A new global deal for refugees – will NZ help to launch it?

20 July 2016, 12:32 UTC | Worldwide
© Amnesty International
By Carsten Bockemuehl, Research & Policy Manager, Amnesty International NZ

Growing up, two of my best friends were former refugees. Both had fled countries at war (Afghanistan and Yugoslavia) and fought their way through to reach safety in Germany. In many ways, they were incredibly lucky. If they were having to flee their homes now, they’d most likely end up stuck a few steps from EU soil in a makeshift camp with nowhere to go. Today’s sad reality is that most wealthy countries prefer placing barriers in the ways of those fleeing war and persecution rather than choosing to help.

As such, it comes as no surprise that the vast majority (86%) of the world’s 20 million refugees live – or rather struggle to survive – in low and middle income countries. You may have seen the depressing statistics that Jordan, certainly not an economic powerhouse, hosts over 655,000 Syrian refugees, while the UK has granted asylum to approximately 5,000 Syrians since 2011.

What if they finally confronted the global refugee crisis head-on and gave hundreds of thousands of people somewhere to go?  

What if world leaders came together to strengthen international cooperation and share more equally the responsibility for hosting and supporting refugees? What if they decided to establish a new system to manage displacement flows in a much more coordinated and orderly manner? What if they finally confronted the global refugee crisis head-on and gave hundreds of thousands of people somewhere to go?  

That’s what is at stake at the upcoming, potentially historic UN summit on refugee protection. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for this meeting to address the problem outlined above: A world in which responsibility for refugee protection overwhelmingly lies with the poor, while the rich choose to look away. What he has suggested is a “Global Compact” – a new deal to open up safe routes to sanctuary for refugees and provide support to countries at the coalface of large refugee movements.  

Amnesty International strongly supports this proposal, and we have provided a vision of what this new system of international responsibility-sharing should look like. First, it should lead to the immediate resettlement of all 1.2 million refugees currently in urgent need of resettlement (as determined by UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency). Second, it should enable the safe transfer of large numbers of refugees out of countries where the capacity to host and support them has been exceeded. And finally, it should guarantee that those countries hosting large numbers actually receive meaningful financial support from those who share less responsibility. In order for any of this to work, we would need concrete and practical arrangements, for example a formula to guide governments on what their fair contribution looks like, perhaps based on a small set of objective, broadly applicable criteria like national wealth, population size and unemployment rates.

So is any of this going to happen? It’s true that global solidarity is in short supply and governments today seem more willing to work through piecemeal responses rather than cooperate on refugee protection. But negotiations on the new “Global Compact” have begun, and early drafts give hope that the upcoming UN summit will be more than just another talkfest. For example, the draft “Global Compact” includes a strong commitment to more equitable responsibility-sharing, and also a pledge to resettle at least 10% of the global refugee population annually, both of which are good starting points. Sadly, there is little detail spelling out how both targets will be achieved in practice.  

The proposed “Global Compact” could be a game-changer for refugees around the world if wealthy countries finally commit to pulling their weight. All it takes is the political will to do so.

What will be the New Zealand government’s contribution to this new deal? Ordinary Kiwis have shown over and over again that they stand with refugees; this is what has led to the country’s recent increase in its annual refugee quota. But I would hope that New Zealand also plays a positive part in setting up the Global Compact and making it work for real people on the ground. New Zealand’s diplomats should work to ensure that the above-mentioned 10% commitment makes the deal’s final cut, encourage more countries to establish resettlement programmes and advocate for the final outcome to be actionable, i.e. have more specific targets, timelines and a concrete method for determining how equitable responsibility-sharing will be achieved. And last, why not also bring fresh commitments to the Summit to accept more refugees and increase humanitarian funding?

The proposed “Global Compact” could be a game-changer for refugees around the world if wealthy countries finally commit to pulling their weight. All it takes is the political will to do so. Let’s hope the New Zealand government uses its role on the international stage to make a difference and enable those in need of protection to move ahead with their lives.

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