On Wednesday afternoon, Staff Writer Elaine Lloyd attended an event where Dr. Gillian Triggs, the UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, held a discussion with members of the Columbia Committee on Forced Migration on taking action to further implement the UN’s Global Compact on Refugees. 

On Wednesday, a group of eager international relations students gathered to hear Dr. Gillian Triggs, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), speak on the mobilization of the UN’s Global Compact on Refugees. Her discussion was facilitated by members of the Columbia Committee on Forced Migration. 

Dr. Gillian Triggs has led her career in the service of refugees throughout the world. Before working for the UNHCR, she served a five-year term as President of the Australian Human Rights Commission and has experience in international commercial law. She is also highly involved as patron and former Commissioner of Justice Connect, an organization that pairs asylum seekers with pro bono lawyers to help them navigate their rights while seeking shelter in a host country. 

Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh, Senior Advisor of the Columbia Global Committee on Forced Migration, facilitated the conversation with Shabnam Fayyaz MS’ 22 and Dr. Daniel Naujoks. Fayyez, who was born in Afghanistan and grew up in a refugee community in Pakistan, received a Master’s degree in Human Rights from Columbia with a displaced student scholarship and now works as an employment coordinator at the International Rescue Committee’s Refugee Resettlement Program. Dr. Naujoks currently serves as the Director of UN Studies at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). 

The conversation began as Dr. Tajbakhsh introduced the mission and purpose of Columbia’s Committee on Forced Migration (CFM). The CFM was created in response to the dramatic increase of forced migrants across the world. It runs Columbia’s scholarship for displaced students and holds discussions with the world’s leaders on migration in order to use the university’s platform to engage students and raise awareness about the global refugee crisis. 

After being introduced by Dr. Tajbakhsh, Dr. Triggs began by discussing the nature of our current global refugee crisis and the complexities between asylum seekers and their host countries. According to Dr. Triggs, over 114 million people are displaced globally and conflicts are larger than ever before, as about 66% of current conflicts between and within nations have lasted at least five years. As many proposed solutions to the refugee crisis designate the full burden of settlement onto host countries, many nations claim that the UN asylum system is broken and should be determined at a national or state level. 

The fundamental principle of the UNHRC states that everyone deserves the right to seek and obtain asylum. While the UNHRC remains committed to ensuring the right to asylum, Dr. Triggs emphasized that this standard is difficult to achieve as many host countries either lack tolerance towards forced migrants or lack the means to provide housing, food, and healthcare to an influx of asylum seekers. 

In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly affirmed the UN’s Global Compact on Refugees, which Dr. Triggs holds as a promising action toward the fulfillment of the UNHCR’s protection of asylum seekers throughout the world. The Global Compact on Refugees is a framework to promote equitable sharing of responsibility in the resettlement of refugees and acknowledges that no progress can be made to end the global refugee crisis without international cooperation. It promotes a holistic approach to resettlement that works beyond a government level to integrate migrants into the society to which they’ve been forcibly relocated. 

Dr. Triggs spoke with great hope towards the Global Compact on Refugees. While acknowledging that the Compact is still in its first stages, she stated that it has already shown progress in the integration of migrants within their communities. In 2018, only about 10% of refugees were able to obtain work inside of their host country and since then that number has skyrocketed as about 45% of current refugees have found a working income within their host countries. 

According to Dr. Triggs, the holistic approach of the Global Compact on Refugees includes the incorporation of the private sector with the public sector of the host country. Within refugee communities in Kenya, companies that assist in financial services, legal advice, and job development are key in transforming the harsh environment of a refugee camp into a thriving community. Additionally, the UNHCR is consistently working to release grants and loans so that host governments can invest in the health and future of migrants. Dr. Triggs emphasized that including a multitude of actors in helping relieve host countries of the financial burden involved in an influx of migrants is the only way to realistically solve the global refugee crisis. 

In discussing the significance of the Global Compact on Refugees, Dr. Triggs said that its creation was like “lighting a candle in the dark.” It may not be perfect, but the Compact works towards solutions to help all parties affected by forced migration. 

Next month, the world will come together for the Global Refugee Forum. Dr. Triggs stated that the forum will work towards expanding the implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees so the UN can stay committed to providing asylum to those in need. 

United Nations Map via Wikimedia Commons