This year newspapers around the world have been full of stories about refugees and migrants – many fleeing war in Yemen arrived on the Horn of Africa, the USA continued to receive arrivals from Central America,the Syrian crisis reached Europe, and countries around Myanmar are supporting hundreds of thousands of Rohingya. And that’s just a handful of stories.
Statistics were released showing that if the world’s displaced people were considered together they would equate to the 21st largest country in the world with one of the youngest populations. In 2015, UNHCR reported that there were 65.3 million forcibly displaced people in the world, 21.3 million refugees and 10 million stateless people. The UK even saw a TV series filmed by refugees crossing the Mediterranean on camera phones: Exodus. Suddenly those living in the global north are closer to the perils of refugees and migrants.
So it would be a fitting time for world leaders to come together and agree actions to improve the situation for those fleeing their homes . . .
On Monday the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants was hosted by Ireland and Jordan.Despite arrangements being somewhat last minute, it did attract a certain number of high profile attendees with 50 states and organisations represented. Tuesday saw US President Barak Obama convene the Leaders Summit on Refugees in New York. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, welcomed the new declaration signed at the Summit saying: “UNHCR is hugely encouraged to see the strong political commitments in the New York Declaration made immediately tangible through the new, concrete actions announced by governments today”. Others in the sector weren’t so impressed:
- Professor Alex Betts from Oxford University kicked us off with a two part series in advance on abstract discussions in the face of a deadly crisis and the real opportunity at the UN Summit. He’s a great writer and knows how to tell it how it is, so worth a read. (For more refugee related rants follow here and @alexander_betts
- IRIN provided an accurate summary of the event with the conclusion that there were ‘no new ideas’. They provided specific analysis from the perspective of Central American refugees and from a Somali journalist considering the potential closure of Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.
- Peter Thomson, President of UNGA, outlined in the Huffington Post why he believes the declaration is an historic document. The declaration states that the adoption of the 2030 agenda or SDGs includes recognising ‘the positive contribution made by migrants for inclusive growth and sustainable development’.
- The UN Secretary General declared the ‘bold’ plan to enhance protections for migrants and refugees a ‘breakthrough’.
- Marc du Bois gives four insights on why summits fail.
- UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, reminded all attendees that signing a piece of paper and patting each other on the back wasn’t adequate – ‘We must stop bigotry’
- Human Rights Watch’s Bill Frelick called it a ‘failure of vision‘
- There was the commitment to educate 1 million refugee children, yet we know at least 3.5 million are out of school
- And we were reminded that focusing on the front page catching Syrian refugees in Europe might overlook and even potentially worsen the situation for other refugees.
All the new pledges can be found here.
So will much change for refugees and migrants following this week ? . . . . . we still hope so, but we doubt much of that change will be directly attributable to the New York Declaration alone.
A refugee is an individual who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence who is unable or unwilling to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on his or her race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Article 1(A)(2) of the 1951 Convention.
A migrant is any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a State away from his/her habitual place of residence. IOM
A stateless person is a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
An internally displaced person is an individual fleeing natural disasters and generalised violence, stateless individuals not outside their country of habitual residence or not facing persecution. They are not given the same protection as refugees as they are not included in the 1951 Convention nor the 1967 Optional Protocol.
3 thoughts on “Did anyone hear about a Refugee Summit?”
With more than 60 million displaced people around the world, we need a new paradigm in thinking about refugees. The approaches of the past 60 years are no longer adequate or appropriate. We also need a good dose of courage and creativity in breaking with taboos that limit the debate and restrict it to frameworks that are outdated. Here are three starting points for change:
1. There is nothing in the UN Refugee Convention that equates asylum or sanctuary with permanent residency. Indeed, the entanglement of asylum seekers with economic refugees is the root of a great deal of the current political angst. Asylum needs to understood as a temporary haven for those fleeing persecution until such time as it is safe to return home. Refugee-receiving countries will need to introduce Temporary Protection Visas to enable them to distinguish temporary asylum from permanent settlement. The refugee lobby has got used to equating refugee support with permanent settlement, but this is no longer politically viable in western societies.
2. The development movement should reconsider its assumption that transplanting labour and skills from poor countries to the west through resettlement is compatible with a development agenda for developing countries. Emptying out Syria of its skills and professions by resettlement in the west will lock Syria into basket-case status for generations to come. Skilled and professional Syrians seeking asylum elsewhere have an obligation to return to their homeland to participate in its reconstruction. The same applies to every poor country from which there is currently an exodus of skills and professions. We need to develop a widespread acceptance that the deskilling of poor countries through refugee settlement programs must be reversed as part of global development.
3. Western countries should divert a large part of their humanitarian assistance for refugees from support in the west to provision of support at source, or as close as possible to the source of upheavals. In the case of Syria, this should mean construction and maintenance of havens in or near Syria (principally Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey). This is important to break the current pattern in thinking which equates refugee support with resettlement in the west.
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