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International Responsibility-Sharing for Refugees: Perspectives from the MENA Region.


Responsibility-sharing is a core tenet of international responses to refugee crises. Too often, there are massive failures in responding collectively and cooperatively to large-scale movements of people. For example, especially large numbers of asylum-seekers came to Europe from and through the Middle East and North Africa in 2014 and 2015. During the same period, there were significant movements of Central Americans through Mexico into the United States, people from Bangladesh and Myanmar into other Southeast Asian countries, and millions of Syrians into neighboring countries, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of refugees displaced from South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Ukraine, and elsewhere. Millions more were in protracted situations, unable to return to their home communities or move on to places with more attractive prospects. Many were displaced in their own countries, and still others had crossed international borders. The total number of refugees and displaced persons reached record levels not seen since the end of World War II. Taken together, these displacements raised the global visibility of refugees and displaced persons and the need for more effective responsibility-sharing.

Yet, even the European Union, a body of like-minded states, found it difficult to adopt and even more difficult to enforce rules for collectivizing the response to these movements into its own member states. Many states refused to accept asylum-seekers from the frontline countries that bordered the Mediterranean. The Schengen Agreement that had torn down internal borders within the European Union was challenged, as states, believing the external borders to the European Union had failed, re-erected their own border controls.

Similar problems plague the financing system. Although the number of donors has increased in recent years to include nontraditional sources of funding, including members of the Gulf Cooperation Council and private sector businesses, the funding has not kept pace with the demonstrated need for resources. Typically, only a fraction of annual appeals for funding are met. Pledges are delayed well beyond when they are needed, or they are never forthcoming. Agencies must make difficult decisions as to which programs must be cut to continue to provide life-saving assistance. The impact on host countries and the local communities in which large numbers of refugees reside can be enormous, particularly among those countries that can ill-provide for their own citizens. Potential benefits that might accrue to hosts and refugees alike, if aid allowed both groups to become more self-sustaining, are deferred because of limited resources. This often creates a vicious circle that further impoverishes all.

International responsibility-sharing is supposed to address these types of problems. Although national authorities have the principal responsibility to provide asylum, from its beginnings, the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was to operate in cooperation with states in addressing the issue of refugees. In establishing the UNHCR, the General Assembly called "upon Governments to co-operate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the performance of his functions concerning refugees falling under the competence of his Office" (UN General Assembly 1950). The 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (UN Refugee Convention) reiterated in the preamble that international solidarity and national responsibility were mutually reinforcing concepts: "The High Contracting Parties...considering that the grant of asylum may place unduly heavy burdens on certain countries, and that a satisfactory solution of a problem of which the UN has recognized the international scope and nature cannot therefore be achieved without international co-operation" (UN General Assembly, 1951: 13).

Responsibility-sharing is essential because the costs associated with protecting and assisting refugees and displaced persons are unequally placed. Where refugees go is often an accident of geography. States that are close to countries in conflict are often called upon to host far larger numbers of refugees than those that are farther from the insecurity that generates large-scale displacement. There are times, of course, when refugees move directly or out of proximate host countries into other regions.

In 2016, governments reaffirmed their commitment to responsibility-sharing in the New York Declaration adopted at the High-Level Meeting Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, recognizing the burdens that "large movements of refugees place on national resources, especially in the case of developing countries" (UN, 2016). However, this statement fell short of the UN Secretary General's proposal for a Global Compact on Responsibility-Sharing for Refugees. As articulated in his report to the High-Level Meeting, the global compact would encompass "differentiated contributions by Member States and international and national partners on the basis of international law and proven good practices" (Secretary General, 2016). Rather than adopt the global compact in 2016, the New York Declaration committed to negotiate such a document for adoption at a summit in 2018.

Although its aim is "predictable and equitable burden- and responsibility-sharing (UNHCR 2018)," the refugee compact falls short of attaining this objective. First, it is a non-binding document dependent on voluntary financing to accomplish its goals. It is primarily operational in scope, outlining actions that UNHCR intends to take, and does not commit States to undertake specific steps to ensure compliance. Second, it is based largely on the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CFFR) that was adopted in the New York Declaration. The CRRF focuses primarily on addressing the needs of refugees and host communities after refugees have already been admitted to a host State. It does not discuss responsibility-sharing in the context of access to asylum or protection in transit--the two most life-saving but controversial issues arising in the context of large movements of asylum seekers. Third, the compact does not address adequately responsibility-sharing in the context of other aspects of protection, particularly in averting premature return of refugees to dangerous situations at home. Fourth, the mechanism to achieve responsibility-sharing include a set of international, regional and national conferences that will only be as effective as the leadership taken in ensuring their success. Previous experience demonstrates that such endeavors have had spotty success in the past (Betts, 2009). Finally, the compact is focused exclusively on refugees--those who are outside of their home countries--and ignores the equally and, in some cases, more pressing need for greater responsibility-sharing for 40 million internally displaced persons, who represent almost two-thirds of the 68.5 million currently displaced by conflict and repression worldwide.

This article reviews contemporary perspectives on responsibility-sharing. To illustrate its findings, it offers a case study of responsibility-sharing in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Since the large-scale displacement of Palestinian refugees in 1948, millions of refugees and displaced persons have fled from and been hosted by MENA countries. At present, more than 25% of the world's refugees and displaced persons are within this region. Addressing some of the gaps in the global compact on refugees requires better understanding of the similarities, differences, and, most importantly, nuances in the perspectives of governments, stakeholders, and refugees about responsibility-sharing. The article presents growing consensus as to the areas that require more effective collaboration and would benefit from more engagement by the international community in moving forward.

The population of concern in our analysis broadly encompasses the following groups: refugees, as defined by the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol; internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have fled conflict and human rights violations; stateless persons; asylum-seekers; and Palestinian refugees as defined by the UN Relief and Works Administration for Palestine Refugees. The analysis includes understandings of responsibility-sharing in countries that have ratified the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, as well as in the many countries that have not ratified it but nevertheless host large numbers of people fleeing persecution and conflict.

The article argues for a broader approach to responsibility-sharing than is commonly discussed in the academic literature on the topic, which focuses generally on relocation of refugees and financing mechanisms. It focuses on several areas of responsibility-sharing, including efforts to address the underlying causes of displacement within and across borders; efforts to find solutions, including resettlement of refugees from host countries to third countries; initiatives to enhance protection; financial support for refugees, IDPs, and the communities in which they reside; and technical assistance and training for host countries and local organizations. (1) It examines these issues from the perspective of host country governments, other host country stakeholders, donor governments, service providers, and, most importantly, the refugees and IDPs themselves.

The article confirms the importance of international responsibility-sharing, particularly for countries hosting many refugees and IDPs, whether defined by absolute or proportional size. Yet, it also establishes that moving from the rhetoric of "responsibility-sharing" to address the reality on the ground will not come easily. It will require that all actors work together to protect and assist the most vulnerable.

The recommendations contained herein set out a series of actions that would enhance responsibility-sharing. These include addressing barriers to effective cooperation by ensuring that the interests of vulnerable hosts and refugees alike are taken into account. To make responsibility-sharing real requires true collaboration, changes in policies and practice from the donors to the implementers, and approaches that will empower refugees, IDPs, and local host communities to become part of the solution by fostering their capacities and giving them the opportunities they need and deserve.

This article is divided into four sections, the first of which is this introduction. Section 2 discusses notions of responsibility-sharing, briefly reviewing the literature on responsibility-sharing as to its importance, major challenges to effective international cooperation, and tools to implement responsibility-sharing. In section 3, the article presents a case study of responsibility-sharing in the MENA region. This section, focusing on the perspectives of states, operational agencies, and refugees and IDPs in refugee hosting countries, discusses the forms and quality of responsibility-sharing as seen from the ground up. The final section presents recommendations. These derive from the literature review and empirical findings of our case study. The section includes suggestions as to potential mechanisms to move these recommendations forward.

Notions of Responsibility-Sharing

There is a long-standing literature on responsibility (or, as it has also been termed, burden)-sharing. While acknowledging that the nation-state system puts the sovereignty of national authorities above all else, international responsibility-sharing at all stages of displacement, from prevention of the causes through durable solutions, has been an integral part of the refugee system.

Why Refugee Responsibility-Sharing?

