On the spot

Filippo Grandi
UNHCR, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The Global Compact represents the political will and ambition of the international community for strengthened cooperation and solidarity with refugees and affected host countries. How do you see the role Cities can play both as rising actors in global diplomacy and as hosts of most refugees in the world?

The role of cities in the refugee response is critical. First, as hosts since most refugees and displaced people end up in cities rather than camps. This is a good thing, especially when they have the opportunity to access services like education, health, and employment. We see so many cities around the world rising to this challenge and welcoming and supporting refugees who need protection and inclusion until more lasting solutions to their displacement are found.
But cities on the front lines of refugee flows cannot be left alone to do this. They must be supported. Think about the pressures on classrooms, healthcare, garbage, and sewage and water systems when there is a sudden influx of people. I’ve seen the impact of this on many cities, particularly in middle-income countries. This is why the goals of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) are so key – they provide the framework necessary to share the responsibility for refugees more equitably.
In practice, it means that cities hosting refugees can get support through the sharing of resources, expertise and solidarity. There are so many important and established networks of cities through which this cooperation can be furthered. And, of course, my organisation, UNHCR, is always ready to help facilitate this.

In 2022, in Lausanne, Switzerland, several Mayors came together to discuss how cities could contribute to the integration of refugees through sport, highlighting that Olympic values have a concrete role to play. In which respect do you think Olympic Cities have something special to say / a special role to play regarding support to refugees?

The language and values of sport transcend geographic, cultural or linguistic boundaries. There are few better ways to help refugees recover from their displacement and dispossession than to make them part of their new society through inclusion, including in sport. We’ve seen this in football, athletics, judo and many other sports. Often clubs or coaches stand up and say, ‘’we want to help; let’s do what we can.”
UNHCR and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) share the view that sport plays a vital role in social inclusion and cohesion.Olympic Cities can play an important leadership role by removing barriers to refugee participation and ensuring refugees have access to safe and inclusive sporting facilities, organised sport initiatives and competitions in line with host communities. This embodies the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect and contributes to the legacy of the Olympic Movement as well as the aims of the Global Compact on Refugees.

The International Olympic Committee has become much more involved in refugee issues in recent years, creating a new entity – the Olympic Refuge Foundation to focus on this work. How has the Olympic Refuge Foundation – and UNHCR built synergies, and how do they work to extend them to other players?

Sport and play-based activities help restore a sense of normalcy for those forced from their homes and loved ones. They bring people together in friendship and help build trust. Participation in sport also offers opportunities to identify individuals with specific needs and find ways to help them access their rights.
The ORF is one of the many examples of the increasingly close cooperation between UNHCR and the IOC, a partnership that goes back decades and has become even more visible since the Rio Olympic Games and the first appearance of the IOC’s Refugee Olympic Team. Building on that cooperation, we established the ORF in 2017 and have deepened that partnership to increase opportunities for refugees and other displaced people, so they can participate in safe, protective, and developmental sport activities, including at the elite level.
UNHCR and the ORF are also co-leading the “Sport for Refugees Coalition”, which includes more than 80 entities worldwide that work with and through sport to improve refugees’ lives.UNHCR and ORF are also leading the work to engage the sport world to support refugees including in the lead up to the 2023 Global Refugee Forum.

Pledges to improve the lives of refugees and their host communities are part of a global process that includes states and humanitarian organisations. Other stakeholders, such as cities, are also invited to develop pledges. Could you explain the different steps for a city to achieve a pledge?

At the upcoming Global Refugee Forum, cities, states, organisations, businesses, academics, and others are encouraged to make pledges to support refugees and hosts. Entities in 128 countries have made more than 1,500 pledges since 2019.  This includes pledges from more than 40 cities, including Barcelona, Montreal, Mexico City, Milan, and Paris, that will make a real difference in people’s lives.
Ahead of the next Forum in December 2023, we are encouraging cities to, amongst other pledges, increase their focus on sporting opportunities for refugees.  Olympic Cities, in particular, could consider making a sports-related pledge, individually or as a group in solidarity with cities hosting large refugee populations.  Doing so would contribute to achieving the recommendations of the Olympic Agenda 2020+5 to increase its support to refugees and displaced populations.
UNHCR can offer examples to Olympic Cities on how they could identify new, inspiring initiatives like identifying and nurturing refugee athletes and increasing the number of scholarships.

The Global Refugee Forum 2023 will provide an opportunity to build on the significant progress made by governments and other stakeholders towards implementing pledges and initiatives announced since 2019. It will also allow participants to announce new pledges, share good practices to inform and inspire further burden- and responsibility-sharing, and take stock of the challenges and opportunities ahead. What are your expectations for this year’s forum?

For the next Forum, a particular emphasis is being put on high-quality, collaborative pledges which promote the spirit of responsibility sharing and working together to be as impactful as possible. Joint pledges (those made by two or more stakeholders) and pledge matching (the pairing of policy pledges made by host countries with other pledges of a financial, material, or technical nature) are especially encouraged. Many of these individual and joint pledges would ultimately contribute towards the ‘mega pledges’ that will put in place longer-term arrangements for responsibility-sharing with a clearly defined resource base.