The World Refugee Council on Thursday called for up to US$20 billion stolen by government leaders and now frozen in the US, UK and other countries to be reallocated by courts to help millions of displaced people forced to flee conflict, persecution and victimization.
The council also called for people responsible for the growing crisis of refugees and internally displaced people — including government leaders, military officers and opposition and rebel figures — to be held accountable, all the way to the International Criminal Court.
Chaired by former Canadian minister of foreign affairs Lloyd Axworthy, the 24-member council, which was formed in May 2017 includes former heads of state and ministers, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee and leading business, civil society and human rights officials.
The 218-page report it launched goes beyond what the UN has done, at a time when the number of people forcibly displaced from their homes is 68.5 million, the highest since World War II.
Its release came as populist and nationalist political figures “are exploiting people’s anxieties, fears” about refugees, Axworthy said.
The report said that “the humanitarian commitment of nations, once a norm, has given way to nativism. Xenophobia — fear and exclusion of the ‘outsider’ — has gathered force in America, Europe, Australia and elsewhere.”
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which relies on voluntary contributions, is seriously underfunded and commissioner Filippo Grandi in his latest report on forced displacement called for “a new and far more comprehensive approach” to the crisis “so that countries and communities aren’t left dealing with this alone.”
Axworthy told a news conference: “What we’ve really proposed is a way in which you have to get out of the box in which refugees are seen simply as ‘a humanitarian issue.’”
“There has to be a much stronger level of involvement” in matters of security, development, human rights, accountability and finance for the world’s 25.4 million refugees and 40 million internally displaced, along with 3.1 million asylum seekers, he said.
He cited the World Bank as saying that there are between US$15 billion and US$20 billion “in purloined assets that various political leaders have stolen from their people.”
How much of that can be recovered depends on how many governments and countries are prepared to give their courts the right to reallocate the money, he said, citing Switzerland, which has done so, as a model.
Council executive director Fen Osler Hampson said that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s regime has complained it does not have access to US$3 billion in bank accounts frozen in the US.
Several hundred million US dollars belonging to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s family remains frozen in London bank accounts, he said, adding that in the case of South Sudan, “the generals have several hundred millions that are frozen in bank accounts in Nairobi.”
“All it takes is political will to introduce that legislation” to give courts the right to reallocate that money, Hampson said.
As for accountability, Axworthy said using the International Criminal Court to prosecute Myanmar’s military leaders for alleged crimes against humanity for the crackdown that led over 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh would “take away the impunity” for those responsible for massive displacement.
The council also called for the drafting of a new protocol to the 1951 Refugee Convention requiring “collective responsibility for refugees.”
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