The Global Compact on Refugees: towards a theory of change?
Introduction: The Global Compact on Refugees (Refugee Compact) addresses one of the most significant gaps in the international refugee regime. Since the creation of the modern refugee system, there has been a disjuncture between a strongly institutionalized norm of ‘asylum’ and a weakly institutionalized norm of ‘responsibility sharing’. While States’ obligations towards refugees who are within their territory or jurisdiction are relatively clearly defined, States’ obligations to support refugees who are on the territory of another State are much weaker. Consequently, while law has shaped asylum, politics has defined responsibility sharing. This has long led to a major power asymmetry within the refugee system in which geography and proximity to crisis de facto define State responsibility. Distant donor countries’ commitments to provide money or resettlement have been viewed as largely discretionary. Historically, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has therefore needed to rely upon ad hoc conferences or discretionary, often earmarked, and usually annual commitments to elicit responsibility sharing. In displacement crises in which donor and resettlement commitments have been low, protection and access to solutions have inevitably been limited.