Areas of Work

Refugees and Migrants

QUNO works to protect and strengthen the rights of refugees and migrants at the UN level. We seek to uphold the dignity and worth of every individual, regardless of circumstance, and work to see this equality of all people better reflected by the international community in the treatment of people on the move.

We work with the UN human rights mechanisms, as well as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and others to advocate for responses to people on the move that are firmly rooted in international human rights principles. Using our traditional methods of bringing different actors engaged in this work together, we aim to create a more humane global vision and approach to people on the move.

QUNO is actively engaged in the follow up to the New York Declaration, a high-level document agreed by States on the 19th September 2016 focussed on addressing large movements of people. The declaration sets in motion a series of processes at the UN level which aim to improve global governance in this area. QUNO sees this as a significant opportunity to develop a more rights-respecting global framework for addressing large movements of people.

Our work also involves engaging with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on refugee protection issues (in particular related to conscientious objection to military service), ending statelessness and other matters related to forced displacement.

Recent Timeline Events

March 2017

A focus on the human rights of migrants at the Human Rights Council's 34th Session

The 34th Session of the Human Rights Council concluded on 24th March. During the session there were some important discussions and decisions relating to the human rights of migrants, an issue we are working on closely. 

On 10th March the Human Rights Council held an Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the human rights of migrants in the context of large movements. This was the first time that the Council held a discussion dedicated to migrants’ human rights after the September 2016 adoption of the New York Declaration on refugees and migrants, and its initiation of the development of a Global Compact on safe, orderly and regular migration. The Declaration – a high level political statement, and the Global Compact - a proposed new State-negotiated international framework - represent important shifts in how the international community addresses human mobility and displacement. As such, the Human Rights Council’s discussion came at an important time, giving it an opportunity to speak to the role of human rights within this new international agenda.

Peggy Hicks, Director of the Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division of the Office of the High Commissioner, stated during the discussion:

'The international community has an unprecedented opportunity in the next two years to... learn from the experience of migrants, and to build a Global Compact that provides safe, rights respecting migration, and to ensure that future generations are spared the hell of desperate, precarious journeys.' 

QUNO followed this discussion closely, and we co-signed a joint oral statement that was delivered during the debate (attached). Our current priority is for the Council to play its part in making sure that the Global Compact is people-centred and underpinned by and consistent with international human rights law.

We also prepared a Briefing for Friends that examines these UN initiatives in more detail. It further describes how we are actively engaged in this work, as well as ways that Friends around the world can engage with, and benefit from these UN level initiatives.  

Laurel Townhead, Representative for Human Rights and Refugees delivered two statements for QUNO related to the human rights of migrants during the session. 

1. The first statement welcomed a set of Principles and Guidelines on the human rights protection of migrants in vulnerable situations and within large and/or mixed movements, developed by the Global Migration Group, and called on States to endorse them. See here for the video of the statement (number 59 on right hand panel).

2. The second statement called for a human rights basis to the Global Compact on safe, orderly and regular migration, with a particular focus on the importance of the role of existing UN human rights mechanisms in its development. See here for the video of the statement (number 25 on right hand panel).

QUNO was also pleased that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants was renewed in a resolution at this session. Finally, we further welcome the decision of the Mexican mission to run a substantive resolution on the human rights of migrants in the June session of the Human Rights Council.

Looking ahead, we encourage sustained attention to this issue by the UN human rights mechanisms, particularly in light of the upcoming consultations for the Global Compact on safe, orderly and regular migration.

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February 2017

New briefing for Friends on opportunities and challenges for the protection of refugees and migrants at the UN level

We are pleased to launch a new briefing paper for Friends: ‘Protecting refugees and migrants under the New York Declaration: challenges and opportunities at the UN level.’

On September 19th 2016, the UN set a new agenda under the ‘New York Declaration’ for responding to large movements of people crossing borders. Our briefing aims to inform Friends about the Declaration and the developments it initiates for improving global governance on refugees and migrants. It also describes how QUNO is engaging in these opportunities, as well as ways that Quakers around the world can link up with, and benefit from, UN level initiatives.

This weekend, we are sharing this briefing at the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network (QARN) conference on forced migration. The QARN conference, at Woodbrooke Study Centre in Birmingham, UK aims to connect Friends in the UK interested in responding to forced migration issues. Our briefing and our workshop at the conference aims to connect our UN work and the opportunities it presents to local initiatives amongst Quakers in the UK. 

Photo: contributing to the tree of current actions Friends are taking on refugee and migrant issues.


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February 2017

QUNO contributes to a new World Report on Statelessness

QUNO’s Representative for Human Rights and Refugees, Laurel Townhead, has written an article on childhood statelessness of children of prisoners, for a new World Report on Statelessness.

The World Report on Statelessness, launched by the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, is the most comprehensive resource on the global situation of stateless people. The second World Statelessness Report (2017) has a specific focus on children, exploring the urgency of and opportunities for addressing childhood statelessness. QUNO’s article focusses on the risks of childhood statelessness for children of prisoners, particularly for children born to foreign national women in prison.

For more information about the report and about statelessness around the world, see the two report websites: and

The full report can be accessed here (the article can be found on page 385). 

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