Refugee Leadership

Survivors who have experienced forced displacement must lead at all levels of refugee response.

Image shows a group of women seated in circle listening


Many working in the refugee response sector would intuitively understand that a women’s rights conference led by men is destined to be ineffective. Responders would likely question the validity of a straight, cisgender person as the spokesperson for an LGBTIQ+ rights organization, and critique a panel on indigenous rights with no indigenous panel members.

However, within the refugee response sector, refugees are rarely present at sites of decision-making or even discussion. At large refugee rights conferences, one could count the number of refugee representatives on one hand, and at the smaller tables where big decisions happen, refugees are wholly excluded. They are also largely absent from the ranks of refugee response institutions.

What can we do to address this?

To work towards addressing this problem, the Global Refugee-led Network in collaboration with Asylum Access published a document which contains a definition of ‘meaningful participation’ and guidelines that would enable meaningful participation specifically within the refugee response sector. 

The Meaningful Participation Guidelines include the following recommendations:

  1. Facilitate ongoing and sustained access to strategizing and decision-making processes at every level.
  2. Facilitate refugee preparedness to engage in strategizing and decision-making moments.
  3. Initiate institutional self-reflection and enact changes that dismantle power dynamics.
  4. Finance refugee participation and refugee-led initiatives.
  5. Address and prevent tokenizing refugees.

Change in any form is not easy; but, change of this kind is highly complex. Research shows that change of this magnitude is only possible when leaders commit to systemic transformation, and accordingly allocate the time and financial resources necessary to instigate change. Ultimately, we must make this transition; until refugees themselves are leading refugee responses at local, national and global levels, status quo and ineffective responses are unlikely to be fully examined and reformed.

Access the Meaningful Participation Guidelines below

We would like to thank the Network of Colombian Victims for Peace in Latin America and the Caribbean (REVICPAZ-LAC) for their collaboration to produce the Spanish version of the guidelines.

Asylum Access’s commitment to refugee leadership and participation

Asylum Access’s commitment to refugee leadership and participation is core to who we are as an organization. We believe that movements are most impactful when they are led by those most affected.

At the historic Global Refugee Forum in 2019, Asylum Access made specific pledges aimed at increasing refugee leadership and participation. These pledges push for change both within our organization and within the broader refugee response community.