Deputy High Commissioner Discusses Refugee Inclusion

by Will Dancer / Staff Reporter

Kelly Clements, UNHCR, sits with Robert Piper to discuss program reform in the UN. Photo courtesy of Clements’ twitter.

Last week, Roosevelt University was visited by United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Kelly Clements, for the university’s annual Distinguished Lecture event. Dubbed “Refugee Inclusion and the Future of Humanitarian Response,” the lecture focused on the importance of education, identity, and integration when regarding the future of the global refugee crisis.

The lecture began with an introduction from Center for New Deal Studies director, Margaret Rung, who spoke briefly about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s history with immigration and the United Nations. Her introduction highlighted Eleanor’s contribution in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights document in 1948 and her visiting of “displaced persons” camps at the end of World War Two. Additionally, Rung noted that we should “embrace the ideals” of the Roosevelts but not necessarily replicate them.

When Clements took the stage, she did a short rundown of recent global initiatives that were looking to help ease refugees into their new host communities. Noting initiatives in Venezuela, Ecuador and Milwaukee to create refugee inclusion by establishing projects and mobilizing resources for integration, Clements points out the hard work some communities are doing. 

“Communities opening up to displaced people occurs all over the world and local authorities play a crucial role in creating new conditions for hosting those refugees,” she said.

While Clements elaborated on the positive roles some few countries have played in being active hosts to refugees, she also stated that it is not enough.

“We cannot absolve national and international actors of their responsibility either. They remain essential to meeting the challenge of this scale… More than 70 million people are now displaced around the world, a substantial increase on numbers a decade ago,” she states.  

Postulating that the few refugee-friendly countries cannot and should not bare the entire bulk of the refugee crisis, Clements argues that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is looking to remodel the system. 

“The future of humanitarian response is built around a more comprehensive model of response. The success of this approach depends upon a broad and diverse coalition of partners and stakeholders at international, national, and local levels,” said Clements. “This paradigm shift is at the core of what is now called ‘The New Deal for Refugees’”.

Elaborating further on the struggles refugees face, Clements made the point that countries around the world should be investing money to improving their education and technology systems, not just for refugees, but for everyone. “Short burst funding” said, has not and will not do refugees any good. 

“Strengthening existing education systems rather than investing in temporary and unpredictable parallel systems for refugees, therefore, benefits children and youth in the entire area. Such an approach is also most sustainable, providing better quality education for everyone,” Clements said. 

Noting that much of the business world exists online today and often requires degrees in secondary education, Clements suggested that allowing refugees exposure and assistance in using the internet and going to school would help them integrate into a society where the job market is predominantly online.

“There are simply limited opportunities for refugees to become part of the digital economy… Globally, refugees are fifty percent less likely than the general population to have an internet enabled phone and the cost of internet for refugees in many refugee hosting areas is often inflated as well,” said Clements. “Access alone does not equal inclusion, though. The priority remains to give refugees the skills to meaningfully participate in the present and the future,” she explains. 

Priscilla Perkins, and English Language and Literature Professor here at Roosevelt who attended the event, expressed a specific interest in the refugee influx coming from Central America. She highlighted the positive work by organizations such as KIVA to help allocate money to refugee causes. 

“Getting financial institutions to play a positive role, instead of saying ‘well these people don’t have IDs, we don’t know who these people are’, I think setting up structures so that refugees can use funds to do the things they need to do is important,” she said.

With the majority of 2020 presidential hopefuls echoing Clements’ mentality about getting global leaders actively involved in helping these refugees, this crisis looks to become even more complicated as the years go by. With more and more people becoming displaced everyday due to violence, climate, and other factors, it is imperative that the world gets a head start on this issue in the upcoming decade. 

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