, Martin explains how the experience has deepened his commitment to ensuring that parliaments worldwide increase their efforts to address the root causes of conflict so that people do not need to become refugees in the first place. "This experience has strengthened my resolve to bring the weight of the IPU and parliaments to the efforts to alleviate the suffering of refugees and build a more peaceful and stable world to minimise the number of refugees and tackle the root causes of forced displacement."
UNHCR and the IPU have been working together to ensure parliamentarians at the national and regional levels have access to accurate information about asylum systems and the issues affecting refugees, internally displaced and stateless people. The IPU encourages and supports its Member Parliaments to use their oversight, legislative, budgetary, and opinion-shaper functions to build political support towards refugees and host communities, translate the Refugee and Statelessness Conventions into national legislation and build conducive environments and conditions for the safety and respect of the rights of those that are fleeing persecution. The IPU also supports the parliamentary community in contributing to peacebuilding and conflict resolution processes. UNHCR and the IPU have a Memorandum of Understanding, which is part of the pledge made by the IPU at the Global Refugee Forum (GRF) in December 2019, to support the Global Compact on Refugees and the #IBelong campaign to end statelessness.
Martin Chungong's family are among a growing number of people in Switzerland who are hosting refugees in their homes for the first time. Martin says: "We welcomed them to our home, ensuring they felt secure and providing the love they deserved. Yet we could see trauma in their eyes. I cannot but think it could have been worse for these two, as must surely be the case with thousands of their fellow country people. Even though the two are doing well, there will always be lingering concerns about what life could have been without the conflict."
The Swiss government has provided people fleeing the war in Ukraine temporary 'S’ permits to live and immediately be able to work in Switzerland. The Swiss Refugee Council (SRC) coordinates placing refugees in private homes and applies matching criteria such as geographical preferences, the need to accommodate pets, and standard languages. The SRC has set up a hotline for refugees and their host families.
Martin says his experience has resulted in a renewed commitment to speak out against discrimination and stereotypes - to ensure that those forced to flee their homes and seek refuge are welcomed, protected and cared for. And, most importantly, that their voices are heard.
The IPU will continue in its efforts to mobilise and support parliaments in making the crucial difference. Behind the growing numbers are women and men, girls and boys, with their stories, hopes and dreams.