Frozen assets

Repurposing Frozen Assets to Assist the Forcibly Displaced — Research Paper

With the number of refugees and internally displaced persons currently at more than 70 million, the global level of forced migration is now greater than ever. The present arrangements for responding to their needs are falling far short in almost every respect. Fresh thinking is required to develop a more effective legal, social and financial framework to meet this challenge.

The World Refugee & Migration Council (WRMC) was created as a catalyst for that fresh thinking, and as a forum in which policy innovations can be developed. The WRMC’s starting point is the principle of shared responsibility, leading to a more equitable distribution of the tasks involved in hosting, settling and integrating refugees, and providing support and protection to those who are internally displaced.

The WRMC recognizes that a framework based on shared responsibility will endure only if there are mechanisms for enforcement and accountability. At the same time, the framework must include incentives for states to comply with their obligations, and resources to assist them in doing so.

In considering accountability, it is important to remember that forced displacement is often the result of bad governance. Violent or oppressive regimes, or those that fail or refuse to protect their populations, are responsible for much of the forced migration in the world today. Those regimes are also often corrupt, stealing from their treasuries and placing the money and other assets offshore for the unlawful benefit of the rulers and their associates.

When the jurisdictions in which the purloined assets are placed become aware of the assets’ existence, they frequently “freeze” and, in some circumstances, seize them. These steps may be authorized by court order, by domestic legislation, or through sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

As a result, such assets are often tied up for extended periods. Meanwhile, the countries that are hosting those who were forcibly displaced struggle to manage the cost of accommodating large numbers of refugees or displaced persons whose dislocation was often caused by the very regime that stole the money.

To achieve both greater accountability and a fairer allocation of responsibility, could the stolen money be used in such cases to assist the forcibly displaced? If the money is to be returned to the country from which it was stolen, can conditions be attached, requiring that it be used for the fair treatment and safe resettlement of refugees and the internally displaced? Where the corrupt regime is still in power, can the money be paid out directly to NGO’s, or jointly to the country of origin and, perhaps, an NGO or the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees?

These questions raise complex, sensitive and sometimes unprecedented issues, but given the acute shortage of resources to assist refugees, they are well worth pursuing. It is estimated that corrupt leaders of countries whose population has been displaced, have deposited billions of dollars in cash and assets in foreign jurisdictions.

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