Responsibility-sharing is essential because the costs associated with protecting and assisting refugees and displaced persons are shared unequally among states. As such, the notion of responsibility-sharing underpins the international refugee regime, and this concept can be seen throughout the various documents and legal instruments that have come to determine the ways international and national bodies address the displaced (Schuck, 1997; Suhrke, 1998; Betts, 2005). This notion has also been reiterated many times in reports adopted by the Executive Committee (ExCom) of the UNHCR and the General Assembly (UNHCR, 1988; UNHCR, 2001; UNHCR, 2004). As recently as 2016, the ExCom (2016: 6) committed to further strengthening of international cooperation and solidarity and equitable responsibility and burden sharing.

The needs of host countries, particularly those close to origin countries of refugees, have been a particular focus of responsibility-sharing concerns. As one study notes, "refugees' movements are uneven throughout the world for morally arbitrary reasons. Refugees tend to flee to states that are located close to their countries of origin; they often manage to get to places where there is an existing community of refugees with their same nationality in order to make assimilation easier; they prefer to go to places where their national language is spoken; and so on" (Kritzman-Amir and Berman, 2009).

Oftentimes, the neighboring states are affected by the same political instability as the countries of origin, and they are likely to be in regions with few economic resources. The same states may be at one and the same time countries of origin of refugees and IDPs and countries of asylum. Iraq is an example: in 2015, Iraq hosted 225,000 Syrian refugees while also dealing with 4.4 million IDPs (UNHCR, 2016a). At the same time, more than 260,000 Iraqis have become refugees, mostly in neighboring countries, including the Syrian Arab Republic (UNHCR, 2016a). Complicating the situation is the disproportionate impact of protracted displacement. The duration of stay for refugees and displaced persons can vary from days to years to generations. Even with considerable international financial support, these protracted situations can pose significant long-term burdens on local health, education, and social services for locals, and adversely impact labor markets and housing options for some in the host community.

In her seminal work on the topic, Astri Suhrke noted the benefits of organizing and institutionalizing responsibility-sharing for refugees. She argued that in "refugee matters, the logic of burden-sharing starts from the premise that helping refugees is a jointly held moral duty and obligation under international law....Organized sharing means more predictable responses, greater international order, and lower transaction costs during a refugee/migration emergency--all of which are goods that states value, and which they seek to obtain through organized international cooperation" (Suhrke, 1998: 398). Coen (2018) emphasizes that the legal obligation of non-refoulement (that is, non-forcible return to where a refugee's life would be in danger) leads inexorably to the need for responsibility-sharing to ensure protection of refugees. Carens (2013) and Gibney (2015, 2018) make the moral case for responsibility-sharing, arguing that wealthier states have an obligation to help poorer ones that have accepted large numbers of refugees by resettling some refugees or providing funding to enable refugees to integrate into host countries.

In effect, these authors argue, international solidarity is the right thing and the smart thing to do. With the Holocaust in mind, the founders of the post-World War II refugee regime clearly saw themselves as having a moral responsibility to ensure that refugees would not be forcibly returned to persecution, and they enshrined the principle in international law. They also gave states the principal responsibility to enforce this norm. But, recognizing that adhering to the principle would place greater costs on some countries than others, they exhorted the states to cooperate with each other and the UNHCR, to carry out what they conceived as a shared responsibility toward refugees.

Challenges in Implementing Responsibility-Sharing Policies

The implementation of responsibility-sharing in different contexts has many challenges. The first challenge is state sovereignty, which is the basis of the nation-state concept at the heart of the UN and other international bodies. International responsibility-sharing can promote protection for persons whose rights have been violated by states that are unwilling or unable to ensure their safety. However, these are exactly the situations in which international cooperation may be stymied by governments using sovereignty as an excuse to bar international aid for those most needing protection. Or, as in the case of failed states, international action becomes a substitute, rather than a support to national responsibility.

In both cases, the state has authority to decide who comes in and out of its borders. Thus, refugees who cross borders without personal documentation or who cannot return to their home countries undermine that idea of state control and state responsibility, thus living as a population in limbo within a state that is not their own. IDPs complicate even further this notion of state sovereignty because they are citizens of the state in which they are displaced. Yet, international responsibility-sharing need not be antithetical to state sovereignty. As Francis Deng noted, "The sovereign state's responsibility and accountability to both domestic and external constituencies must be affirmed as interconnected principles of the national and international order. Such a normative code is anchored in the assumption that in order to be legitimate, sovereignty must demonstrate responsibility. At the very least that means providing for the basic needs of its people" (Deng et al., 1996: xvii).

A second challenge lies in the temptation of states to move from burden-sharing to burden-shifting. In some cases, the burden has shifted from national authorities to international organizations, particularly the UNHCR (Slaughter and Crisp, 2009). In other cases, the shift is from state to state. For example, states with greater financial and political power may shift physical responsibility for refugees onto poorer and weaker states.

A third challenge is the voluntary nature of responsibility-sharing. As the principle of solidarity is voluntary, rather than binding upon states, it can be a moving target: generous when powerful states see a national interest in ensuring protection but restrictive when the national interests of such states are challenged or unclear (Suhrke, 1998). It can be the lowest common denominator of action rather than the optimal path to ensuring protection for the displaced. During the Cold War, for example, many Western governments saw a foreign policy interest in ensuring the protection of refugees who fled communist countries, but those governments were less concerned about flight from authoritarian governments that may have been allied with the West in the fight against communism. Domestic constituencies often supported generous policies toward refugees whom they saw as targeted for shared beliefs but were indifferent or even hostile toward those who had different beliefs.

A fourth challenge is the dynamic of refugee policy, which changed in the 1990s. Exit controls from many previously communist countries were lifted, as nationalist conflicts in such places as the former Yugoslavia created conditions that caused massive displacement. Civil conflicts that had been linked to the Cold War, such as those in Afghanistan, appeared to be settled, only to re-erupt into unresolved domestic battles. Many neighboring countries grew weary of hosting refugees, and donors were weary of providing financial support, leading to a further erosion of solidarity. Developed countries also took steps to restrict the access of asylum-seekers to their territories, establishing policies that permitted asylum-seekers to be returned to what were called "safe third countries" or even to supposedly safe zones within their countries of origin. These policies became negative role models for many host countries in developing regions that were also looking for ways to reduce what they considered to be an excessive burden.

The fifth complication is that setting criteria for responsibility-sharing is complex and unique to many situations. Disagreements arise about what are the principal "burdens" and "benefits" that are to be shared. Boswell argues that in responsibility-sharing schemes that are predicated on physical relocation of refugees, the criteria for distribution--whether justice or outcome based--is essential. In her analysis, justice-based systems often use static indicators (e.g., receiving-country GDP, population, or size of territory) whereas outcome-based indicators focus on social, economic and other effects of refugees on the host population (Boswell, 2003).

How these impacts are measured, and over what time frame (immediate or longer-term), is critical to determining whether and how to share responsibilities. Host countries and communities often emphasize the burdens associated with refugee and displaced populations and ignore the benefits that may arise. In part, this may be a function of time--at the start of an emergency, refugees and displaced persons may need substantial levels of assistance, particularly if they endured lengthy periods of deprivation prior to arrival and came with few material resources. Over time, however, they may have skills that could be put to good use in the host economy.

The very terminology used in describing the outcome of international cooperation has become a matter of some controversy. This manifests in whether to use the term "burden" or "responsibility" before "sharing." UNHCR (2001) uses both terms, explaining: "The inclusion of 'responsibility' along with 'burden-sharing' reflects a more positive image of refugees and a stronger framework for international cooperation." However, states may eschew the term "responsibility" for the very reason that the UNHCR and refugee advocates promote it. As Turk and Garlick (2016: 665), who prefer the term, note, "'responsibility' can be seen to imply legal obligations and a requirement to take positive action."

Finding effective policies to address the causes and solutions to displacement requires action on several fronts, and the involvement of international organizations and national ministries responsible for foreign policy, development, trade, economic reform, governance, defense, environment, and so forth. Addressing these situations also means the involvement of non-state actors (insurgencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), civil society, and the private sector). Since many of these organizations operate in silos, with relatively little coordination with other actors, achieving solidarity of action becomes all the more difficult.

