In this section:


Image credit: Farah Abdi

Farah Abdi's blog: The World Humanitarian Summit

Farah Abdi's blog: The World Humanitarian Summit

What it means for refugees

Image above: Farah is speaking with the Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat

Back in February, when I received the invitation to take part in this two-day event in Istanbul, I was very excited. I thought the world was finally ready to do something to ease human suffering across the globe – as someone who had gone through a humanitarian crisis twice in my life.

When I was three-years-old, my family had to flee our native Somalia to Kenya due to civil war. The second time was when I fled Kenya in 2012 due to fear of persecution because of my sexuality.

The summit was being held in a country and city where refugee suffering is very much a reality. I desperately wanted the proverbial saying, actions speak louder than words, to come into play.

In order to put this thought into perspective, I had to ask myself these questions.

Will the two-day conference and its myriad events and mountain of commitments achieve something significant and actionable? Or were we walking into what amounted to nothing more than a well dressed, well orchestrated jamboree?

Will all the expense, energy and intellect invested really bear fruits? Will the interests of people in crisis be served?

Ahead of the Summit, I set out three tests for success. Now that the curtain has fallen, let’s check the scorecard.

Will world leaders commit to easing the suffering of desperate refugees, or will they continue to erect barriers to prevent refugees from accessing help?

The answer to this question was my first disappointment and frustration. World leaders simply committed to throwing more money at the problem instead of finding critical solutions to get to the root of the issue.

This was very clear when German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who is the leader of the recent deal between the EU and Turkey – to push back to Turkey refugees who try to seek protection in the EU – showed up at the summit portraying the EU as a human rights champion even after this selfish deal to lock out refugees.

Will countries receiving donor funding be pushed to be more accountable and less corrupt?

The problem with throwing money at the problem is that the money ends up in the wrong hands and does not achieve what it was intended to achieve. The silver lining when it comes to this topic was that at least it was discussed and a formula was put in place.

Leaders came up with the Grand Bargain Formula, a financial reform initiative. The 15 largest donor countries signed up to give more longer-term and flexible funding. In return, the 15 largest recipients of this funding would spend it more efficiently and transparently.

All signatories would commit to concrete targets to spur the increased use of cash assistance – as opposed to giving out food, tents or other commodities. Funding would be directed to national and local organisations by donors, eliminating the United Nations (UN) and large international non-governmental organisations’ overheads.

These commitments are both necessary and welcome if they remain tangible and specific – less so if they are reduced to platitudes.

Will the summit pave the way for a change agenda?

The final term of current UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, is coming to an end. At the summit, he made it very clear that he wanted this first world humanitarian summit to pave the way for not only more discussions, but concrete solutions.

This can only be achieved if the world humanitarian summit quickly draws out a roadmap for delivering on all its commitments. Whether this will happen remains to be seen.


I was reflecting on my participation at the summit as I waited to board my plane back home. To drive out disappointment, I consoled myself with a quote from my book.

“Change is very natural for nature. Look at how seamlessly seasons change from winter to spring, summer and autumn. Yet as human beings we struggle with change, resolutely staying in our comfort zones even when they have become deeply uncomfortable. We try as much as we can to resist change until the very last moment. I have come to realise that change is inevitable, and while occasionally unwanted and painful, it heralds a season of personal growth if I work at it.”

This was my hope for the summit but it didn't deliver. I'm not giving up on hope though, as I said change is inevitable!