A GLOBAL agreement sealed at the United Nations’ New York summit on the refugee and migration crisis is a “breakthrough”, the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, says.
The New York Declaration was signed by all 193 member states on Monday. It commits them to sharing more equally the load of resettling the millions of people on the move, and launching a global effort to repudiate xenophobia and racism.
By 2018, the states must have agreed a new “compact” of lasting rules to govern migration; but there were no concrete measures in the Declaration, to the disappointment of activists who had hoped for a deal under which richer Western nations would resettle ten per cent of the world’s refugees. No such commitment was included.
On Tuesday, President Obama convened another summit of world leaders which did bind a coalition of rich and developing countries to new agreements on refugees. They have agreed to double resettlement places, increase aid by £3.5 billion, offer education to one million more refugee children, and improve legal access for another million adults.
Some countries, such as Argentina and Portugal, agreed for the first time to begin resettling refugees.
Before the UN summit — the first time for decades that the world’s nations have gathered specifically to discuss refugees and migrants — the Archbishop of Central Africa, the Most Revd Albert Chama, wrote to Mr Ban to offer the Anglican Communion’s support in tackling the crisis.
Archbishop Chama wrote: “The trauma experienced by the world’s 60 million refugees speaks to our common humanity, and pleads with us to take action as we reach out to respond to their suffering.”
Churches knew that each and every refugee, asylum-seeker, and migrant was also a “treasured human being made in the image of God”. “All this demands a much
more intentional and robust collective response in which the Churches and other faith communities are more than ready to take their place,” he concluded.
The Suffragan Bishop in Europe, the Rt Revd David Hamid, represented the Communion at the summit. He said that, while the New York Declaration was not perfect and needed more action, he was “cautiously optimistic”.
It was encouraging to see the UN mechanisms, NGOs, and member states converging on New York to discuss refugees and migration, he said on his return to the UK. “It gives a sense the world is now finally sitting up and realises this global crises needs a huge co-ordinated effort of global solidarity. There were some very significant voices that said we needed to recognise the systems for dealing with refugees and migrants have failed.”
Yet there were still “huge gaps” in the new initiative, particularly in funding. Many of the 90 paragraphs in the Declaration were still phrased vaguely or were only “considerations”, which dampened Bishop Hamid’s enthusiasm, he said.
While the Communion and wider Church did not have much money to contribute, it could play a vital part in helping to counter the growing worldwide xenophobic narrative that demonised refugees and migrants. “The whole Judaeo-Christian story is full of stories of migration and seeking sanctuary and welcome to the stranger,” he said. “We can help to shift the toxic narrative.”
The Prime Minister used her speech at the UN summit to offer a different option. Theresa May proposed new rules that meant that those seeking asylum must do so at the first “safe” country they arrive in. Current levels of “uncontrolled” economic migration damaged popular support for genuine refugees, she said.
Critics warned that this approach would shift the burden of supporting millions of refugees on to poorer nations in the global South, nearer to the conflicts that were driving people to flee.
Christian Aid’s UK senior policy adviser, Tom Viita, said: “Eighty-six per cent of the world’s refugees are hosted in poor countries; so they should be in the driving seat in deciding how to handle the world’s worst refugee crisis in 70 years. Mrs May’s proposal for refugees to be hosted in the first ‘safe country’ they arrive in would trap even more people into degrading and inhumane living conditions in refugee camps.”