Given the risks and prospects for burden shifting, the mechanisms to be used must be well-conceived and continually monitored. Perhaps the most difficult challenge is developing the metrics needed to determine a fair allocation of responsibilities. Betts et al. (2017) note that no single legal or allocation framework is likely to work in enhancing responsibility-sharing. They see responsibility-sharing as essentially political and argue that situation-specific approaches are needed to ensure appropriate responses.

Principal Forms of Responsibility-Sharing for Refugees and Displaced Persons

Scholars have tended to see responsibility-sharing as the sharing of financial costs or the physical sharing of refugees (Milner, 2016). Betts et al. (2017: 22), for example, explicitly define responsibility-sharing as "the contribution of states towards supporting refugees who are on the territory of another state through the redistribution of money or people." As discussed in the case study below, our research demonstrates that responsibility-sharing is viewed more broadly by those working in the field as well as refugees themselves. In their view, the international responsibility-sharing needs to support three main goals: to prevent the situations that cause people to be displaced; to maintain adequate protection for refugees and displaced persons while addressing undue costs for host countries and communities; and to promote solutions, including local integration, return, and resettlement.

The tools are many and varied to support these ends, but they can be divided into five principal areas. The first and perhaps most obvious is the financial tools that assist countries in addressing the costs of hosting refugees and displaced persons (Whitaker, 2008; Roper and Barria, 2010). These include humanitarian assistance, development assistance, costs of peacebuilding and peacekeeping, and others. As one scholar noted, "Fiscal burden-sharing applies equally to situations of mass influx and to individual arrivals. It is now widely accepted as an essential component of international cooperation in the refugee field. In the context of North-South cooperation, it may be regarded as a specific facet of development aid" (Hurwitz, 2009: 147).

The second set of responsibility-sharing tools pertains to the underlying causes of displacement. Refugees and internally displaced persons are the product of persecution, human rights violations, and conflict. Tools to address these causes include preventative diplomacy, early warning systems, peacebuilding and peacekeeping, and, in rare cases, Security Council actions to sanction one or more parties to the conflict.

A third set of tools promotes protection for refugees and displaced persons, often seen as the granting of asylum (Thielemann, 2003; Noll, 2004; Czaika, 2005; Kritzman-Amir and Berman, 2009). Protection of these populations is at the core of national responsibility and international solidarity. As the UNHCR observes, "[Refugees] have no protection from their own state--indeed it is often their own government that is threatening to persecute them. If other countries do not let them in, and do not protect and help them once they are in, then they may be condemning them to an intolerable situation where their basic rights, security and, in some cases their lives, are in danger" (UNHCR, 2016b). IDPs are often in even more dire situations, without the protection of their own state but still living within its borders. At times, resettlement of refugees and IDPs may be necessary to maintain protection.

A fourth set of tools promotes durable solutions. The three traditional durable solutions to displacement are repatriation, local integration, and resettlement. For refugees, this means returning to one's home country, integration into the country of asylum, or resettlement in a third country. For IDPs, it means return to one's home community, integration in the area of current refuge, or resettlement in another part of the country, or movement to a different country. All these solutions are difficult and at times impossible to achieve through unilateral action, leaving many refugees and IDPs in protracted situations with little opportunity to find new homes or livelihoods and too often living in insecure environments. Ensuring durable solutions for refugees and IDPs, or even more secure status and livelihoods in protracted situations, requires the exercise of national responsibility and support provided through international cooperation and responsibility sharing.

The fifth set includes capacity building and sharing of data and good practices to increase the capabilities and thereby reduce the costs for receiving communities. Many of the countries with the most refugees and IDPs are among the least developed countries and/or lack governance structures to undertake protection and assistance activities. These problems exist at the national and the local community levels. Building capacity is a long-term process that involves many local, national, regional, and international actors.

As this list indicates, international responsibility-sharing is needed at all stages of displacement, from prevention of the causes through durable solutions. The principal focus throughout these processes is protection, and the principal responsibility continues to rest with national authorities. The challenge of international responsibility-sharing then is to ensure that arrangements for international cooperation expand and improve the protection space for refugees and displaced persons, and do not constrain it.

Perspectives on Responsibility-Sharing in the MENA Region

This case study is based on extensive research in the Middle East and North Africa on the perceptions of policy makers, as expressed in official statements and documents; other stakeholders, as expressed in interviews with representatives of international nongovernmental operational agencies, local agencies, and refugeeled organizations; and Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Lebanon and IDPs in Iraq.

The perspectives of host, origin, and donor governments came primarily from analysis of statements made at several high-level meetings on refugees in 2016. These included the Supporting Syria Conference on February 4, the UN High-Level Meeting Addressing Large-Scale Movements of Refugees and Migrants on September 19, and the Leaders' Summit on September 20. The statements are valuable in understanding how the countries in MENA project their needs, justify their positions, and explain their expectations of the international community. The High-Level Meeting was particularly relevant for our analysis. Attended by presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers, the summit adopted the New York Declaration, which set out principles and common understandings about large-scale movements and committed to develop global compacts on refugees and safe, regular, and orderly migration by 2018.

Although the High-Level Meeting was policy oriented, the February donors conference and the Leaders' Summit aimed at concrete commitments from states. The donors conference was hosted by the United Kingdom, Germany, Kuwait, Norway, and the UN, with the aim of raising "significant new funding to meet the immediate and longer-term needs of those affected." (2) It led to more than US$12 billion in pledges, with half for 2016 and the other half for 2017-20. The focus went beyond the needs of refugees and displaced persons to encompass a broader range of humanitarian concerns in Syria and the surrounding region. Important focuses of attention were education and jobs for those affected by the Syrian crisis. Similarly, the Leaders' Summit aimed at pledges, although these were focused more specifically on refugees and required states to commit to new or additional efforts in three areas: resettlement of refugees, financial contributions to refugee assistance, and provisions for education and employment for refugees.

The views of operational agencies and practitioners working in the MENA region came primarily from in-depth, semi-structured interviews undertaken in person and by teleconference from March to October 2016. The actors providing direct services offer a unique, on-the-ground perspective that is not often considered systematically in academic studies. Service providers are also well-positioned to comment on the divergence between policy and practice on the ground, an area this research attempts to address. We selected these organizations based on lists that we compiled of organizations serving refugees in the region. We contacted a targeted sample from those lists, based on our research experience over the past seven years in these countries, a review of websites and written reports, and the recommendations of trusted colleagues. We contacted approximately 50 organizations to complete the 34 interviews. The main challenge was in getting them to respond to our request for an interview, given their busy schedules with service provision.

We made special efforts to reach representatives of local and refugee-led organizations, which have fewer staff than the larger international organizations and whose views are often overlooked. Several of these organizations were run by the Syrian diaspora, with headquarters in the United States or Europe that support field offices in the MENA region, while other organizations were run by Syrians who were almost always themselves refugees. Most were registered with the UNHCR and received aid for their families. The heavy involvement of Syrian-led organizations in service provision in countries of asylum and cross-border assistance in Syria marks an introduction of a new kind of actor that transcends the traditional humanitarian and development division of aid givers and aid receivers, as many Syrians are at once agents of aid as well as its recipients. As others have noted, this is a change that merits further in-depth exploration (Malkin, 2015).

The interviews with refugees and IDPs came from a rich repository of approximately 300 qualitative interviews with Syrian, Iraqi, Palestinian, Sudanese, and Somali refugees, collected in 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014 in Jordan and Lebanon. Using participatory research methods designed by the team, Georgetown researchers identified researchers from local and refugee populations with the help of local refugee assistance organizations. The researchers were then trained on human subject protection, qualitative interviewing techniques, and mock interviews accompanied by critiques from peers and the instructor. The researchers were then asked to identify interviewees from their communities, aiming for a diversity of ages, genders, places of origin, and financial situations. They conducted qualitative interviews with potential respondents (between four and six in total), and then transcribed the interviews. Translation of the interviews from Arabic to English was done in the United States by graduate student research assistants and researchers and checked by a supervisor. Additionally, the study team sought to capture issues related to internal displacement by creating a case study on the topic of social cohesion, drawing on 80 qualitative interviews with Iraqi IDPs and 80 host community members in four governorates of Iraq (Baghdad, Basrah, Kirkuk, and Sulaymaniyah). These interviews were conducted by Iraqi enumerators in Arabic and Kurdish in May and June 2016, as part of a joint Georgetown-International Organization for Migration project surveying 3,848 families on access to durable solutions for IDPs in Iraq. The qualitative interviews provided more detailed information relevant to responsibility-sharing than the more structured surveys. The research design allowed us to use well-established, qualitative research methods to aggregate perspectives within and across groups. (3)

Causes of Refugee Movements

Governments, operational agencies, and refugees/IDPs alike affirmed the importance of international responsibility-sharing in addressing the causes of displacement. The refugees and IDPs were most vociferous in expressing these sentiments. For most of those we interviewed, the most important action that the international community can take is to help bring an end to the conflicts that plague their countries. They by no means agree, however, as to the best way forward in doing so, with some arguing for a more robust intervention by the international community and others wanting external forces to pull back and allow the people themselves to end the fighting. This appears to reflect their frustration with the failures of peacemaking to date in Syria in particular, and differences in their understanding of the dynamics of the conflicts in their countries.

