In the shadow of genocide: Southern African stakeholders come together for refugees

Multi-stakeholder & partnership approaches

In the shadow of genocide: Southern African stakeholders come together for refugees

20 August 2023
One of the members of Goliath and Goliath speaking to the attendees at thew workshop in Johannesburg

On 14 June, a meeting was held at the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre in South Africa to discuss ideas for new pledges for refugees that could be announced at the Global Refugee Forum 2023 and to take stock of the progress made since the last Forum in 2019. The meeting was attended by representatives of the Governments of Botswana, Comoros, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Namibia, and South Africa – countries covered by UNHCR’s South Africa Multi-Country Office (SAMCO) – as well as refugee-led organisations (RLOs), NGOs, and the private sector.

The location, a thought-provoking museum and educational centre where participants were given a guided tour, provided a poignant setting for the meeting and a strong reminder of the some of the reasons that force people to flee.

The meeting followed a two-day workshop, held on 12-13 June in UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Southern Africa (RBSA), which brought together government representatives, UNHCR country operations, representatives from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and key donors. The workshop resulted in a general agreement that a focus on tackling statelessness in the region is needed, and that work should be done to create a regional pledge on the issue, as well as to address asylum systems.

The SAMCO meeting in Johannesburg was designed to build upon the momentum of the RBSA workshop, focused on the smaller group of countries. Compèred by Goliath and Goliath, two comedians who work to improve integration between refugees and host communities and are supporters of Luquluqu, the meeting heard from different stakeholders about the progress they have made and the challenges they have faced since making pledges in 2019, and their plans for 2023. This included updates and panel discussions with each of the seven States, as well as representatives of LBGTQI+ RLOs, Herbert Smith Freehills Solicitors, World Vision International, among others.

At the workshop in Johannesburg, participants engage in discussions

"It is critical to increase concerted action to improve the lives of refugees and the displaced around the world. And we cannot do this without you. It is a collective and collaborative effort of not only governments and the UN, but also civil society, the private sector, donors, and importantly, refugees themselves." - Monique Ekoko, UNHCR Representative for South Africa

Participants considered potential multi-stakeholder pledges in the areas of sports and child protection, livelihoods, local integration, inclusion and social cohesion, statelessness, legal assistance, local governments, asylum building, and durable solutions. For this year’s Global Refugee Forum, pledging entities are being encouraged to participate in one or more of the multi-stakeholder pledges, which are joint pledges with a large-scale reach that work towards an ambitious common goal. These pledges represent the whole-of-society approach called for by the Global Compact on Refugees, by helping to align material, technical, and financial pledges, with policy commitments from host countries. Participants discussed possible goals for such pledges and how different stakeholder groups might contribute to achieving them.

For example, on sport and child protection, the discussion covered safe access to clubs and sports areas, and the need to ensure that there is a safe way to reach these places, especially for children living in more dangerous areas. The need for proper safeguarding measures was also raised. In the end, the group, made up of representatives from the private sector, international organisations, RLOs, and NGOs, proposed a pledge to increase training of sports coaches in safeguarding and ensuring safe ways for children to travel to clubs. It was felt that with the policy support from States, research and financial assistance where possible from private sector, and technical and policy support from RLOs and NGOs, this would be achievable.

By the end of the day, there was wide support for possible regional pledges in the areas of self-reliance and inclusion, such as policy reforms to give refugees access to employment and healthcare systems, and documentation to refugee and stateless children.

"When communities are already facing hard times, what is remarkable is that people still find it in their hearts to welcome the stranger. And that is why small acts of solidarity matter." - Nelson Muffuh, United Nations Resident Coordinator in South Africa

Over the coming months, the participants will be developing their contributions to these regional pledges and connecting with the leadership of the global multi-stakeholder pledges of interest to them, preparing submissions for when many of them will meet again in Geneva, Switzerland this December.

While the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre cannot be brought to Switzerland for the Forum, the clear message of “never again” and the spirit it entails should be. As one of the Goliaths highlighted, ignorance breeds intolerance, so the reasons for these pledges – to provide refugees and their host communities with the support they deserve and require – must never be forgotten.