By J C Suresh
TORONTO (IDN) - Governments, civil society organisations and more than 65 million people who are uprooted from their homes are looking forward to the United Nations Summit on Refugees and Migrants on September 19 at UN headquarters in New York.
The high-level meeting being organised by the UN General Assembly will address large movements of refugees and migrants, with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach.
Addressing an event at the world body’s headquarters on July 19 in New York, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson stressed the need for “a discourse about making migration safe, orderly and responsible”, as spelled out in one of the Sustainable Development Goals under Agenda 2030.
“The Sustainable Development Goal which calls for effective, accountable and transparent institutions has an important role for migration,” Eliasson said. Many countries which have experienced sustained immigration in the past few decades suffer from weak institutional frameworks and lack of policy coherence, he explained.
“This has prevented them from developing well-managed migration policies. A more integrated and coherent approach to migration within States will require institutional reform. The same is true at the global level,” Eliasson added. The issue of large movements of refugees and migrants is too vast for any one state to handle on its own which is why members of the international community must work together to find durable solutions.
“The world has a political, moral and legal obligation to do more to bring that brighter day closer,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the opening of the exhibition to honour World Refugee Day in New York on June 20.
“This responsibility must be shared across Europe and across the world,” he added, stressing the need for more countries to resettle more people. “We need to crack down on smuggling, fight xenophobia and provide safe, legal and regular pathways. And we need to better integrate refugees into society while addressing the root causes of forced displacement.”
While the situation is complex, it is also in many ways very simple. ”We need to help fellow human beings caught up in horrendous circumstances they had no role in creating and have no power to change,” said Ban. “We must uphold our common humanity. It is there in all of us, waiting to be expressed. Now is the time.”
However, an Oxfam report casts serious doubts on the UN chief’s optimism in the face of horrendous facts.
The number of people forced to flee their homes due to war, violence or persecution is at its highest level since records began. The conflict in Syria has been a major factor in this increase, but people have also fled other conflicts including in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen.
In total, more than 65 million people have fled their homes – 40.8 million within their own country, 21.3 million as refugees and 3.2 million awaiting asylum decisions in industrialised countries, says Oxfam, quoting the Global Trends Forced Displacement in 2015 report by UNHRC, the UN’s refugee agency.
In a report released on July 18, Oxfam revealed that the world’s six wealthiest countries, which make up more than half the global economy, host less than nine percent of the world’s refugees while poorer countries and territories are shouldering most of the responsibility.
On the other hand, Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, South Africa and the Occupied Palestinian Territory host over 50 percent of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers but account for under 2 percent of the world’s economy.
Oxfam’s analysis shows that, collectively, the United States, China, Japan, Germany, France and the United Kingdom hosted 2.1 million refugees and asylum seekers in 2015 – just 8.88 percent of the world total. While Germany has recently welcomed far more refugees than the other richest nations, there still remains a major gap with poorer countries which provide the vast majority of safe havens for refugees.
Ahead of two major summits – the September 19 UN Summit on Migrants and Refugees and a related summit the following day at the invitation of US President Barack Obama – Oxfam is calling on governments not only to host more people in need of safe havens, but to commit to do more to help the developing countries sheltering the majority of refugees and protect all people on the move.
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said: “It is shameful so many governments are turning their backs on the suffering of millions of vulnerable people who have fled their homes and are often risking their lives to reach safety. Poorer countries are shouldering the duty of protecting refugees when it should be a shared responsibility, but many richer countries are doing next to nothing.”
She added: "The international displacement we are seeing is an unprecedented and complex challenge requiring a coordinated global response. The richest countries need to be part of the solution and do their fair share by welcoming and protecting more refugees."
This is taking place as the mood for offering safe havens to people on the move is darkening. The recent deal between European governments and Turkey has left thousands of men, women and children detained in Greece in often appalling conditions and in a legal limbo.
Oxfam has noted that when it announced the closure of the Dadaab refugee camp (the world's largest refugee camp which actually consists of five camps and houses mostly Somalis), the Kenyan government said that if Europe could turn away Syrians, Kenya could do the same for Somalis.
"Too many people who have taken treacherous journeys to reach safety end up living in degrading situations littered with abuse, hostility and discrimination, and too few governments are doing anywhere near enough to help or protect them,” said Byanyima.
“We must stand as one with the millions of people who have been forced to flee as they need our help,” she added, exhorting all those who share what UN Secretary-General Ban has called “common humanity” to sign Oxfam’s 'Stand as One' petition and make world leaders uphold that common humanity. [IDN-InDepthNews – 20 July 2016]
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
Photo: Fatima, 47 and her daughter Maisa, 19, are Syrians from Pakistan. “Life in the camp is very hard, one day is like a lifetime. We’re feeling like we don’t have a future and don’t know how long it will be like this.” Credit: Aubrey Wade/Oxfam.