Policy makers and practitioners agree with the general sentiment, and most make the point that conflicts must end, but the remarks often appear to be rhetorical--a point to be checked off in formal statements. Nevertheless, they appear to agree that the core responsibility for refugees to be shared, if the most difficult one to achieve, is a political one--resolving conflict. Collective action, including through the UN, was seen as necessary to address the multifaceted causes of displacement,

including not only conflict, but also poverty, oppression, and persecution; discrimination and human rights violations; terrorism, natural disasters, and climate change; and poverty, unemployment, and food insecurity ((Emirates News Agency, 2015; Al-Hamdallah, 2016: 2). Yet, a representative of Lebanon asked pointedly, "when is the UN going to stand up to the task and significantly rally efforts to help refugees and migrants in observance of its number one responsibility: safeguarding peace and security?" (Salam, 2016: 2) Since several of the countries in MENA and their neighbors are themselves involved in the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and the Republic of Yemen, the challenges of this approach are obvious.

Refugees in Jordan and Lebanon often stated that the most important thing the international community could do was to stop the fighting. "The first thing that I think is to end the fighting, murdering, and attacking," said a 30-year-old Syrian man living in Jordan. A Palestinian living in Lebanon opined, "All the countries should get involved to stop the conflict; and we should have organizations that seek peace in Syria." The refugees understand the complex nature of the "international community," which includes not only the humanitarian organizations that sustain them, but also the states that they see as a large part of the reasons behind why they are refugees. Some refugees called for direct foreign intervention to stop the conflict. For example, a 45-year-old Syrian woman said, "I hope that the Western countries help the revolutionaries in Syria to take down the regime and I hope that they help us to build a country and an army to protect the people and not kill them." Others asked for an end to foreign intervention: "I don't believe that [the international community] should do anything more," said a 64-year-old Palestinian from Syria living in Lebanon. Instead, "The two sides should engage in a dialogue, and the foreigners should leave." Yet, even he saw a role for the international community, saying they must "help us to return because, shame on everyone, look what is happening to the Syrian people!"

Durable Solutions

Another theme that emerged from the interviews and statements was the inadequacy of the prevailing framework of the three durable solutions--return, integration, or resettlement--for refugees and other displaced populations in the MENA region. The uncertainty of their lives is clearly the issue of most concern to the refugees and IDPs we interviewed. In response to questions about their hopes, fears, and what they think about, it is obvious that displacement figures as a heavy psychological burden, beyond meeting daily needs. When asked about his hopes, a 54-year-old Iraqi man said, "our hopes are that we migrate so we can feel safe, and that we have a future. I want to have a nation (homeland). I want to see my daughter grow up and study, have health care and have someone who can protect us." Likewise, when asked about what he fears most, a 52-year-old Syrian man responded: "I fear for the loss of my children's future." A younger Syrian man with a newborn baby living in Jordan described his worries as follows: "I always wonder why I am in this country, and why I am a refugee.... The thing I think about most is how my son will live, and how I will write about his date of birth and nationality, and if he'll get my country's nationality, or if he'll be homeless in the future, and then what punishment awaits him."

Returning to their home countries was foremost on the minds of many of our respondents, but they almost all stated that they would not do it if the conflicts continue. A 35-year-old Syrian former policeman living in Jordan declared, "If I were to return to Syria, things would have to be calm and Syria would be liberated, ruled by a civilian, democratic government. If this were the case, I would be among the first to return to Syria and I would return to my job as a policeman to protect the rights of civilians and ensure security. If the situation stays like it is with killing, fear and destruction, I will not return. I wish to claim asylum elsewhere. At least I would like my daughters to return to school and I would like this desperate situation to end." An Iraqi IDP from Diyala, now living in Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, stated that "Most of us want to go back to our places of origin but on the condition that we have good security... and then we need our house, services, hospitals, financial support, job opportunities, and...etc." So, while security remains the primary obstacle for return, when people are allowed to return, following war and destruction, as this man articulates, they face again the struggle to maintain an adequate standard of living every day.

Planning for return appears unrealistic at this point, and there is relatively little action toward that aim. At the High-Level Meeting, Lebanon nevertheless asked the UN to "draft, within 3 months, a detailed logistical mapping of the return in safety and dignity of the Syrians now in Lebanon to Syria, specifying transportation needs, departure locations and all associated costs. Raising the financing for this plan should be started immediately. This will allow, when circumstances permit, a swift implementation" (Salam, 2016: 1). Comprehensive plans of action that spell out how responsibility is to be shared have been a key element of successful return programs in the past. (4)

Lebanon's request demonstrates the equal unlikelihood of the second durable solution, as currently envisioned. None of the host country statements at the High-Level Meeting called for full integration of refugees into their communities as it is often conceived--that is, as a route to naturalization. They perceive the refugees as temporary visitors even if (or because of) past experience in the region is that displacement often becomes long term. However, they emphasized the importance of integrating refugees into the health services, education, and even labor markets of their countries, as an interim step. Such integration would broaden the social rights of refugees even if the host countries did not offer political rights. These initiatives require the support of the international community; otherwise, the full burdens would fall only on the host countries. Refugees and operational agencies were skeptical that such aid would be forthcoming. A Syrian lawyer expressed his frustration at the barriers to refugee integration in Egypt and the international community's response: "What does the UN and the international community expect?" he asked. "[Integration] is not a tenable option for people who cannot get a residency permit, but no one seems to want to do anything about it."

Resettlement represents an attractive prospect for many refugees who feel caught in such an impossible situation. In the absence of the possibility to return home or integrate, resettlement represents the only durable solution. Yet, it is not a viable option for most refugees, as under the current international arrangement, with declining resettlement quotas in countries of resettlement, less than 1% of the refugees will be resettled. During the High-Level Meeting, host countries specifically asked for an increase in resettlement levels. Lebanon recommended "burden-sharing quotas for countries in the region and elsewhere" and urged the UN to "negotiate the enactment of resettlement efforts before year-end" (Salam, 2016). Turkey referred to resettlement as a key instrument (Cavusoglu, 2016). Although Egypt did not specifically mention resettlement, the government called for "opening more channels for legal migration" as a solution to the growth in irregular migration (Al-Sisi, 2016: 3). The Leaders' Summit led to concrete pledges to resettle additional refugees. The United Arab Emirates committed to resettle 15,000 Syrian refugees over a five-year period (Gulf News, 2016).

For many of our refugee and IDP respondents, relocation to a third country, through formal resettlement programs or spontaneous migration, was seen as essential to solve their plight, offering them legal status, citizenship, and a chance to work and study. "We want them to open the immigration gates, to open up the gates to life. We don't know what the future holds and we don't know where are we going," a 21-year-old Syrian said. "It's unacceptable that young people of our age take on responsibilities much greater than our ages, I feel like I'm 40 years old." A 33-year-old Syrian man blamed countries whom they see as being less generous: "Countries didn't help to cool down the situation. Why don't the Gulf countries open their doors for the Syrian refugees, not just Jordan and Turkey?" For their part, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries argue that they have been generous in allowing hundreds of thousands of Syrians to enter and remain as migrant workers.

In the absence of resettlement, refugees are likely to move spontaneously to new countries. A 22-year-old Syrian man in Lebanon stated: "I am dreaming of going to Europe...I don't think it is too far, and it will be worth it because life is perfect there. There is no racism, there is support for Syrians. I might be able to study and get qualified to work and earn a living, but working far fewer hours each day. They have justice. A life in Germany is a dignified life." And while perhaps highly unrealistic about how difficult life is in exile, not knowing the language, and having to adjust to new conditions, the search for a future with dignity and justice is what drives many on this path.

