The 2020-2021 Country Operations Planning Meeting of the UNHCR took place at the Claridges Hotel, New Delhi, on 20 February, 2019. It was attended by nearly 50 participants, representing various international organizations and other partners of the UNHCR. AALCO participated in the meeting, and was represented by its Deputy Director, Mrs. Anuradha Bakshi.
At the first session, which was on “The Global Agenda and UNHCR’s Operation in India”, the speaker, Ms. Yasuko Shimizu, UNHCR Chief of Mission firstly broadly spoke about UNHCR’s global agenda, as well as its operation in India. Especially laying emphasis on the point that in spite of many global efforts in this regard many countries continue to close their borders to refugees, and in some cases even criminalize them, with more than half of the total refugees of the world still living in developing countries – she spoke about the most recent initiative having the potential for effective action in the future – which was the adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants in 2016, and later the adoption of the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees.
Regarding refugee related initiatives for Asia, she specifically made a mention of the Geneva Conference on Afghanistan, to show the solidarity of the international community with the Afghan people and the government in their efforts for peace and prosperity; and for the Afghan government to renew its commitment to development and reform. She also spoke about the solidarity approach promoted by the UNHCR, to build solidarity and support for comprehensive solutions for the people of Rakhine State inside and outside Myanmar.
Emphasizing once again on the need for solidarity of all States to provide effective remedies for refugees, she mentioned that the UNHCR is in the process of serious regionalization in this respect, and also that 2020 would be a critical year for UNHCR in that regard.
The following session was on “The UN Sustainable Development Framework in India”, where the speaker, Ms. Radhika Kaul Batra, Chief of Staff, UN Resident Co-ordinator’s Office, spoke briefly on how India has been playing an important role in UNHCR’s refugee-related activities, as reflected in its greater commitment for resolving issues. Talking about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she spoke about how empowering the vulnerable communities, including the refugees and migrants, was an integral part of it.
In the third session on the topic, “Civil Society Contributions to Reaching Inclusion of all in the context of SDGs”, the speaker, Ms. Alka Singh, General Manager, Policy and Advocacy, Save the Children, India, spoke on how challenges faced by children – who made up approximately 40% of the population – indeed was huge in India. The aim, she stated, with which the civil society acted in this sector, was to provide for a legal identity for every single child, and in that context, she mentioned, the status of refugee or displaced children was almost the same in India. West Bengal, importantly, as she noted, had already started to issue identification documents for children. Therefore, emphasizing on the civil society contribution in realizing the 2030 Sustainable Goals, she particularly made the point of including children participation in that regard.
In the fourth and final session on the topic, “Assumptions, Population Projections and Strategic Directions for UNHCR’s Operation in India in 2020-2021”, the speaker, Ms. Grace Shaidi Mugwe, Deputy Chief of Mission, UNHCR, India, spoke in brief, as suggested in the title, of the UNHCR’s planned operation in India in 2020-2021 – as divided into three main segments, namely: assumptions, population projections, and lastly, strategic directions.
Under “assumptions”, she stated firstly, that cross-border movement is likely to continue in the future, including the risk of detention and deportation. The existing population within India would continue to change, whether it is in the capital or other regions. Next, she said that progress could be made and achieved if the necessary action to be taken is agreed upon by all stakeholders, including with respect to the criteria of burden and responsibility sharing.
With regards to “population in India in 2018”, she stated that there’s not been much change recorded in the population in the past year due to the arrival of refugees and other displaced persons.
Coming to the “strategic directions”, she said there were the twin ideals of responding to the refugee situations and protecting the refugees, which included important pointers such as engaging with the government in the protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers across the country, reaching out partnerships to places where persons of concern were located, and strengthening mobilization of resources, in order complement the limited resources at the disposal of the UNHCR. Regarding the strategic directions as such, she stated that the same may include engaging a two-way communication and managing perception, promoting peaceful co-existence through community based interventions, and enhancing cooperation with UN agencies in the wider framework of the sustainable development goals, so as to include refugee protection as a part of national plans.
She further mentioned another important component of the strategic directions – to empower the refugees. This included methods of engaging more and more private sector actors, including universities and media-houses, and using modern technology to improve the refugee access to information and skill development, including education opportunities. Coming to the solutions to various challenges facing refugees and asylum seekers today, she mentioned working with the government to accelerate the naturalization process, and expanding third country settlement opportunities, including through private sponsorship.