Global Refugee Forum: ‘Protecting refugees is our common responsibility’


War, conflict and violence have forced more people than ever to flee their own country. The Global Refugee Forum, which is taking place in Geneva from 13 to 15 December, will focus on supporting these refugees and the communities that host them. Nathalie Olijslager, Director of the Stabilisation and Humanitarian Aid Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is attending the forum.

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Image: ©Permanente Vertegenwoordiging in Genève

The Global Refugee Forum is the world’s largest international gathering on refugees and host communities. The Forum, which first took place in 2019 and is now held every four years, brings together government representatives, humanitarian leaders, banks, businesses, refugees and international organisations.

More refugees

Since the first Global Refugee Forum, the number of refugees worldwide has only increased. ‘Globally, things have not improved,’ Nathalie says. ‘Take the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and the fighting in Sudan. What’s more, most of the crises that were happening four years ago are still unresolved today. Many Rohingya refugees are still in Bangladesh, for instance, and most Venezuelans can’t return home yet either.’

The large numbers of refugees are putting increasing pressure on host communities, Nathalie says. ‘In the Netherlands, people always talk about refugees coming to Europe. But in reality, the majority of refugees cross only one border in search of a safe haven.’ In other words, countries bordering on an area of war or conflict receive by far the most refugees. Nathalie continues, ‘The countries bordering Syria and Sudan, for example, are hosting millions of people. These large numbers put pressure on the economy, jobs and local amenities. That’s why it’s so important to support these countries. Protecting refugees is our common responsibility, and the Netherlands must also play its part.’

Global Compact on Refugees

International agreements on this common responsibility for protecting and accommodating refugees are contained in the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees. ‘There are more refugees than ever before, and more and more crises and wars,’ Nathalie explains. ‘That’s why countries around the world came together to look at how to deal with the situation and how to divide the responsibilities.’

The Global Compact on Refugees has four key objectives: easing the pressures on host countries, enhancing refugee self-reliance, giving refugees the chance to build livelihoods in host countries, and supporting conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity. It was also agreed that the stakeholders would convene once every four years at the Global Refugee Forum.

Enlarge image Nathalie en Pascalle
Director-General for International Cooperation Pascalle Grotenhuis and Director of the Stabilisation and Humanitarian Aid Department Nathalie Olijslager are attending the forum.

PROSPECTS partnership

At the first meeting of the Forum, the Netherlands made two major commitments. One was the establishment of the PROSPECTS partnership, a programme to improve the reception and protection of refugees in and around conflict regions. ‘Based on what we’ve achieved and learned in the past four years, we’re now expanding the programme. For example, we’ll be working in more countries, and we’ll be contributing €800 million over the next four years to improve reception in the region,’ says Nathalie.

PROSPECTS is a partnership between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank. These organisations invest in protection, education and employment opportunities for both refugees and host communities. This is a key focus of the programme, Nathalie stresses. ‘We try to prevent tensions between large groups of refugees and the often vulnerable local population. So it’s important that support is available for both groups.’

Mental health and psychosocial support

When it comes to mental health and psychosocial support, the Netherlands is also building on the efforts of recent years. ‘It’s important to keep this issue on the agenda,’ says Nathalie. ‘After all, when people flee a war zone, they not only need water, food and tents, they often also need help to cope with trauma and loss.’

Raising awareness of the importance of mental health has been a key focus of the Netherlands for many years, and with success, Nathalie observes: ‘Psychosocial support is being included as standard in more and more aid programmes, and aid workers are increasingly being trained to recognise the signs of mental health problems.’

Unearmarked funding

In addition to these major pledges, the Netherlands is also contributing to the Global Concessional Financing Facility for Armenia, and continues to stress the importance of unearmarked and multi-year funding. Nathalie explains, ‘By allowing organisations to decide for themselves where and when to spend the money, rather than earmarking a donation for a particular crisis, we can help those organisations respond much more quickly and flexibly. And that means more sustainable support.’

For a long time, the Netherlands was one of the few countries to advocate this kind of funding, but now Nathalie sees more and more recipient countries and organisations asking for unearmarked support. This is an important signal to be alert to, she thinks. ‘In the past, the talks were mainly among donors, but over the next few days we’ll have the opportunity to also sit down with recipient countries and listen to what they need.’


Nathalie hopes we can also have the difficult conversation about solutions with each other in Geneva. Peace in war-torn countries is the most important solution for refugees to be able to safely and voluntarily return home.