“Refugees as Stakeholders in the International Refugee Regime,” Ashling O’Donnell (2022)

A July 2022 thesis by Ashling Gabrielle O’Donnell of the Geneva Graduate Institute discusses the growing prominence of refugee leaders as “stakeholders in the international refugee regime.” Recounting and contributing to the history of the global norm of meaningful refugee participation in the late 2010s, O’Donnell argues that space has arisen for refugees to participate actively in decisions pertaining to global refugee responses, notwithstanding continued denunciations from refugee leaders and other actors of the continued marginalization of refugees in the regime as a whole.

The 2018 Global Compact for Refugees codified the designation of refugees as “relevant stakeholders” in the international refugee regime, which O’Donnell claims played a significant role in subsequent commitments by UNHCR, civil societies, and states to further the representation of refugees at important meetings germane to refugee policy such as UNHCR’s High-Level Officials Meeting (HLOM). Despite the marked presence of refugee leaders as experts and agenda setters, funding restraints, visa restrictions, and tokenization continue to pose barriers to more meaningful refugee participation.

O’Donnell’s identification of meaningful refugee participation as a “nascent” norm conforms to Milner, Alio, and Gardi’s 2022 recent characterization of the same as “emerging.” Insipid expectations of greater representation continue to manifest as action, but to variable and contentious extents. Refugees continue to successfully acclimate to their roles within the regime, employing its language, gaining fluency with its processes, lobbying diverse actors, and coordinating their activities to promising degrees. Meanwhile, a persistent paradox is the entwinement of collaborative and coercive schemes of refugee governance, at once include and relegate refugees to the periphery.

View the thesis here: