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July 3, 2012

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Updates from Geneva: UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Touts the Right to Work

by Asylum Access

Photo © UNHCR / S. Hopper

By Stewart Pollock, Legal Intern, Asylum Access.

At Tuesday’s Plenary Session of the UNHCR Annual Consultations with NGOs, UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Alex Aleinikoff spoke on the importance of innovation and self-reliance; highlighting the importance of refugee rights, including the right to work.

“We have reached a situation where a too large portion of UNHCR’s budget is spent on people who have been living in displacement for too long” Aleinikoff stated. Instead, he proposed self-reliance as a theory of change that would enable refugees to support themselves and thereby relieve the burden on international humanitarian organizations.  He advocated for solutions that enable people to take care of themselves, quoting a refugee who said, “We got out of the emergency, now we want to do something with our lives.”

Aleinikoff noted that given the current economic climate, it is essential that UNHCR and NGOs begin directing resources at long-term strategies, rather than continually funnel money into short-term, emergency style relief. Long-term, durable strategies, Aleinikoff noted, will reduce the burden on humanitarian organizations. UNCHR and NGOs ought to direct their funding toward solutions that promote self-reliance.

On innovation, he warned of the danger of continued use of outdated best practices and the potential for stagnation. Instead, he posited the benefits that partnerships and innovation can bring: diverse groups can experiment and report to their colleagues so that the movement can collectively benefit from increased efficiency.

Aleinikoff’s words recognize not only the economic benefits of refugee self sufficiency to UNHCR, but the material and psychological benefits as well.  Although his speech focused on self-reliance, he finished by stating that we need to continue looking into the best practices for enabling self-reliance, specifically mentioning the right to work and micro-credit programs.

We are optimistic to see both UNHCR support for the right to work and its recognition of the economic benefits to UNHCR and to refugees.  Although UNHCR has not committed to pushing for legislation guaranteeing the right to work, these statements by the Deputy High Commissioner can be counted as progress toward the ultimate goal of removing barriers to employment for refugees worldwide.

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