On September 19 the United Nations held its first-ever Summit for Refugees and Migrants. The purpose of this gathering was for heads of state to adopt the New York Declaration, a lengthy political declaration that “expresses the political will of world leaders to save lives, protect rights and share responsibility on a global scale.” The following article was published in the November-December 2016 issue of NewsNotes.
To meet the challenges arising from the 65.3 million displaced by conflict worldwide and the 3.2 million refugees who have applied for asylum in industrialized countries global leaders committed themselves to the following actions:
- Protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of status. This includes the rights of women and girls and promoting their full, equal and meaningful participation in finding solutions.
- Ensure that all refugee and migrant children are receiving education within a few months of arrival.
- Prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence.
- Support those countries rescuing, receiving and hosting large numbers of refugees and migrants.
- Work towards ending the practice of detaining children for the purposes of determining their migration status.
- Strongly condemn xenophobia against refugees and migrants and support a global campaign to counter it.
- Strengthen the positive contributions made by migrants to economic and social development in their host countries.
- Improve the delivery of humanitarian and development assistance to those countries most affected, including through innovative multilateral financial solutions, with the goal of closing all funding gaps.
- Implement a comprehensive refugee response, based on a new framework that sets out the responsibility of Member States, civil society partners and the UN system, whenever there is a large movement of refugees or a protracted refugee situation.
- Find new homes for all refugees identified by UNHCR as needing resettlement; and expand the opportunities for refugees to relocate to other countries through, for example, labor mobility or education schemes.
- Strengthen the global governance of migration by bringing the International Organization for Migration into the UN system.
The agreement to move toward this comprehensive framework is a momentous one. It means that migration will be guided by a set of common principles. Many migration advocates were disappointed, however, because clear commitments including resettling 10 percent of the world’s refugees annually and providing refugee children education within 30 days were deferred until 2018. The countries did agree to develop guidelines on the treatment of migrants in vulnerable situations. Countries also agree to seek a more equitable sharing of the burden and responsibility for hosting refugees.
In both the General Assembly session and in the various roundtable discussions several important themes emerged regarding the plight of refugees and migrants:
First, the current crisis is dire due to the tremendous number of people on the move, the multiple reasons for their flight and the complexity of migration patterns. Migration is considered to be the mega trend of the early 21st century and the number of people expected to be on the move will continue to increase.
Second, the world needs to work together in partnership to address this crisis. No country can do it alone and host countries, especially in Africa, are bearing most of the burden.
Third, a framework exists to address the crisis – the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals is dedicated to the “promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.”
Finally, the positive contribution made by migrants to development, both in their host countries and through remittances estimated to be $400 billion a year, should be stressed as a means of countering the toxic narrative heard in many countries.
In their evaluation of the declaration both the Center for Migration Studies and the Scalabrini International Migration Network maintain that it “falls short of creating a new framework for the protection of refugees and migrants around the world. Instead, it reaffirms the status quo, and, in some areas, weakens current protections for these vulnerable populations.” A major concern about the document is that it delays for two years the adoption of a global compact for refugees.