Twice now Lloyd Axworthy has spent a work term at the Robert Bosch Academy. His goal: new solutions for the global refugee crisis. An insight on the tireless commitment of an elder statesman.

Germany and the “Refugee Crisis”

The world is closely watching Germany. Thousands of refugees fleeing violence came in 2015, presenting a huge challenge even for an economically sound country such as Germany. The failure of successful integration here – according to Lloyd Axworthy – would dramatically lower the receptiveness towards refugees in other countries. Given this background, the former Canadian Foreign Minister and Minister for Labor and Immigration wanted to experience first-hand how Germany reacted to the so-called “refugee crisis”.

During his first stay as a Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow, Lloyd Axworthy completed a comprehensive program: besides numerous conversations with German experts and decision-makers, he also accompanied the Academy on a Study Tour through Germany on the topic, “Germany and the Refugee Story”. The civic engagement of many Germans was a pleasant surprise for him. But he was critical of the lack of integration in the German labor market, as well as the inflexibility shown by both private enterprises and politician on a federal level towards the upcoming challenges – a reaction which endangers the possibilities of the German economy.

The World Refugee Council

Still influenced by the discussions and experiences of his first stay at the Academy Lloyd Axworthy initiated the World Refugee Council (WRC). Its goal: finding creative and bold solutions for the global refugee crisis. According to the former diplomat, a global solution is essential for such a complex challenge. Therefore, the WRC works both multilaterally and interdisciplinary: members of the Council include, amongst others, the Pakistani human rights advocate Hina Jilani, the former President of Tanzania Jakaya Kikwete, and Fen Osler Hampson, Director of the Global Security and Political Program of the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). After meetings in Switzerland and Jordan, the Council, under the patronage of Rita Süssmuth, also convened in Germany at the Berlin Representative Office of the Robert Bosch Stiftung. During the two-day conference the council discussed ideas and possible solutions, such as ways to strengthen the digital interconnectedness amongst refugees and the use of “Frozen Assets” to cut off funding for dictatorships, with decision-makers, politicians, and representatives of NGOs and Think Tanks.

Challenge: Eastern Europe

During his second stay at the Robert Bosch Academy, Lloyd Axworthy spent most of his time in Eastern Europe conversing with local actors to gain a better understanding of the possible causes of the restrictive policies regarding refugees in the region. His travels through Slovenia, Croatia, and Hungary gave him the opportunity to meet a number of experts, including policy makers and renowned politicians, as well as representatives of international organizations, and even grassroots NGOs. Above all, he also always sought to gain the perspective of the refugees living in the region.

A very personal matter was his visit to Kosovo. 20 years prior, Axworthy had traveled to the region, as Foreign minister, to campaign for the Canadian government and its allies to intervene in the conflict in order to end to the severe human rights abuses which were occurring. His engagement greatly influenced the debate around the principle “Responsibility to Protect”. In further conversation, including talks with members of the military, he was able to gain perspective both on the current situation and if Kosovo could serve as a case study in the handling of refugee streams and the reconciliation and integration which must follow. What is clear, is that the Kosovo is a positive example of the interventions which must be undertaken by a state community that endeavors peace and the upkeep of human rights. Something that he had hoped to would have happened in Yemen or Syria, if necessary even without a UN mandate and without Russia or China. New paths, courage and stubbornness of those responsible make such lifesaving interventions possible, even today, according to the former Foreign Minister in a TV interview given in Kosovo.

The Canadian Model and a Global Vision

During his time as a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy, Lloyd Axworthy continuously pointed to Canadian policies on migration and their exemplariness for other regions, “the Canadian experience shows that receiving refugees can be a good thing – if done correctly”.. “For example, we have the private sponsoring of refugees. Neighbors, families, even church communities can come together and privately support refugees, ranging from language courses to helping with the grocery shopping. As a result, refugees are not isolated and Canadians feel like they play a role in the development of their society”.

But besides national solutions, a global answer is also needed. Lloyd Axworthy’s vision is a global Ministry for Refugees, but is that realistic? “It is necessary. Current estimations show that there are 22 million refugees worldwide, a number that is ever increasing. They are fleeing not just because of conflict or political persecution but also due to climate change and other causes. We have to act globally, some countries don’t want to take in refugees while others are taking on more than they can handle. The system is falling apart”. Axworthy has already proven that international conventions can be successful, his engagement in banning landmines earned him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Lloyd Axworthy continues to be modest, but also pensive in the face of the seemingly unsolvable tasks the global community is confronted with. But giving up is not an option, you just have to start somewhere, says Lloyd Axworthy, who doesn’t even think about retiring. 

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