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UN report a potential game changer for refugees

17 May 20160 comments

A seminal new United Nations report aims to reframe the way many countries deal with refugees and migrants, creating a responsible and predictable international system to handle them at a time when their numbers are at the highest level since the world body began keeping track.

In an unprecedented move, the report recommends that UN member nations vote on two global compacts.

The first would involve responsibility sharing for refugees, with countries asked to resettle at least 10 per cent of the global refugee population.

The second aims to strengthen global governance of migration and calls on the UN to lead a global campaign to counter xenophobia.

The report was written in preparation for a high-level meeting in the General Assembly on September 19 to address the issue of large movements of refugees and migrants.

The Geneva meeting will be followed by a summit organized by US President Barack Obama, where world leaders will be asked to pledge money in response to the problem.

Karen AbuZyad“One of the thoughts behind what we were doing was to change the narrative on refugees and migrants because part of what’s happening now is that people are afraid they’re terrorists or they’re criminals or they’re taking their jobs,” said UN Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, Karen AbuZyad.

“The goal of the report is to create a better response to large movements of refugees and migrants for the benefit not only of those on the move but for those who accept them,” said Ms AbuZyad, a former US diplomat.

Ms AbuZyad points out that contrary to xenophobic rhetoric sparked by influxes of displaced peoples, migrants are often the most productive members of society.

“Overwhelmingly the statistics show that refugees and migrants contribute to, make a positive impact as soon as you put them to work and it helps not only your country that has taken them in, but with the countries back home, too, because of the questions of remittances and things,” Ms AbuZyad said.

The UN plan could be a game-changer if it manages to deliver a clear, coordinated system that will ensure that the world’s wealthiest and most powerful countries pull their weight and collectively protect people fleeing war and persecution.

But its success will hinge on governments agreeing on a permanent system for sharing the responsibility to host and assist refugees ahead of the UN Refugee Summit in September.

Ms AbuZyad says she has discussed the reports suggestions with some 80 ambassadors and all of them have been supportive of efforts to develop a coordinated global response to an issue that seems only likely to grow going forward.

According to the report, there are currently 19.6 million refugees worldwide, a 24 per cent increase over 2000. There are also almost 40 million internally displaced people, an 89 per cent increase over 2000. In 2015, the number of international migrants and refugees reached 244 million, a 41 per cent increase since 2000.

Amnesty International has given cautious backing to the plan.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist