UN member states express their will to tackle global migration but specific actions are still missing

Summit for Refugees and Migrants, Signing Ceremony of UN-IOM Agreement During the opening of the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants, Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon seated right) and William Lacy Swing (seated left), Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), sign the agreement to make the IOM a Related Organization of the UN. Date: 19/09/2016. Location: United Nations, New York. Copyright © 2016 United Nations. Photo:Rick Bajornas

Last Monday the world leaders convened at the UN’s summit in New York and adopted the New York Declaration for Migrants and Refugees; a document that contains commitments about dealing with the global issue of the large movements of refugees and migrants around the globe. All 193 countries have agreed to share global responsibility in order to address the migration crisis and save lives while protecting human rights.

This is the first UN summit to target migration but its commitments are not legally binding for the member states, something that creates some doubts about whether it will substantially contribute towards a better management of the refugee flows.

The U.S. President mentioned yesterday during his last speech at the UN General Assembly that there is a need for a “course correction” in order not to allow migration to be the reason for border closures and abandonment of the most vulnerable people.

New York Declaration at a glance

The commitments that were signed between the heads of governments include the protection of human rights and refugees while ensuring that all migrant children will receive education within a short period of their arrival. The prevention of sexual and gender-based violence and the support of countries that host a great number of migrants are among the actions that all parties pledged to implement.

Furthermore, more emphasis will be given to the positive contributions made by migrants to the economic and social development of their host countries. Particularly, Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary-General, stated on the issue that: “Refugees and migrants are not to be seen as a burden; they offer great potential, if only we unlock it”.

Another main commitment is the condemnation of xenophobia against refugees and migrants and the creation of a global campaign that will be able to face it. However, the link between the migration crisis and terrorism, especially in Europe, could make this goal hard to achieve while extreme right parties are becoming more popular and gaining more and more power in the Old Continent.

Obama cries out for help

The day after the UN Summit, a Leader’s Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis took place where the US president urged all countries to provide additional aid to migrants. More specifically, Barack Obama stated that: “Together, now, we have to open our hearts and do more to help refugees who are desperate for a home”.

The global refugee crisis was characterized by the US president as “the most urgent test of our time”, showing the humanitarian and security challenge that the world is facing. This crisis could be dealt only if collective actions are taken. However, the words of the US President, even if they may have strong influence on many states, sound quite void as his incumbency is soon coming to an end.

EU hopes on NY Declaration and EU-Turkey deal

Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, expressed his wish that the commitments of the New York Declaration will be the tool to tackle the influx of refugees globally. Donald Tusk also mentioned that the EU’s aim is to restore order on its external border which together with the previewed financial assistance for those in need will reduce the number of refugees coming to the EU.

However, the EU’s objective seems quite promising at the moment when is struggling to stabilise the migration agreement signed with Turkey last March or one of its hotspots in Moria, Lesvos burns to ashes in one single night amidst migrant riots. Moreover, the EU Summit which took place last Friday in Bratislava was not successful on migration. The Italian Prime Minister was not pleased by the fact that nothing was achieved as far as the refugee crisis is concerned and Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Czech Republic (Visegrad Group) refused to commit to any mechanism that could force them to receive refugees.

NY Declaration short in specific plans

The Declaration contains plans on how its commitments could be implemented and address the large movements of refugees and migrants. Those consist of a process of negotiations that is going to start this year and lead to the adoption of a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular migration in 2018 at an intergovernmental conference. What is more, there are some guidelines developed on how migrants in vulnerable situations should be treated, supporting the foundation of the Declaration’s commitments.

All in all, the UN’s Summit that was concluded two days ago together with the signing of the New York Declaration was certainly the commencement of setting the fundamentals to address the fundamental challenges of human mobility in the world. The document though still needs a more thorough planning with possibly legally binding commitments for the parties at stake in order to be able to tackle the root causes of this plaguing humanitarian issue.

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