Global Apathy and the Need for a New, Cooperative International Refugee Response

Gleichert, Emily | December 1, 2020

While an increasing number of nations move toward isolationist, nationalist policies, the number of refugees worldwide is climbing to its highest levels since World War II. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the international body tasked with protecting this population. However, the office’s traditional solutions for refugees – local integration, resettlement in a third country, and voluntary repatriation – have mostly eluded refugees who spend an average of twenty years in exile. The limitations UNHCR’s structure imposes on the office, specifically in its ability to fund its operations and compel nations to act, have contributed to its failure to effect durable solutions for refugees. The Global Compact on Refugees, proposed by UNHCR and adopted by most United Nations member states, seeks to address these structural limitations. Nonetheless, the Global Compact on Refugees does not fundamentally alter the constraints that currently prevent refugees from accessing durable solutions. The United Nations must work collaboratively across its organs to craft a solution. Moving forward, the United Nations Security Council should use its power under Chapter VII to create a centralized tribunal for refugees that will harmonize protection for refugees, increase burden sharing among nations, and facilitate a durable solution for refugees. The centralized tribunal will only be possible if structured to give nations the correct incentives to buy in. However, if there is successful buy in, the centralized tribunal may address the refugee crisis – and the global apathy toward it – in ways UNHCR has not and cannot.