Others stated that the refugee resettlement process is not without its problems. For example, there were concerns surrounding the vulnerability criteria used to evaluate refugees for resettlement. Several respondents working in operational organizations indicated that the people getting resettled are not the most vulnerable or most in need of resettlement. One noted: "The people getting the worst of this are under siege in Syria or in horrible situations in countries of asylum." Syrian lawyers in Jordan and Egypt indicated that it was widely known among the refugee community that refugees paid bribes to UN officials so that they could be resettled. This speaks to the importance of closely monitoring such resettlement programs, which would be a significant way that the international community could further improve the integrity of the resettlement process.

Intermediate Solutions

For many refugees, durable solutions will continue to prove elusive. Many of the respondents called for intermediate solutions supported by the international community that would enable refugees, along with host communities, to live better lives in the interim. Some of their recommendations were structural, particularly on the relationship between humanitarian and development actors. Others spoke to the need for greater access of refugees to livelihoods, education, and other means by which they could become more self-reliant in the short to medium term. The issues raised in this regard come closest to the notion of responsibility-sharing included in the global compact on refugees.

A common theme among the respondents was the need for shifting responsibility-sharing from a purely humanitarian response to a more development-oriented focus in responding to refugees' needs in countries of asylum. A Syrian-American organization working in Turkey captured the general sentiment of other stakeholders by emphasizing the need for focusing on deeper, lasting development-oriented solutions rather than surface-level "band-aid aid." An employee of an international humanitarian organization noted, however, that humanitarian needs must be balanced with a transition to more sustainable levels of development programming. "As long as there is a war on, there will always be humanitarian needs," he pointed out. The general consensus was that current levels of humanitarian assistance are not sustainable, and a shift toward livelihood-based programming would be needed.

A hybrid humanitarian and development approach to responsibility-sharing would be facilitated by greater and more effective involvement of local actors, especially those closest to the refugee population. Of the 34 representatives of operational agencies with whom we spoke in host countries, 11 were Syrian-led organizations. Respondents cited the need for more cooperation among donors, host countries and international organizations in encouraging support for local host and refugee-led service organizations, including ways to overcome barriers related to anti-terrorism laws that make it difficult to transfer funds to these groups. For example, the representative of one Syrian-led organization based in the United States cited difficulties in establishing banking accounts there because it planned to deliver aid to displaced communities inside Syria.

While recognizing that the durable solution of local integration was unrealistic for most refugees, the respondents agreed that responsibility-sharing initiatives should aim to increase access to livelihoods for those unable to return home or resettle. Refugees' ability to work is key to their ability to sustain themselves and their families in countries of asylum. Although some countries of asylum, namely, Jordan and Turkey, have committed to provide work permits for Syrian refugees, the respondents reported that accessing such permits was difficult. An employee from an international NGO operating throughout MENA indicated that there were restrictions on where refugees can work and complicated application processes.

Respondents also emphasized that responsibility-sharing should aim to increase access to education for refugees in host countries. The number of refugee children out of school is quite concerning. An education service provider indicated that of the approximately 450,000 school-age refugees in Lebanon, 155,000 refugees accessed schooling in 2015, but the number dropped to 97,000 children in 2016. However, a concerted Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education campaign called Reaching All Children with Education (RACE), supported by international donors has made an impact: in the 2017-2018 school year, the number of Syrian children in Lebanese schools rose to more than 221,000, who were enrolled in both morning and afternoon shifts. (5) Another organization providing education services to Syrian refugees fills in gaps with informal education, given that public schools are overcrowded, and most are divided into morning and afternoon shifts. In Egypt, most refugees may attend public schools. Due to a range of problems, including security concerns on the commute to school, discrimination in the classroom, and the overall quality of education, many refugees attend schools set up by Syrian community-based organizations. However, these schools are not accredited or authorized to operate by the Egyptian government. In Turkey, the issue of school attendance is related to language. As one service provider reported, Syrian school-age children cannot attend Turkish schools until they speak Turkish well enough, resulting in delays in schooling and often leaving them to rely on a network of community schools as well.

States in the region also gave a strong endorsement of education for refugees as a priority in humanitarian relief and called on wealthier countries to help them to achieve a higher level of access for refugees. All the host countries detailed their efforts, despite severe financial constraints, to provide education to refugees within their countries. Queen Rania of Jordan urged participants at the High-Level Meeting to "think of these children--the past they escaped, and the potential they hold" (Office of Her Majesty, 2016: para 17). Qatar echoed these sentiments, stating, "we cannot disregard the right of education, which should be mandatory and available to all refugee children. Education contributes to empowering children and protects them from exploitation and extremism" (Al-Muraikhi, 2016: 2). Then, Qatar, as a donor, remarked that "surprisingly the budgeted allocation for education in emergency situations is only 2% of total humanitarian aid" (Al-Muraikhi 2016: 2). Calls for increasing donor support for education as a mechanism for responsibility-sharing were echoed by all parties.

However, making schools open to refugee children is not often enough to ensure access if refugees and IDPs do not have the resources to send their children to school. Even when schools do not cost any money, families must pay for school uniforms, supplies, and in some cases, transportation. When money is tight, especially for IDP and refugee parents, they often cannot afford to send children to school, nor are they required to by the laws that require nationals to do so. IDP and refugee families also report having to pull their children out of school due to lack of money. A female head of household from Salaheddin living in Kirkuk, who has to cover monthly medical expenses for a chronically ill daughter, said, "It has reached the point where I had to take my children out of school and make them work just to provide some money for us to live on."

The general perception among the respondents, as well as in government statements, is that the international community could more effectively share responsibility by helping refugees and IDPs access education and prioritize keeping children in school. Such help would come in the form of assistance to the host countries to build schools, hire teachers, obtain books and other school materials, and otherwise expand their educational infrastructure. It would also involve financial help for refugees and IDPs who have no other resources to pay for school uniforms, transportation, and other costs associated with education for their children. Such assistance is seen as particularly important in ensuring that girls access schooling on the same basis as boys.

Improving Funding and the Delivery of Assistance to Refugees

Funding is seen in much of the academic literature as a key component of responsibility-sharing. Countries with fewer refugees and more financial capital can help poorer countries hosting larger numbers. The resounding message from all the organizations with whom we spoke was that, "at the end of the day, funding is everything." Our research showed, however, that the way in which funding is provided is as important as the total resources offered as part of responsibility-sharing. Respondents urged the international community to address several operational barriers to effective assistance for refugees. These included disparities in aid among different refugee groups, problems in coordination of aid, and the level and types of funding provided by donors as part of their responsibility-sharing.

Many of our respondents indicated that the funds given to host governments must be tied to increased protection measures for refugees. Protection was identified as one of the most pressing needs for refugees in countries of asylum. Increased protection measures for refugees should include guarantees of non-refoulement, facilitating the provision of legal residency for refugees, and so forth.

Further, smaller local and refugee-led organizations stated that funding should be given directly to implementing organizations rather than in the form of sub-grants through the UN or larger international NGOs (INGOs), as overhead and administration costs in processing the funding account for a large amount of the funding. Although this point already received attention during the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016, where donors resolved to earmark 25% of all funds for local and national responders by 2020, the stakeholders agreed that the problem persists (World Humanitarian Summit, 2016: 5). A Syrian community leader living in Egypt broke down the process: "Donors deal with contractors and sub-grantees only and do not deal directly with refugees [when it comes to money].... The money goes to the UNHCR, which takes some money for administration costs. Then they give the money to [an international NGO/aid provider], which takes more money for administrative costs. Then the money finally makes it to Syrian refugees, the amount greatly reduced because of the contracting and sub-contracting involved." Thus, the result, the community leader explained, is that even when significant amounts of money are pledged to support refugees, the bulk of the money goes to host states and international organizations and does not make it to the refugees.

In addition, stakeholders indicated the need for funding for more substantial programs, rather than just small projects. "These [donor] governments love to fund little programs," said the head of a psychosocial program for refugees in Egypt. "We don't need funding for little programs. We need money for the most vulnerable people to eat or a place for them to live," she added. A Syrian-led medical services organization in Jordan echoed this sentiment, adding that instead of funding small projects, donors should focus on building the capacity of systems in countries of asylum, so that they can support refugees and vulnerable host communities alike, as seen in a 2012 study of funding for the Jordanian health system (Martin and Taylor, 2012).

