World leaders committed to help refugees, but did they actually deliver?

World leaders committed to help refugees, but did they actually deliver?

One year ago, leaders from around the world came together on an issue that most everyone could get behind: helping refugees. Fifty countries and companies made a variety of pledges at President Obama’s White House Leaders’ Summit, and 193 countries signed the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants at the UN. Commitments included increased funding from wealthy countries, better access to education and jobs, and greater respect of refugees’ rights.

ONE pushed hard to support refugee education—getting all out-of-school refugee children back into a classroom, and ensuring no child was out of school for more than 30 days. 190,026 of you stepped up to sign our Education for Refugees petition. And our voices were heard: At the Leaders’ Summit last year, 17 refugee-hosting countries and four major donor countries pledged to help one million more refugees attend school.

A promotional image from ONE's 2016 Education for Refugees campaign.

A promotional image from ONE’s 2016 Education for Refugees campaign.

Now, a year later, we’re looking at whether those promises have been met.

For starters, refugees and migrants aren’t at the front of the UN General Assembly agenda this year, but they certainly haven’t gone away. As we show in MOVEMENT, our platform for exploring the needs and funding of displaced people around the world, more than 65.6 million people remain forced from their homes. They include 22.5 million refugees who have crossed international borders, 6.4 million of whom are school-age. 3.5 million of those children received no schooling last year.

First, some good news. According to UNHCR, 61% of refugee children are now in primary school, up from 50% the year prior. Investment by Syria’s neighbors and European states led to those laudable improvements. As refugees grow up, however, those numbers plummet: Just 23% of adolescents attend secondary school, and a scant 1% globally enter into higher education. Those numbers remain dismal. Ultimately, according to a new report by Save the Children, the Leaders’ Summit likely resulted in creating around 290,000-347,000 new places in schools for refugees—far less than the one million promised, but still a good development.

Men inside a classroom at Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. (Photo credit: ONE)

Inside a classroom at Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. (Photo credit: ONE)

Meanwhile, donor countries at the Leaders’ Summit promised to increase their assistance for refugee-hosting countries by 30 percent. We can’t tell you if that has happened, because tracking exactly how much humanitarian funding goes to support refugees globally is nearly impossible. MOVEMENT can lend some insights, while our white paper on data gaps explains exactly why we can’t paint a complete picture.

What we do know is that, as of this week, global humanitarian appeals are just 43.6% funded, and there remains a $13.4 billion dollar funding gap. Yemen, one of the worst-off countries in the world right now—experiencing war, famine, and a cholera epidemic—has just 43% of the funds needed to provide life-saving help to some 18 million people. (Again, we’ve made it easy for you to see how much other countries receive, and how many people need help in MOVEMENT).

A screenshot of ONE's new tool, MOVEMENT.

A screenshot of ONE’s new tool, MOVEMENT.

Compounding that financial deficit are major cuts to resettlement programs—the type that allow refugees to safely seek sanctuary in other countries—despite pledges made at the Leaders’ Summit to double those opportunities. In a new report, the International Rescue Committee sees resettlement programs globally being cut by 30 to 40% this year and argues strongly against the changes.

So, while the Leaders’ Summit and New York Declarations were a good start, refugees around the world know that those commitments still need to be acted on. As the UN General Assembly wraps up, and a process to improve how the international system responds to forced displacement (the CRRF) moves into global agreements in 2018 (the Global Compacts on Refugees and Migration), here are a few wishes for the year ahead:

  1. Better resource and fund humanitarian responses via multi-year funding. Year-to-year funding ignores the protracted nature of most crises that drive people away from their homes.
  2. Improve ways to collect, share, and analyze data about refugees. There is no practical guidance or single source to figure out where refugees are, what they need, or what is being done to respond today—find out more in MOVEMENT: Minding the data gap.
  3. Get the other 3.5 million refugee children into school—by directing resources at better planning, implementation of long-term education systems, and improved accountability systems for host countries and donors.
  4. Engage with and listen to a wider group of people while making global policies to help displaced people such as the Global Compacts —especially refugees and their host communities—as well as local governments that provide the bulk of support to refugees.


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