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United Nations Gears Up for Landmark Refugee Summit

As September draws closer, the UN prepares for its first major summit on the refugee crisis

Pictured: (Right) Karen AbuZayd, Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants and the President of the General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft (center) UN Photo/ Manuel Elias

As the final draft of a preparatory report is circulated, Karen AbuZayd, Special Adviser on the UN Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, hails it as progress, saying "both refugees and migrants will benefit if all of the things that are in that document are achieved."

On September 19th, 2016, the first major summit on the refugee crisis will be held at the United Nations headquarters in New York. This summit is expected to be thrust onto the world’s stage, as it is scheduled to occur the day before the General Assembly begins it’s 71st term. This event, which draws major leaders from all 193 countries in the United Nations, plunges the UN into the world’s spotlight, and this attention will be shared by the landmark summit on the status of refugees and migrants in the global community.

Much has already been done to begin to prepare for the benchmark event. On July 29th, an outcome report was released by the United Nations Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, compiled by all 193 member states and co- facilitated by ambassadors from Ireland and Jordan. The report (accessible here) detailed a number of commitments agreed to by all 193 contributing countries, and listed a series of goals and steps which should be undertaken, following discussion at the September summit. The report, while rather well received, was criticized three reasons in a press conference given by General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft and Karen AbuZayd, Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, held on the morning of Tuesday, August 9th. These criticisms aired the concern that the report “read more like a wish list than a plan,” and the reporter who aired this concern asked Ms. AbuZayd, if there was a timeline for the report, or specific goals which could be more immediately implemented. “It does sound like a wish list when you look at it… But we say it’s aspirational, it goes along with the things that we think should be done, and we think that a lot of them can be done immediately,” AbuZayd said in response. (26:30.) Additionally, the report was criticized for not including Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s suggestion that 10% of the global refugee population be resettled. Ms. AbuZayd responded to questions about why this was omitted from the report, saying “I would like people to look at that in context… Now there are 21 million refugees this year- that means two million to be resettled. This is an extraordinary task, even logistically, getting countries to agree, going through country procedures to move two million refugees. What is in the document is 1.09 million refugees to be resettled. One million refugees, that is half of what we said, but it is nine times more than the 135,000 that were able to be resettled last year. I think we should be very glad that this very large number is in the document.” 

The third complaint levelled against the final product was that in the process between it’s working draft and it’s final copy, the report changed it’s stance on how children would be treated. Under the final set of regulations, the report stated the children should seldom be detained by authorities when seeking refuge. This was an edited statement from a similar claim made in the working draft, which stated that children would never be detained, but Ms. AbuZayd pointed out that many participating countries had varying laws regarding the legal definition of a child, as well as reminding those who criticized this change that sometimes children needed to be detained for their own protection.

In terms of the specific goals set by the finalized draft, Ms. AbuZayd went through some of the goals of the plan. These included a comprehensive refugee framework led by the UNHCR, and plans to not only address new refugees, but also those who have been languishing in camps for up to a decade. It made a priority out of improving the treatment that refugees experience at borders and inside countries and combatting xenophobia, and asked that particular attention be paid to women and girls who are vulnerable as they seek refuge. Finally, in wrapping up the press conference, Ms. AbuZayd stressed the importance of not ignoring the source countries, as ameliorating the conditions in countries where refugees are fleeing from could go a long way in reducing the global number of migrants and refugees, without needed to relocate millions. “If you can improve conditions at home, then people who really would rather stay home, and rather go back home, can go home and stay home… We don’t want people to have to flee, or have to move, if we can improve the conditions at home. (44:00, full statement here.) The main root causes, she had explained earlier, which cause people to flee are poverty, conflict, terrorism, or poor governance.

See related interview with Karen AbuZayd here, conducted by the United Nations News Centre. 


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