Disparity in aid was a recurrent theme that undermined responsibility-sharing. Service providers working with non-Syrian populations in the MENA region all referred to the shift of international interest and funding to Syrian refugees over recent years. An organization working with Palestinian refugees said that it is an issue of numbers, as there are more Syrians than any other refugee population in the region, and there is simply not enough money available. This is taking place at the global scale as well. An American organization working with refugees across the world added that it was easier to find funds for programs for Syrian refugees than for refugees elsewhere in the world. "Try finding funding for a program in Burundi, for example... [It is] virtually impossible," the employee noted.

The term "other affected populations" is often used in Jordan to refer to non-Syrian refugees, but they are often not identified by their legal status (that is, as asylum-seekers) or nationality (Iraqi, Somali, Sudanese, and so forth). Refugees from Africa expressed serious concerns about discrimination in aid operations: "I don't know of any place or international institution that cares about us, they don't even look at us. They just care about Syrians and Iraqis," a 23-year-old Sudanese woman responded. "There is a lot of discrimination even though all of us are refugees, humans and equal. There is no difference between us based on color, be it white, black or red. They don't meet anybody from African countries, they only care about Syrians and Iraqis who get everything for free, they get heaters, blankets, covers, and jackets for winter."

Others described being excluded from receiving aid for reasons unrelated to nationality. "Currently, the aid provided by the local councils depends on personal relations and favoritism," complained the son of an IDP family from Salah al-Din, Iraq, living currently in Baghdad. Although some IDPs had received multiple rounds/forms of aid, others had still not received anything. Therefore, it was suggested that information about aid distribution should be shared among all the major aid providers, to allow for more equal distribution of assistance. Greater coordination among the aid providers and government actors, as discussed in the next subsection, would facilitate this process as well.

Another major theme of our interviews about responsibility-sharing was the need for improved coordination among all actors providing services to refugees in countries of asylum. The problem, as one respondent in Lebanon put it, was that the lack of coordination led to "lots of organizations constantly re-inventing the wheel" instead of building off each other's work and capacity. An employee of a UN agency in Lebanon gave an example: "In the winter, local [Lebanese and Syrianled] organizations will go to areas where refugees live and distribute blankets, but [the UN] will have already arranged a distribution there, so there is significant duplication of efforts." If coordination were better, the quality and efficiency of services for refugees could be vastly improved. A coordinated effort could avoid the duplication of functions in areas or sectors and free up funds to address the needs of the underserved.

Several barriers to coordination were identified, some of which could be addressed through greater international cooperation. An employee of a large INGO in Jordan indicated that the root of the problem is that coordination structures are set up in the early phase of displacement crises and in a way that is not inclusive of local and refugee-led organizations. When international organizations first set up in a country experiencing a large influx of refugees, the employee explained, they create structures as if there were no local government bodies or organizations on the ground. This allows for large amounts of aid to be delivered to affected populations quickly in the initial phase of a humanitarian crisis, but engagement with local organizations, refugee-led organizations, and local government bodies needs to be scaled up, and the barriers to better coordination among these groups addressed.

The director of a service provider organization in Egypt indicated that high staff turnover rates and a lack of training among staff at the UNHCR and other aid organizations create problems for coordination. Additionally, language was identified as a primary hindrance to coordination between local organizations, refugeeled organizations, and international organizations, but the particulars of that issue varied according to the country of asylum, and stakeholder views were mixed. Generally, Syrian-led organizations operate in Arabic and do not have a great deal of English language capacity. International organizations employ primarily "international staff," whose working language is English, and the majority of whom do not speak Arabic or other refugee or local languages. An employee of a large international NGO in Jordan indicated that while there were sophisticated coordination mechanisms and regular sector meetings, the meetings were all run in English, effectively excluding much of the local (Jordanian) organizations, government representatives, and refugee-led organizations who did not speak English fluently.

Getting the right numbers and general monitoring and evaluating procedures were cited as areas that need improvement to make resources stretch further. Organizations do a lot of monitoring, we learned, but they estimate that they only use a very small percentage the data gathered. Despite the existence of many different mechanisms for cooperation and coordination among organizations, there is still a great deal of primary data being generated that is not subsequently shared among different organizations. The result is what one monitoring and evaluation officer called "beyond survey fatigue" in certain areas.

The scope of funding was a further concern seen as undermining the ultimate impact of responsibility-sharing on host countries. Increasingly, host countries are insisting that aid programs consider the impacts of displacement host communities, not just the refugees and IDPs. Jordan now requires that 30% of programs for refugees be reserved to assist Jordanian host communities, to attempt to meet the needs of those bearing the burden of hosting refugees. (6) As many donor governments still bifurcate their humanitarian and development funds, more progress is needed to ensure that resources reach both refugees and vulnerable host communities in the context of financial responsibility-sharing.

Legal and Physical Protection

For many refugees and operational agencies, legal protection is one of the most pressing challenges in countries of first asylum. Protection--including valid legal status and basic safety and security in the country of asylum--was frequently identified as a prerequisite for livelihoods, education, access to medical care, and other basic services for refugees. Respondents called on the international community to intercede with countries of asylum to improve protection for refugees as part of responsibility-sharing.

At the broadest level, operational agencies pointed to violations of international refugee and human rights law by major refugee-hosting states that had little to no ramifications for those host states. A prime example of this phenomenon is the December 2015 deportation of approximately 800 Sudanese asylum-seekers and refugees from Jordan, more than 100 of whom were interrogated upon their arrival in Khartoum (Davis et al., 2016). Many refugees experience challenges in obtaining and maintaining a legal residency permit in countries of first asylum even if they do not face deportation. An employee of a large INGO covering the region reported that the problem is widespread in Lebanon, with approximately 70% of all Syrian refugees there living without a residency permit. Similarly, an Egyptian lawyer working with Syrian refugees in his country indicated that obtaining a residency visa in Egypt was next to impossible for many Syrian refugees there because of the lengthy wait times, bureaucratic red tape, and difficulty and expense in renewing identification documents through the Syrian embassy. The punishment for not maintaining a residency visa can be imprisonment or, in some cases, deportation.

The physical safety of refugees in countries of asylum also represents an important issue. Although threats to refugees' safety in countries of asylum certainly affect Syrians, respondents mostly referred to the experiences of non-Syrian refugees. An NGO employee in Egypt working in legal services underscored this issue: "Sudanese, Ethiopians, Somalis, Eritreans, and others... experience daily violence and extreme levels of harassment and discrimination." This is due in large part to their visibility. The color of African refugees' skin is relatively darker than most of the largely Arab host community, and thus they stand out as outsiders.

Many of the respondents called for greater international cooperation in addressing these problems, primarily through applying diplomatic pressure on host countries to reform their policies and actions. One stakeholder in Lebanon offered a prescription that could be applied to the MENA region as a whole: "It is not just about sending experts and money; there needs to be real political pressure on the Lebanese government for transparency, accountability, and adopting a longer-term approach. Don't just throw money at the problem!" While the respondents asked for the assistance of the international community in addressing these various problems, some were skeptical that it would happen. They mentioned the geopolitical reality whereby the international community is so dependent on major refugee-hosting countries that there is a reluctance to criticize them for their actions. However, others noted that the host countries are concerned about their reputations and respond, sometimes with positive change, to international criticism of protection violations.

Policy Recommendations

Our research points to concrete recommendations for enhancing international responsibility-sharing in a manner that builds local capacities while ensuring protection for refugees and displaced persons. They fall into three principal areas: responsibility-sharing to address the underlying causes of displacement; responsibility-sharing to enhance protection and improve responses to displacement; and responsibility-sharing to find intermediate and durable solutions. All of the recommended actions require or would benefit from concerted international cooperation to be successfully implemented. The recommendations call for the type of paradigm shift toward a more development-centered approach to responsibility-sharing that has already been endorsed in the World Humanitarian Summit, the High-Level Meeting and the global compact. They clearly build on existing practice and the commitments made by states in the UNHCR, General Assembly, and other resolutions. They also build upon successful initiatives to enhance responsibility-sharing not only in previous refugee initiatives but in other domains, such as climate change and HIV/AIDs prevention and response. Taken together, these recommendations should result in an approach to responsibility-sharing that improves the lives of refugees and displaced persons while also addressing legitimate concerns of host communities.

