The United Nations General Assembly met today on tackling the global refugee crisis in the shadow of last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut, with top officials pleading that the door for genuine refuge not be slammed shut in the name of security.
“How are we to balance security needs and moral and legal obligations to protect refugees and others in need of protection?” Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson asked the informal meeting, which had been scheduled before last week’s attacks, to discuss ways to advance and finance a ‘Comprehensive Response to the Global Humanitarian and Refugee Crisis.’
“This balance must be found without giving in on our basic values and without closing the door to those who have already endured tremendous suffering,” he said.
“Those who flee this violence should not be punished twice – first by war or oppressive forces which persecute them at home. And, second, by unjust, dangerous stigma which even shockingly associate the refugees with their attackers. The refugees, if any, understand better than anyone the barbaric cruelty of violent extremism.”
General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft also addressed the security issue, which has seen calls after the attacks for limiting refugee access lest terrorist infiltrate among them.
“In no way do those attacks reduce the moral and legal obligations of the international community towards displaced people,” he stressed. “On the contrary, they serve to underline even further why so many people are risking their lives to secure international protection and why we – the international community – must not fail them, for a second time.”
Mr. Eliasson noted that not since the end of the Second World War have so many people – more than 60 million – been forcibly displaced around the world.
“We face the challenge of saving lives and protecting the persecuted and the vulnerable – the children, women and men who have fled bombardment and death and unbearable conditions at home as well as those who are now falling prey to unscrupulous criminal traffickers,” he said.
“The recent terrorist attacks are urgent reminders of the need for migration and refugee flows to be managed properly and with respect for humanitarian and refugee law as well as for human rights. Our most effective response to these attacks is to stand even firmer in our humanistic and humanitarian resolve and ensure openness and protection to those in desperate need.”
Turning to the meeting’s principal goal of dealing with the overall humanitarian and refugee crisis, Mr. Eliasson stressed the vital need for financing. “The gap between humanitarian needs and available funds has never been higher that it is today,” he stressed.
He praised the continued resilience of host communities to refugees – from Kenya, Ethiopia to Pakistan, from Iraq and Iran to Bangladesh, from Greece, Italy, Germany and Sweden to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and beyond.
“These are some of the countries taking on more than their share of a global responsibility. It is time for the world to show greater solidarity and come together in a global compact to provide support, protection and asylum,” he declared.
“Let me admit that our current policies do not rise to the challenge before us. The challenge will not be met by sealing borders, building fences, or taking a strict security approach to the movement of refugees and migrants. Instead, we must expand safe and legal paths to safety that put middlemen and traffickers out of business.”
He called for better reception centres and claims processing, creative solutions to find sufficient places of refuge through resettlement, private sponsorship, humanitarian visas, family reunification and other means, and more opportunities for local integration and access for refugees to job markets.
History shows that migrants and refugees bring to their communities social, cultural and economic enrichment and play a key role in remittances sent home for development. “Raising awareness of these positive contributions and countering hateful and xenophobic speech is a moral duty, but also a matter of global economic and social growth,” he stressed.
He also called for more preventive measures, investing more in cooling tensions before they erupt into full-blown crises, and highlighted the urgency of developing a new global compact for human mobility based on fairly sharing responsibility, a call echoed by Mr. Lykketoft, who said the crisis requires short, medium and long-term action to tackle the root causes of displacement.
“Resolving conflicts, preventing violent extremism and supporting long-term development are central aspects of this comprehensive response,” he added, calling for additional steps to protect the displaced, predictable and adequate financing for humanitarian action, and support for those countries bearing the greatest burden in this global crisis.
In her remarks, Helen Clark, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) recalled that on 9 November, she had opened a Resilience Development Forum, for the Syria crisis convened by UNDP and hosted by the Government of Jordan.
This Forum brought together a wide range of partners responding to the crisis to discuss the lessons learned and to chart the way forward for the resilience-based approach. “I urge the international community to explore ways to increase support for these approaches. It is important to support the capacity of national and local authorities in host countries to lead and co-ordinate effective responses to crises, and to increase private sector engagement in the recovery and development processes,” she said.
Further, just last week, Miss Clark participated in the Valletta Summit on Migration in Malta, which brought together European and African Heads of State and Government in an effort to strengthen co-operation and address the current challenges, but also the opportunities of migration. “I was pleased to note the commitment of countries of origin, transit and destination to find durable solutions to address the root causes of displacement,” she added.
“In conclusion, let me reaffirm UNDP’s commitment to step up its efforts in support of durable solutions to host communities and countries which are bearing the greatest burden and to look at how the people within countries in the epicentre of a crisis, like the nineteen million Syrians still in Syria, can be supported,” she said, stressing that the longer term answers lie in building peaceful and inclusive societies which offer people the opportunity and security they need for sustainable development.