UN affirms ‘historic’ global compact to support world’s refugees

UNICEF/Nybo A group of Rohingya refugee children cross a makeshift bamboo bridge in Kutupalong refugee settlement in southern Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of refugees are sheltering after being forced to flee their homes in Myanmar.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.

The United Nations General Assembly affirmed a non-legally binding Global Compact on Refugees on Monday, marking the latest move by Member States to support the rights of  over 68.5 million people have been forced to flee worldwide, including more than 25.4 million people who have crossed borders to become refugees.

An overwhelming number of majority States, 181, voted in favor of adopting the compact, with the United States and Hungary opposing the move. The Dominican Republic, Eritrea and Libya abstained.

UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Chief, Filippo Grandi, said the pact was “historic” and speaking at an event at UN Headquarters in New York to mark the compact, noted it was the first time the Assembly has seen an agreement between and beyond States, that acknowledges the need to work collectively for the rights of refugees.

“In this world of ours, which often turns it back to people in need, that has shamefully politicized even the pain of exile, that has demonized and continues to demonize refugees and migrants and sometimes even just foreigners, this compact, in synergy with the other compact, the compact on migration, can really represent tangibly, a new commitment to international cooperation,” said the UNHCR chief.

He said it represented “a new commitment to shared values of solidarity and the quest to just and sustainable solutions for disadvantaged people.”

This global compact for refugees, which is separate from the newly-adopted Global Compact for Migration, aims to strengthen the international response to large movements of refugees and their protracted situations, and was prompted by the historic, 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, in which all 193 Member States agreed that the protection of refugees should be a shared responsibility.

The Declaration tasked UNHCR with authoring the refugee compact, which came to fruition after 18 months of extensive consultations between Member States, experts, civil society, and refugees.

Just last week, the Global Compact for Migration, also non-legally binding, was adopted by 164 Governments at an international conference in Marrakech, Morocco in a bid to support safe, orderly and regular migration.

This “great achievement for multilateralism,” as UN senior migration official, Ms. Lousie Arbour called it, specifically targets the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants, which comprise a different group of people on the move than refugees. More on that and the crucial differences, can be found here.

Approximately 85 percent of refugees live in developing countries, according to UNHCR, where services are already strained. Though donors have been generous in financing aid to refugees, Mr. Grandi noted that the disproportionate burden on middle and low-income countries is evident, and leaves us “at the mercy of economic downturns.”

Thus, part of the compact’s pledge to joint action entails addressing the specific challenges faced by developing host countries.

In addition, Mr. Grandi urged States to re-evaluate the way refugees are supported to be more inclusive: “The image that we have of refugees is the refugee camp. We want to get away from that.”

Both the Global Compact on Migration and Global Compact on Refugees, surface a time of heightened division across the world and within societies, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said.

“In recent years we have seen a contagion of closed borders, contrary to national refugee and human rights law. Millions of refugees are facing years in exile, or risking their lives on dangerous journeys to an uncertain future. And that is why this global compact is such an important step,” she said.

Ms. Mohammed stressed that the effort “to shoulder our responsibilities toward refugees, to find solutions that respect their human rights, to provide them with hope, and to recognize the legal responsibility to protect and to support them,” are not only important goals in themselves, but play a critical role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, “that seriously leave no one behind.”

Adoption of the compact, is “not the end, but the beginning” of the international community’s work on the issue, general Assembly President, Maria Fernanda Espinosa declared. What’s left is implementation.

Echoing the call to further action, Mr. Grandi warned that the compact on refugees “is not a silver bullet that will solve all the problems,” but with concrete international engagement, could “be transformative.”

“Without this international cooperation we will not be able to face neither this all the other global challenges that await us in the future,” he added.

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