Address the Underlying Causes of Displacement

The best response to refugee and IDP crises is to resolve the principal causes of displacement. This is consistent with the New York Declaration's (2016: 13) recognition that "armed conflict, persecution and violence, including terrorism, are among the factors which give rise to large refugee movements," and the commitment of governments to "work to address the root causes of such crisis situations and to prevent or resolve conflict by peaceful means."

Of course, accomplishing this goal will be exceedingly difficult without sustained political will, not only from parties to conflicts, but also the states that directly or indirectly support them. Neighboring countries that host refugees have a particularly important role to play, one that may be at odds with current positions supporting one or another party to the conflicts. Moreover, cessation of immediate hostilities will not necessarily allow for the safe return of refugees and IDPs if the underlying reasons for the conflict are not addressed. Otherwise, as seen in many cases, conflict is likely to resume and cause re-displacement.

Address Ongoing Protection Problems Facing Refugees and IDPs

The international community acting in concert could play an important role in advocating for greater safety and security for refugees in host countries through the exercise of humanitarian diplomacy. Refoulement (forcible return) is a concern for asylum-seekers and refugees throughout the world. Refugees also experience problems in obtaining legal residency permits, work permits, and personal status documentation. Physical protection problems for refugees and asylum-seekers also abound. Fear is commonplace among refugees, who worry that they may be deported to unsafe countries or sent to inhospitable refugee camps.

Perhaps the most vulnerable from a protection perspective are the IDPs and trapped populations inside countries in conflict. They were not the focus of the High-Level Meeting, the New York Declaration, or the global compact on refugees. There is a clear need for international cooperation in ensuring that barriers to the delivery of aid are eliminated for IDPs and people still trapped in conflict. This is another area in which humanitarian diplomacy is urgently needed. In our case study, respondents asked the international community to apply pressure on the Syrian government to ensure humanitarian access and on neighboring countries to keep the borders open.

Provide Timely, Appropriate and Adequate Financing of Assistance

Financing has been the principal form of responsibility-sharing to date. Governments and operational agencies in host countries in the MENA region and beyond make a strong case for additional support for the displaced populations and affected host communities. Refugees and IDPs make an equally strong case that they need more resources to survive. Because the host countries are poor and the refugees and IDPs could bring little with them, financing humanitarian assistance remains the most direct way in which the international community can share the responsibility for the displaced populations as well as the host populations. Most refugees and IDPs live in host communities and not in camps. They are often among the poorest and most vulnerable in the host countries and communities, sharing the same services that were usually inadequate even when used by a smaller population. Now, the costs have increased significantly, but the resources to support the services have not risen to meet the new challenges.

Governments recognize the gap in resources in the New York Declaration (New York Declaration, 2016). The global compact includes a number of mechanisms to enhance funding as well. There are practical issues that need to be addressed, however, if these commitments are to be fulfilled. Refugees and IDPs alike talked of the dehumanizing aspects of the assistance system, which seemed to take away their rights and respect. A turn toward greater emphasis on livelihoods and education, with the concomitant funding needed to support such initiatives, could help dispel the perception and reality of hopelessness for many who are unable to return home or be resettled elsewhere. In addition, aid agencies need to listen to refugees and IDPs and take concrete actions to address their concerns. Moving beyond consultation and surveys to refugee-centric and refugee-driven prioritization and implementation will help address these problems. Donors need to support such efforts and provide the funds to carry them out.

Greater support for refugee- and diaspora-led organizations as well as local host organizations is also needed to accomplish these goals. A perennial challenge in aid operations is identifying community-based organizations that represent a broad constituency and have the skills to carry out programs. When operating in unstable environments, as often happens with IDPs, the challenges are even greater in ensuring that local organizations can and want to comply with the humanitarian principles that undergird the refugee assistance system: humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence. Yet, working through community-based organizations is often the only way to reach beneficiaries. Moreover, as some of the refugee-led organizations we interviewed stated, providing direct funding to them, rather than to international organizations, can be cost-effective.

Addressing discrimination in aid operations should also be a high priority. Our research confirms that some refugees receive higher levels of support and access to more services than others. In some cases, refugees and IDPs receive different levels of support even in the same location. The way in which donors provide funding contributes to these discrepancies. Donations to refugees in highly visible crises usually are higher, not only from governments, but also from the public. Crises that are seen as having greater national security implications can also be better funded than others. And acute emergencies generally receive greater attention than protracted situations. The result is to create situations in which some of the most vulnerable refugees receive the least assistance. The World Humanitarian Summit and New York Declaration commitments to provide fewer earmarked contributions may help address this problem, but it is essential to keep in mind the unintended consequences of even well-intentioned efforts to respond to emergencies.

Make Operational Improvements in Donor-Funded Aid Programs

The respondents made clear that responsibility-sharing must go beyond policy and financing, to include concrete improvements in the ways in which aid programs operate. To ensure that these reforms are made, international cooperation is needed to offer technical assistance and training to build the capacity of national and local actors. Capacity building is required at every stage and among all actors involved in assistance to and protection of refugees and IDPs. Priority for donor funds should go to technical assistance and training of local organizations, with special initiatives for refugee- and IDP-led organizations. High staff turnover at organizations that serve refugees and IDPs, including the UNHCR, contributes to inefficiencies and other problems. Such turnover is not surprising, given the tense conditions under which humanitarian aid workers operate, especially those who are working inside countries in conflict. Often, families are unable to join workers at hardship posts. Even senior staff are younger and more inexperienced than their level of responsibilities would warrant. Although there has been growth in professional education for humanitarian aid workers, many of those who join agencies have never had formal training. Responsibility-sharing means providing those who are working with refugees and IDPs the sector-specific, management, policy, evaluation, and other skills they need to succeed.

Promote Greater Self-Sufficiency for Refugees through Development Initiatives

Although the prospects for full local integration into host country communities appear elusive, the international community needs to take steps to enable greater independence for those who would otherwise be dependent on long-term humanitarian assistance. Shifting the current aid paradigm from mostly humanitarian to a more balanced humanitarian-development approach would be a way to achieve more equitable sharing of responsibility for refugees and IDPs as well as host communities. Support for this appears to come from two different but interconnected perspectives. The first is a concern for the impact of displacement on host communities. The second is a concern about the impact on the refugees and IDPs of persistent reliance on humanitarian aid. Increasing self-sufficiency through new livelihoods is a key means toward addressing both concerns.

Increasing access to education through greater responsibility-sharing is an immediate need that would support longer-term solutions for refugees. Until recently, it was not often cited as an area for international responsibility-sharing. In the New York Declaration (2016: 15), however, governments collectively pledged "to provide quality primary and secondary education in safe learning environments for all refugee children, and to do so within a few months of the initial displacement." The global compact reaffirms the importance of education but financing of education has been a major barrier to attaining this goal. Other barriers include security concerns, non-accreditation of community schools, and the language in which the curriculum is taught.

Promote Resettlement of Refugees

Resettlement of refugees must be part of any responsibility-sharing schema. Given the protracted nature of most of the conflicts producing refugees and IDPs, consideration of solutions should go beyond establishing conditions conducive to repatriation, to include third-country resettlement. The need for higher levels of resettlement was echoed by refugees, stakeholders, and policy makers alike. This is also reflected in the New York Declaration (2016: 15): "We intend to expand the number and range of legal pathways available for refugees to be admitted to or resettled in third countries. In addition to easing the plight of refugees, this has benefits for countries that host large refugee populations and for third countries that receive refugees." Much of the focus was on increasing the number of resettlement slots and improving the processes for admission of Syrian refugees. Yet, resettlement plays an equally important role for vulnerable refugees from other conflicts that are often ignored by policy makers. This recommendation is all the more important, and difficult to achieve, because of the Trump administration's apparent resolve to cut admissions of refugees to the United States. Although only a small proportion of refugees are ever resettled in third countries, the willingness of other states to share some of the responsibility for refugees, as manifested in their relocation, is a strong message of encouragement to host countries to continue to keep their borders open.

