Global Refugee Forum 2023: Time to put words into action?

Caritas International Belgium Global Refugee Forum 2023: Time to put words into action?

Caritas representatives at the 2023 Global Refugee Forum

Caritas representatives at the 2023 Global Refugee Forum


Last week, the Caritas network attended the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva to advocate for durable solutions for refugees and displaced persons in Belgium, but also in major host countries such as Uganda and Bangladesh. The week proved rich in exchanges, with the ambition to concretise sustainable actions to be closely monitored.

The first Global Refugee Forum took place in 2019 to mobilise pledges to achieve the (non-binding) goals of the Global Compact on Refugees signed in 2018. Those objectives are: ease the pressures on host countries; enhance refugee self-reliance; expand access to third-country solutions; support conditions for safe and dignified returns to countries of origin.1

During the Forum, some 1,600 financial, technical and political engagements were announced by a wide range of government actors (including Belgium), the UN, academia, the private sector, the financial sector and civil society.

The long-awaited shift to long-term responses?

The vast majority of the world’s refugee populations are hosted in the Global South, including Caritas International partner countries such as Uganda, Jordan and Niger.

However, these major host countries face short-term and declining international support. The quality of refugee reception in these contexts is often co-determined by issues such as inclusion, social cohesion or environmental degradation. The Global Compact, and therefore the Forum, among others, therefore advocates for a “whole-of-society approach”2 accompanied by shared commitments with long-term objectives. In this sense, Belgium’s commitment to better include refugee populations in its development programmes is encouraging. If accompanied by concrete actions and rights-based advocacy, this new approach has the potential to transform purely humanitarian responses into “nexus” strategies with a greater focus on inclusion and long-term resilience.

Various exchanges in Geneva highlighted that key host countries, as well as refugee and host communities, are also more vulnerable to the impacts of global warming. A new focus on climate action and adaptation was announced in Geneva, aimed at promoting refugee inclusion in national adaptation plans, climate finance and international climate forums (such as the COP).

In Uganda, we see that climate and environmental issues are paramount in the management of resources and relations between refugee and host communities.

Laura Okello, Humanitarian Coordinator, Caritas Uganda

The promise of safe and legal pathways

Today, only a minority of refugees are hosted in Europe. According to UNHCR, more than 2.4 million refugees worldwide will need resettlement by 2024 – a drastic increase from 1.47 million in 2022. 3 Despite many efforts in recent years, most European resettlement programmes (including Belgium’s) remain too small in scale to meet significant needs.4 Several actors committed to jointly contribute to the resettlement of one million refugees by 2030. Belgium committed to resettle 1,500 people by 2025.

Besides resettlement, the Forum also highlighted some good practices of the many ongoing pilot initiatives on “complementary pathways”. For example, Caritas International presented the EU Passworld project, which has already enabled three refugee students to continue their studies at KU Leuven. In Geneva, Belgium committed to remain involved in such opportunities. According to Caritas, it is necessary to fully engage in the further development and scaling-up of these pathways, with robust procedures that remove as many barriers as possible for the target groups.

With EU-Passworld and other similar programmes, we have shown the Belgian government that it is possible to host refugees with dignity and sustainability at the local level.

Anne Dussart, Head of Social Programmes at Caritas International

Focus on meaningful participation and locally-led action

Despite the many denied visas, the Global Refugee Forum 2023 also stood out for its large participation of local actors, including refugee-led organisations and activists, who shared the same resonant call throughout the week: “Nothing about us…without us.”

Clara, originally from South Sudan but today living in Bidi Bidi settlement in northern Uganda, is one of 300 refugees present in Geneva: “We are always told that decisions about our lives are made ‘in Geneva’, but none of us knew what it looked like…. I have experienced this now, but we need to be involved in more spaces and see the pledges made here realised on the ground – we are hungry for hope and need urgent support to work within our communities.”

Caritas International Belgium Global Refugee Forum 2023: Time to put words into action?

We are hungry for hope and need urgent support to work within our communities.

Clara, from South Sudan and refugee in Uganda, participated at the 2023 GRF

Caritas International Belgium Global Refugee Forum 2023: Time to put words into action?

In our country, we have participated in discussions that were historically held in our name by international actors. This is what our network is committed to.

Susana Raffali, Humanitarian Coordinator at Caritas Venezuela

The Caritas network also took advantage of the Forum to announce its commitment to locally-led action, by strengthening our local partners, tailoring their funding and advocating for their effective participation in decision-making related to forced displacement and beyond.

The statements made will motivate the Caritas network in our appeal to international humanitarian actors (such as the Belgian government) to fulfil their commitments to provide more support to local organisations – be they Caritas or refugee-led organisations – in a more direct, effective and just manner.


For more information, read the text of the Global Compact on Refugees.


This approach considers the involvement of every sector of society in responses to forced displacement: institutions, governments, citizens, businesses, academics, civil society, at local, national and international levels.

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