UN holds first-ever summit on refugees and migrants

The issue of what to do about the world's 65.3 million displaced people will take center stage at the General Assembly.

By: AP | United Nations | Published:September 19, 2016 6:51 pm
un, united nations, refugees, refugee crisis, immigrants, immigrants crisis, un refugees, un refugees conference, world news Hundreds of life jackets line the shore of the New York City waterfront in the Brooklyn borough of New York, placed there by advocates with Oxfam America to draw attention to the refugee crisis. (Source: File/AP)

With more people forced to flee their homes than at any time since World War II, leaders and foreign ministers are expected to approve a document on Monday aimed at providing a more coordinated and humane response to the crisis. The issue of what to do about the world’s 65.3 million displaced people will take center stage at the General Assembly with leaders from the United Nation’s 193-member states converging on New York for the first-ever summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.

“If we are able to translate that paper into a response in which many actors are going to participate, we will solve a lot of problems in emergency responses and in long-term refugee situations like the Syrian situation,” Fillipo Grandi, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees told The Associated Press. The agreement seeks to standardize responses to refugee situations and provide better education and jobs to refugees. It also encourages resettlement and includes plans for a campaign to combat xenophobia.

That may prove an uphill struggle, however, as the document is not legally binding and comes at a time that refugees and migrants have become a divisive issue in Europe and the United States. A number of countries rejected an earlier draft of the agreement that called on nations to resettle 10 percent of the refugee population each year, something that has led several human rights groups to criticize the document as a missed opportunity. The US and a number of other countries also objected to language in the original draft that said children should never be detained, so the agreement now says children should seldom, if ever, be detained.

“Instead of sharing responsibility, world leaders shirked it. The UN summit has been sabotaged by states acting in self-interest, leaving millions of refugees in dire situations around the world on the edge of a precipice,” Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said in a statement. Shetty said the agreement merely kicks the can down the road by calling for separate global compacts for refugees and migrants to be adopted within two years.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose report on refugees and migrants laid the basis for the summit document, said he was aware of the criticism from non-governmental groups. “While we all wish it could be a stronger outcome document … all 193 member states had to agree on their commitment. As you will see, my report was a strong one,” Ban said. “I hope that, as the two compacts are adopted over the coming year and a half, some stronger language and commitment and elements from the report will reappear in the course of this negotiation.”

More concrete progress is expected at a follow-up summit on Tuesday called by President Barack Obama, where at least 45 countries are expected to make pledges that are in line with US goals of increasing humanitarian aid by $3 billion, doubling resettlement and increasing access to education for 1 million youngsters and access to employment for another million of the displaced. “You hear all around the world the UN hasn’t handled the refugee crisis. The way the UN will handle the refugee crisis is if all of us countries within the UN step up and dig deep and face those political headwinds that we all face, to do more, to give more, to take on a greater share of the resettlement challenge,” said Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN.

Prior to the pledging summit with world leaders, Obama will host a meeting with top executives from 50 companies to discuss what the private sector can do to help address the problem, Power said. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, an “unprecedented” 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015, an increase of more than 5 million from a year earlier. They include 21.3 million refugees, 3.2 million asylum seekers, and 40.8 million migrants. According to the UN Refugee Agency, refugees are people forced to flee due to armed conflict or persecution, while migrants chose to move in search of a better life.