The Way Forward

There are several models that could be used to enhance responsibility-sharing. First, the legal international framework for the protection of refugees could be enhanced with a new protocol to the UN Refugee Convention that specifically sets out principles and potential commitments toward responsibility-sharing. It would explain the various ways in which parties to the Refugee Convention should contribute toward sharing the responsibilities for refugees. These would include, at a minimum, striving collectively to: address the causes of refugee movements; protect and assist refugees in their own territories; accept refugees for resettlement when needed; provide financial resources to ensure necessary aid and protection of refugees in countries of first asylum and, where needed, countries of resettlement and repatriation; commit to ensuring that development agencies are engaged in finding intermediate and durable solutions for refugees as soon as possible and in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals and their successors; address the needs of communities that host refugees in a fashion that ensures that hosts and refugees benefit from international responses; recognize the value of refugee-led initiatives and commit to augmenting their capacities to the extent possible; and other similar actions.

A second mechanism to enhance international responsibility-sharing would build on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) model of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Under this model, as in the Paris Accord: "Each Party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions [NDCs] that it intends to achieve." The NDC would "reflect its highest possible ambition" in keeping with the party's national circumstances. Parties could also agree, as in the Paris Accord, to provide support to developing country parties for the implementation of the NDCs, "recognizing that enhanced support for developing country Parties will allow for higher ambition in their actions." In setting out its NDC, each party would be required to consider the impacts on the parties most affected by refugee movements in addition to its own interests and capabilities. The agreement would include the types of monitoring and reporting requirements found useful, for example, in the CIREFCA process (Crisp, 1994).

A third mechanism would eschew aiming for a global, holistic agreement, in favor of mini-multilateralism (Sutherland, 2016). Mini-multilateralism refers to ad hoc efforts by conglomerations of states working toward solving a problem that would generally defy international agreement. These initiatives by a small set of representative governments aim to build norms and identify good practices to be adopted more universally. Recent examples are the Nansen initiative, which developed an Agenda for Protection of persons displaced across borders by natural disasters or the longer-term effects of climate change, and the Migrants in Countries in Crisis (MICIC) initiative, which promulgated principles, guidelines, and effective practices for protecting migrants caught in conflicts and natural disasters (Martin, 2016). A similar grouping could take on all or designated parts of the responsibility-sharing agenda and produce similar understandings of the principles that frame responsibility-sharing efforts, guidelines for states that want to engage in responsibility-sharing actions, and effective practices to accomplish their aim. As in the Nansen and MICIC initiatives, a group of donors could also provide seed funding to states interested in putting their commitments into action. The idea here is to build sufficient support among states for a set of norms and practices, so that these eventually become the regular mode of operation.

Regardless of which mechanisms described herein, or others, are used to enhance international responsibility-sharing, it is imperative that states take the initiative to negotiate the arrangements, with source, destination, and transit countries equally involved. Ultimately, states must implement the negotiated commitments. The negotiations should also involve, to the extent possible, UNHCR, other international organizations, NGOs with significant field experience, the broader civil society, and, most importantly, refugee-led organizations. Our research has demonstrated that all these entities have valid perspectives about responsibility-sharing, and they all will be affected by the resulting agreements. Similar research is needed in other regions of the world to determine the views of key organizations, including those led by refugees, to validate our findings and gain perspective on priorities within these regions. For responsibility-sharing to be meaningful, states must commit to contributions they can deliver and know they have the backing of relevant constituencies in fulfilling their commitments. Otherwise, the agreements will be no better than the paper on which they were written.


Parts of this article were originally published by the Swedish Migration Studies Delegation (Delmi) as Responsibility Sharing for Refugees in the Middle East and North Africa: Perspectives from Policymakers, Stakeholders, and Refugees and Displaced Persons: Report 2017:8. For more information about the Delmi report, please see:!/en/responsibility-sharing-for-refugees-in-the-middle-east-and-north-africa-report-and-policy-brief-2017. The authors thank Delmi for giving permission for the contents to be used. The article also draws on the working paper "International Responsibility Sharing for Refugees," produced for the Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD) Thematic Working Group (TWG) on Forced Migration and Development.

Author Contributions

All authors listed have made a substantial, direct and intellectual contribution to the work, and approved it for publication.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


(1.) Newland (2011) presents a similar framework for assessing responsibility-sharing, outlining four areas of cooperation: physical relocation of refugees to the territories of various states; provision of technical assistance in managing flows and establishing legal and institutional frameworks; financial assistance for care and protection; and agreements on common frameworks for dealing with refugees and asylum-seekers, often with an agreed division of labor among the participating states.


(3.) For more information about the methodology, see Martin et al. (2017).

(4.) See, for example, Betts (2009) on the Comprehensive Plan of Act (CPA) for Southeast Asian refugees and Crisp (1994) on the Conferencia Internacional sobre Refugiados, Desplazados y Repatriados de Centro America (CIREFCA), which focused on the situation of refugees and displaced persons in Central America.

(5.) Statistics are from the UNHCR website,, accessed 5 November 2018. The RACE plan is detailed on the Government of Lebanon's Ministry of Education and Higher Education, 20II_FINAL%20Narrative_29AUG2016.pdf (accessed 5 November 2018).

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Annex: Stakeholder Interviews


In-person interview with independent researcher, Beirut, Lebanon, April 25, 2016

In-person interview with INGO [A], Beirut, Lebanon, April 26, 2016

In-person interview with INGO [B], Beirut, Lebanon, April 26, 2016

In-person interview with service provider, Beirut, Lebanon, April 26, 2016

In-person interview with researcher, Beirut, Lebanon, April 27, 2016

In-person interview with UN agency, Beirut, Lebanon, April 27, 2016

Skype interview with Syrian-led organization, Beirut, Lebanon, August 2, 2016

Skype interview with Syrian-led organization, Beirut, Lebanon, August 8, 2016

In-person interview with Lebanese service provider, Washington, DC, September 13, 2016


Skype interview with INGO, Amman, Jordan, August 1, 2016

Skype interview with Syrian-led organization, Amman, Jordan, August 3, 2016

Skype interview with Syrian-led organization, Amman, Jordan, August 15, 2016

Skype interview with Syrian lawyer, Amman, Jordan, August 20, 2016

Skype interview with service provider, Amman, Jordan, September 5, 2016

Skype interview with service provider, Amman, Jordan, September 6, 2016


Skype interview with Syrian-led organization, Istanbul, Turkey, August 3, 2016

Phone interview with INGO, New York, August 4, 2016

Phone interview with INGO, New York, August 8, 2016

Skype interview with Syrian-led organization, Istanbul, Turkey, August 10, 2016

Skype interview with Syrian-led organization, Gaziantep, Turkey, August 10, 2016

Skype interview with service provider, Istanbul, Turkey, August 12, 2016

Skype interview with service provider, Istanbul, Turkey, August 15, 2016

Skype interview with service provider, Ankara, Turkey, September 5, 2016

Arab Republic of Egypt

In-person interview with research institution, Cairo, Egypt, September 4, 2016

In-person interview with Syrian lawyer, Cairo, Egypt, September 6, 2016

In-person interview with Syrian community leader, Cairo, Egypt, September 6, 2016

In-person interview Egyptian lawyer, Cairo, Egypt, September 7, 2016

In-person interview with service provider in Egypt, Washington, DC, September 16, 2016

Skype interview with Egyptian lawyer, Cairo, Egypt, September 17, 2016

Skype interview with service provider, Cairo, Egypt, September 17, 2016

Skype interview with Syrian-led organization, Cairo, Egypt, September 18, 2016


In-person interview with government official, Erbil, Iraq, March 3, 2016

In-person interview with government official, Erbil, Iraq, October 3, 2016

In-person interview with researcher, Washington, DC, October 14, 2016

Susan F. Martin,

Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA

(corresponding author)

Rochelle Davis

Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA

Grace Benton

Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA

Zoya Waliany

Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA

How to cite: Martin, Susan F., Rochelle Davis, Grace Benton, and Zoya Waliany (2019). "International Responsibility-Sharing for Refugees: Perspectives from the MENA Region," Geopolitics, History, and International Relations 11(1): 59-91. doi:10.22381/GHIR11120193

Received 17 June 2018 * Received in revised form 9 November 2018

Accepted 11 November 2018 * Available online 10 December 2018

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Date:Jun 1, 2019
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