EU, US reject UN plan to resettle refugees

Lebanon is one of the poor countries doing more than its fair share to host refugees from Syria. [Trocaire/Flickr]

The European Union and the United States among other heavy-weight countries have rejected a UN proposal to resettle 10% of the world’s refugees annually as part of a new global effort to tackle the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

A document adopted late on Tuesday (2 August) failed to include the resettlement proposal from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that would have been the centerpiece of a UN summit on refugees in New York on 19 September.

Opposition to the UN proposal came from a broad range of countries including the Western European countries along with Russia, China and India. And the United States balked at language that would have committed all countries to not detain undocumented children who arrive at their borders.

According to the United Nations, 24 million people worldwide left their home countries because of war or persecution in 2015. More than ten times that number – 244 million – were considered migrants, living somewhere other than the country of their birth.

Human rights groups voiced disappointment, dismissing the document as a meaningless political declaration and warning that the September gathering of world leaders was shaping up to be a missed opportunity.

Ban’s adviser on the summit, Karen AbuZayd, said, however, that she was “very pleased by the agreement” and was looking forward to negotiations on a new global compact for migrants to begin next year.

Under Ban’s proposal, world leaders were to agree on a new “global compact on responsibility-sharing” to address the refugee crisis and launch talks on a second agreement on migration.

The final document makes no mention of the responsibility-sharing deal and proposes talks on migration beginning early next year, with a view to adopting that accord in 2018.

“The Refugee Summit was a historic opportunity to find a desperately-needed global solution to the refugee crisis,” said Charlotte Philipps from Amnesty International.

“Instead, world leaders delayed any chance of a deal until 2018, procrastinating over crucial decisions even as refugees drown at sea and languish in camps with no hope for the future.”

Ban put forward his proposals in May to address the largest displacement crisis since the Second World War.

Following weeks of negotiations, the proposed resettlement goal of 10% of world refugees was deleted from the document and replaced by a general pledge to take in more refugees.

“We intend to expand the number and range of legal pathways available for refugees to be admitted to, or resettled in, third countries,” the document said.

The Center for Migration Studies said in a statement that the draft “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.’’

The draft text says nothing about the rights of the 40 million people who are displaced in their own countries, or about those who are leaving their homes because of climate change.

“This is a document very much about the present,” Alexander Aleinikoff, a former official at the United Nations refugee agency who is now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington told the New York Times. “This is not a document that prepares us for the future.”

Obama’s refugee summit

The draft agreement comes at a time when refugees and migrants have become a divisive issue in European and American politics. In the presidential campaign in the United States, Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, has proposed barring Muslims from entering the country.

“There are serious questions now about whether this summit will be able to generate a response commensurate to the greatest displacement crisis the world has seen since World War II,” said Akshaya Kumar, Human Rights Watch’s deputy UN director.

With expectations for the UN summit now low, attention shifted to a separate gathering at the United Nations on 20 September that will be hosted by US President Barack Obama.

At that summit, the United States will ask countries to come forward and announce the number of refugees they are willing to take in along with any other support they can offer.

“The issue of resettlement targets can be dealt with at the pledging summit, where some states might make big offers,” said AbuZayd.

The United Nations had hoped that the new deal would have lifted some of the burden on developing countries in the refugee crisis, which has been fueled by the five-year war in Syria and other conflicts.

A handful of countries are currently bearing the brunt of the global refugee crisis, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Eight countries host more than half of the world’s refugees: Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya and Uganda.

UN member states endorsed Ban’s proposal for a global campaign against xenophobia.

“Demonising refugees or migrants offends profoundly against the values of dignity and equality for every human being to which we have committed ourselves,” said the document.

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