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UNHCR/Igor Pavicevic

The Issue

There are unprecedented numbers of people on the move, through forced displacement, voluntary migration and flight from conflict, fragile and failed states.  Large flows of refugees and migrants have highlighted gaping deficiencies in current response mechanisms, with inadequate responsibility-sharing and the rights of those on the move often ignored.

Our Approach

We will help maintain the spotlight on the plight of refugees and migrants; challenging negative narratives, supporting multilateral mechanisms and improvements to existing structures. We will advocate holistic rights-based approaches and emphasise the benefits of migration. We will champion the need for compassion, tolerance and solidarity in response to vulnerable people on the move.  

UNHCR/Alessandro Penso

Our View on refugees and migration


Supporting efforts to improve regional and international responses

We support international efforts to improve and systematise responses to the mass movement of people, such as the UN’s planned "global compact" on responsibility-sharing for refugees and the global compact on safe, regular and orderly migration. We urge the countries of the world to commit to binding targets to ensure that responsibility is truly shared.



Enhancing assistance to major refugee-hosting countries

Most people fleeing conflict and persecution seek refuge in the closest possible safe haven and await the first opportunity to return to their homes and rebuild their lives. But the return of refugees to their home country is rarely rapid.


If refugees are to remain for a prolonged period in host countries, they must be provided a decent existence with realistic prospects of adequate food, water, shelter and healthcare, temporary employment and education for their children.


With the right policies, refugeees can help themselves and contribute to host societies.


Increasing resettlement opportunities and additional pathways for admission

Governments cannot simply pay their way out of real responsibility-sharing. Resettlement is a tool for protection, a durable solution for refugees.

In the absence of pathways to admission, people seeking to flee conflict or hardship often have no option but to undertake dangerous, irregular journeys, handing their savings to criminal networks in order to cross borders. The world cannot decry people smugglers yet offer no viable alternative.

We urge the international community, particularly those who are better resourced, to show compassion and solidarity by taking in more refugees at this difficult time.


Strengthening and upholding human rights and refugee protection

All migrants have human rights and should have their dignity upheld while on the move and in how they are received in other countries.


All countries have a responsibility to ensure that their border procedures protect human rights and are sensitive to the particular needs of women, children and others who may be at risk.


All those arriving, regardless of status, are entitled to due process of law in the determination of their legal status, entry and right to remain. In no cases are collective expulsions permissible.


We believe that the system is failing not so much because the rules are wrong but rather because states are applying them inadequately. The protection of refugees and migrants is a common good, for the safety and dignity of all humanity.


Our recent work

In November 2017, Kofi Annan, Lakhdar Brahimi, Mary Robinson visited the Cara Mineo refugee and migrant centre in Sicily where they met refugees and migrants who had survived treacherous journeys to reach Europe. Then, joined by Ricardo Lagos, they met Pope Francis to express their appreciation and support for his work on refugees and migration.


In September 2017, Mary Robinson participated in the Global Mayor’s Summit hosted in New York City to call for bold leadership on refugees and migration.


In September 2016, The Elders travelled to Berlin to launch their report on Refugees and Mass Migrationraising awareness of key issues and recognising the leadership and humanity shown by Germany in opening its borders in 2015. Martti Ahtisaari, Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi met German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and President Joachim Gauck to discuss Germany’s role, the challenges faced and the need for global responsibility-sharing. They visited a temporary accommodation centre where they were able to listen first-hand to refugees’ experiences, concerns and aspirations. And they joined a dinner with business leaders, hosted by the B Team, focused on improving integration. Days later, Martti Ahtisaari, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Hina Jilani and Mary Robinson took part in events in and around the UN General Assembly’s high-level week in New York, including the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants. They also heard from resettled refugees during a meeting at the International Rescue Committee, where they were joined by IRC CEO David Miliband and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.


In May 2016, The Elders and the Overseas Development Institute co-hosted a discussion panel on the Middle East, bringing together world-leading research and experience to discuss all angles of the regional crisis. This event was opened with a video produced by The Elders and UNHCR giving refugees from Syria a platform to question Kofi Annan, Lakhdar Brahimi and Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, on resettlement and the prospects for peace in Syria.


In October 2015, Kofi Annan, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Hina Jilani spoke at a public debate at the Graduate Institute in Geneva on the Syrian refugee crisis alongside the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein and Director General of the International Organization for Migration, Bill Swing.


In September 2015, our chair Kofi Annan initiated an open letter to European leaders signed by the heads of leading international humanitarian and human rights organisations concerning the current crisis.


In June 2015, The Elders marked World Refugee Day with a video calling for empathy and leadership from the international community.



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