Refugees, facts and better policies

UNHCR-OECD collaboration
Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, UNHCR

©Rights reserved/UNHCR

Over 65 million people, or one person in 113, were displaced from their homes by conflict or persecution in 2015. This troubling statistic comes from UNHCR–also known as the UN Refugee Agency–and was a higher number than at any time in the agency’s history. UNHCR signed a memorandum of understanding with the OECD in June 2016 to increase collaboration between the two organisations in addressing the problems that arise from such forced displacement, both for the people themselves and the communities that host and shelter them.

We asked Volker Türk, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at UNHCR, to explain the motives and aims behind this latest MoU.

OECD Observer: How significant is this new initiative between UNHCR and the OECD?

Our new collaboration holds a great deal of potential for us. We’ve already seen successful co-operation with the OECD in the past, in areas such as pathways to protection and solutions, in engaging businesses in employing refugees, in areas like mixed migration, and in how to approach development assistance in a context of forced displacement, to list just a few. But today there’s a growing call for more evidence demonstrating how the presence of refugees affects host communities, including public services and the local economy. People want to get beyond heated debates and get to know about the real challenges and opportunities this represents.

The OECD’s analytical capacity and role as a policy advisor to its member countries complements UNHCR’s role on the ground–our protecting and supervising efforts–and it helps us in our accountability to refugees, internally displaced persons, and stateless persons as well. By pooling our expertise, we hope to be able to provide a strong evidence base for decision makers and opinion leaders to go beyond the minimum and to support measures that really help these people and their host communities to realise their potential.

Turning to the refugee crisis itself, what progress do you see and what concerns do you have for the future?

Our greatest challenge at the moment is how to fulfil our mandate in the face of unprecedented numbers of forcibly displaced people, which has been made all the harder by the length of time this is likely to go on taking. Moreover, the weakening commitments to the institution of asylum in some quarters does not help either. Xenophobia and isolationist tendencies appear to be on the rise in several countries, including in some that helped to create the international protection system in the first place. Another major challenge we face is that many refugees are currently hosted by relatively less well-off countries where their presence risks becoming a burden and where support is urgently needed for both refugees and their host communities.

Of course, providing peace, security and a future for refugees is a massive challenge when faced with such sudden movements and in such large numbers. We recognise this and are working around the clock with the affected countries to develop new ways of providing protection and facilitating admission. Part of our effort involves countries assisting each other in their respective roles, and working with NGOs, employers and workers’ associations, which are now playing a very substantial and constructive role. New approaches are being tried out, and together we are exploring how these positive forces of collaboration can be harnessed in welcoming and integrating new-comers. It is particularly pleasing to see how much civil society has actively engaged in this process, and our NGO consultations have produced some really promising initiatives, on how young people can help with integration for instance.

How do you think UNHCR and OECD can work together to address these issues?

As I mentioned earlier, I think the most important area for collaboration will be establishing a strong base of evidence in support of progressive policy development for forcibly displaced persons. Refugee communities have an enormous amount of economic potential, and our organisations will be instrumental in helping its OECD countries harness that potential. We also need to send out a strong message against xenophobia, to underline that it is ultimately damaging to everyone. We need to develop more tailored guidance for our members on refugee issues, including examples of best practices and new pathways for admission. We can also encourage more policy harmonisation among our countries, particularly with regard to development assistance where it is needed most. Together, we must continue to foster dialogue among all stakeholders so that the guidance we develop can address as wide a range of perspectives as possible. That way, we can make real progress together on these human issues that are so vital for the future of our world.

UNHCR (2016), “Global forced displacement hits record high”, by Adrian Edwards, June, see

See the UNHCR-OECD MoU here


©OECD Observer October 2016

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive print editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • “Nizip” refugee camp visit
    July 2016: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría visits the “Nizip” refugee camp, situated between Gaziantep and the Turkish-Syrian border, accompanied by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek. The camp accommodates a small number of the 2.75 million Syrians currently registered in Turkey, mostly outside the camps. In his tour of the camp, Mr Gurría visits a school, speaks with refugees and gives a short interview.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • Queen Maxima of the Netherlands gives a speech next to Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (not pictured) during the International Forum of Financial Inclusion at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 21, 2016.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • OECD Environment Director Simon Upton presented a talk at Imperial College London on 21 April 2016. With the world awash in surplus oil and prices languishing around US$40 per barrel, how can governments step up efforts to transform the world’s energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement?
  • Happy 10th birthday to Twitter. This 2008 OECD Observer interview with Henry Copeland said you’d do well.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Once migrants reach Europe, countries face integration challenge: OECD's Thomas Liebig speaks to NPR's Audie Cornish.

  • Message from the International Space Station to COP21

  • The carbon clock is ticking: OECD’s Gurría on CNBC

  • If we want to reach zero net emissions by the end of the century, we must align our policies for a low-carbon economy, put a price on carbon everywhere, spend less subsidising fossil fuels and invest more in clean energy. OECD at #COP21 – OECD statement for #COP21
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa.
  • Pole to Paris Project
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • How can cities fight climate change?
    Discover projects in Denmark, Canada, Australia, Japan and Mexico.
  • Climate: What's changed, what hasn't, what we can do about it.
    Lecture by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, hosted by the London School of Economics and Aviva Investors in association with ClimateWise, London, UK, 3 July 2015.
  • Is technological progress slowing down? Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .

Most Popular Articles


What issue are you most concerned about in 2016?

Euro crisis
International conflict
Global warming

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2016