For far too long, refugee-serving agencies have talked about the need for refugees themselves to participate meaningfully in decisions that affect their lives. But there has always been a gap between the rhetoric and the practice. Global meetings have tended to be dominated by policy-makers and representatives talking about refugees and designing programs without the active participation of people with lived displacement experience. In recent years refugee-led organizations have become more outspoken in their demands to be included in policy-making process. ‘Nothing about us without us’ as the mantra goes. And there have been small steps to include refugees and others with lived experiences of forced displacement in United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other meetings. But much more needs to be done. Academics have written about the emerging norm of meaningful refugee participation in the refugee regime and who knows? Including more refugees in decision-making may end up bringing about much-needed changes in the international refugee system.
Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of International Migration is working with Refugee Congress and Refugee Council USA to turn this into a reality. Refugee Congress, established in 2011, brings together former refugees, asylum-seekers and others with lived displacement experience in all 50 states to advocate on behalf of refugees in the US. Now the US government has agreed to include refugee advisors in its official delegations to UNHCR meetings in Geneva and elsewhere.
A co-design committee has been working to oversee the establish of a US Refugee Advisory Board to select, prepare and advise advisors to participate in policy-making processes. It’s one thing to have refugees selected to participate in UN meetings – and another to make sure that they’re prepared to participate fully in those meetings. This is where ISIM comes in – we are working with the co-design committee made up mainly of former refugees and those with lived displacement experience to design a training program for the advisors. The program will include a bit of background on international refugee law, international actors and current issues but also delve into issues such as international refugee jargon, how to design an effective advocacy strategy, and where and when to make your points. After the intensive one-week course (scheduled from 29 August-2 September), we’ll evaluate the results and develop a course for people with lived displacement experience to meaningfully participate in policy-making processes.
These training programs are being developed in collaboration with other refugee-led initiatives, such as R-SEAT – Refugees Seeking Equal Access at the Table and will build on Guidelines developed by the Global Refugee-Led Network.
Applications for Refugee Advisors are open until 1 July 2022.