R-SEAT Reflection on ATCR 2022

Reflections Post ATCR: When will there be an AQCR?

This June, the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement (ATCR) were hosted in Geneva by the United States State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), Refugee Council USA, and UNHCR. The consultations consisted of sessions on Community Sponsorship programs, Projected Resettlement Needs, and ATCR reform – among other topics – to meet new and trenchant challenges. A common thread that emerged throughout these sessions was the important discussion about the meaningful participation of refugees in refugee policymaking. Thankfully, this year’s ATCR was attended by over three dozen refugees, more than double the previous high of 17 in 2019.

R-SEAT’s Co-Managing Director Rez Gardi delivered the Refugee Statement, prepared by the Refugee Advisory Group (RAG), of which she is a founding member. Among its many prescriptions was a call for ATCR to transition to a ‘quadripartite’ structure wherein refugees co-chair the consultations alongside states, NGOs, and UNHCR. She continued: “The transition from the “ATCR” to the Annual Quadripartite Consultations on Resettlement – the “AQCR” – would embrace the importance of collaboration and partnerships as the foundations of the consultations, promote transparency, and stimulate the development of new and innovative ways to solve problems and improve resettlement for refugees.”[1] We were happy to see the term ‘AQCR’ echoed throughout the conference, both during panel events and in discussions with different state delegations.

Despite the emerging norm in support of meaningful refugee participation, there is still work to be done to implement the practice substantively across different forums. Whether they be from refugee-led organizations, INGOs, or states, the voices of refugees must be included from all sides. The Refugee Advisory Group worked tirelessly in assisting with the execution of ATCR, leveraging both their lived and professional experiences to shape this year’s panels. Their work deserves recognition, as it has showcased the value of establishing refugees as an essential fourth pillar within ATCR.

The US delegation also deserves recognition for organizing a smooth and constructive event, as well as for deciding to be one of two states to include refugee advisors on their delegation. The delegate for the US was Dauda Sesay, whose exceptional conduct and remarkable contributions along with those of his refugee colleagues reminded other states of the present opportunity to include refugee delegates themselves. The other state, Canada, included refugee delegate Maysoun Darweesh, making this the third year consecutively which the Canadian delegation included a refugee advisor to its state delegation.

The Tripartite Nature of the ATCR

The UNHCR describes the ATCR as “…the most important multilateral forum for UNHCR, States, private sector, academia, NGOs and refugees to discuss and advance resettlement issues of common interest.”[2] For the last 27 years, this conference has created a space for these different actors to come together and advance solutions to ongoing issues with resettlement and third country solutions in a transparent and collaborative manner.

The historical focus of ATCR is on third country resettlement solutions, with this year’s theme being “Remerging and Building Globally.” Refugees themselves continue to act as the first responders to refugee crises and as grassroots service providers for each other, supporting the self-sufficiency of the refugee community. Refugee insights into resettlement are invaluable. Including refugees as equal and meaningful participants in discussions serves to strengthen responses overall. ATCR is no exception.

Refugee Advisory Group

The Refugee Advisory Group (RAG) is a volunteer-based organization that “comprises a group of people with lived experience as refugees including global, regional, and national refugee-led networks as well as independent and local refugee advocates.” RAG developed this year’s statement with input from refugee delegates and advisory committees from around the world and worked tirelessly in the lead up to ATCR in co-designing the agenda. This is essential, as Paragraph 34 from the Global Compact on Refugees in 2018 notes, “responses are most effective when they actively and meaningfully engage those they are intended to protect and assist.”[3] This applies to spaces like the ATCR, where engaging refugees as experts seeks to innovate and create more robust solutions.

2022 marked the second year in which the RAG has assisted in developing the ATCR. Over the previous 25 years, refugees had only been invited to participate at ATCR on an ad hoc basis. Though states such as Australia have provided ample funding to support refugee participation at this event in the past, this extended only to their roles as representatives of their organizations, and not as part of state delegations. The Refugee Statement for the 2022 ATCR can be found here. 

Continuing the Conversation Around Refugee Participation

R-SEAT continued the conversation around the role of refugee participation in a side event titled “The First High Commissioner was a Refugee, why not the next?” Our guest panelists, the Honourable Canadian Ambassador Leslie Norton; Chief of Staff at the Executive Office of the High Commissioner, Shahrzad Tadjbakhsh; Vice President of Humanitarian Partnerships at HIAS, Melonee Douglas; and Senior Advisor at the US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Rosanna Kim, shared their insights on the value of refugee participation from the perspectives of INGOs, UNHCR, and states. The panel focussed on the role of lived experience as an invaluable tool which shapes people’s world views and helps add a dimension of wisdom in decision making spaces.

We are thankful to Megha Kaveri from The New Humanitarian for covering this event  and spreading the word on the value of lived experience. As Ambassador Norton mentioned, “diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice,” a statement which illuminates the realities of the refugee policy making space. People with lived experience continue to exist as proven experts in this space, and integrating their views across sectors, including in the senior leadership of UNHCR, serves to create more robust policy responses.

Looking Forward

Next year’s ATCR Co-Chairs have the opportunity to harness these calls to action. RAG recommended the creation of a permanent “Refugee Co-Chair” which would “represent a significant development in the role of refugees in the governance of one aspect of the refugee regime.”[4] 

What comes next must be a powerful embrace of refugee participation across all sectors, and within the development of the next ATCR. Refugees continue to be disproportionately affected by political instability, COVID-19, ongoing climate change, and growing xenophobic nationalism around the world. As refugee crises grow in scope and severity, it is time to include refugees to all decision-making tables as partners and learn from their experiences. It is time for an AQCR instead.

[1] Refugee Statement

[2] https://www.unhcr.org/annual-tripartite-consultations-resettlement.html

[3] https://www.unhcr.org/5c658aed4.pdf

[4] Refugee Statement