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the refugee crisis: rethinking and strengthening response

Four ICJW representatives to the UN in New York attended a DPI/NGO Briefing on 18 February 2016, on "The Refugee Crisis: Rethinking and Strengthening Response".

The Moderator was  Maher Nasser-Director, Outreach Division, Department of Public Information.

Maher was himself a refugee. He described how he will always feel the loss of his home and where he came from. He warned that refugees, migrants and displaced persons - there is a different definition for each category - are deprived of their past but shouldn’t be deprived of their futures. Mass migration is caused by conflicts and natural disasters. Dealing with this situation is the largest crisis the UN is facing with over 60 million displaced in the world today, the most since World War II. There are 4.6 million Syrians who have fled their country and 7.4 million who have been displaced internally. NGOs and civil society have a huge role to play in helping to solve this massive problem.

Karen AbuZayd-Special Advisor of the Secretary General on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants explained that the Summit will take place in September 2016 and they are now in consultation with various agencies and civil society, gathering input for a final report due in April. With so many people forcefully displaced, there is a need to rethink the issue of the large flow of refugees. They need to think long-term development solutions and short-term action to encourage member states to provide safe havens. 

This is becoming more of a problem as the question arises as to who is authorized to enter their countries. They are urging member states to reaffirm their commitments. There is also a need to examine why people leave their homes. The numbers have grown to a 20-year low point for people not being able to return to their homes. She is hopeful that the value of a Global Conference with concrete goals will be able to solve these problems and convince member states to invest in meaningful ways to provide for the safety and better quality of life for the millions of migrants and refugees.

Ninette Kelly- Director, New York Liaison Office, UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has served in several senior management positions at Headquarters and in the field. She acknowledged the many NGO partnerships, over 900, that UNHCR has which have been very productive in supporting the agency’s goals. 

She then showed a UNHCR video which talked about the ongoing insecurities of the 60 million refugees, migrants and displaced persons globally, the largest number since WWII. In Syria, there have been 12 million new refugees in just four years. Fifty percent of the children have been displaced. Millions have gone into exile or are homeless somewhere in their own country. The statistics are staggering; however, seeing the pictures of the suffering in this video was worth a thousand words. That is when the reality of this crisis truly hit home.

Predrag Avramovic-Head of the Humanitarian Section, EU Delegation to the UN
was asked to give the EU perspective of the refugee crisis. The intake of over 1 million asylum seekers has impacted and unsettled the EU and dominates political and moral agendas. The most popular destination countries are experiencing a disproportionate impact and an unsustainable burden. The whole issue of open borders within Europe, established by the Schengen Agreement in 1985, is being looked at with differing opinions. Humanitarian needs (food, shelter, education and livelihood opportunities) must be met without discrimination. Avramovic stressed that the world must do more and do it better!

Susana Sottoli-Associate Director, Programme Division, UNICEF stressed that children are the most vulnerable refugees. More than half the 4.7 million Syrian refugees are children. Of one million asylum seekers in Europe, at least one third are children. Similar proportions are true in other areas all over the world. On the US border with Mexico, 39,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended. The impact on children starts with the often traumatic and dangerous journey and continues – loss of education, possible detention and child labor are all consequences of children becoming migrants of any kind. On the ground, UNICEF works to protect children, to enable access to food and education, to provide safe spaces for children and to unify families as quickly as possible. UNICEF works with the High Commissioner of Refugees and local partners. The convention of the rights of the child (CRC) and the more recent Palermo call to action provide guidelines for protecting children but it is often difficult to convince states that they are responsible for the wellbeing of all children in their territory.

Mr. Garbriel Garang Atem-Deacon, Sudanese Dinka-language Congregation, All Saints Episcopal Church (via Skype)
Unfortunately Atem’s presentation was garbled and we could not understand the message he was sharing.

Neil Grungas-Founder and Executive Director, Organization for Refugee, Asylum and Migration (ORAM) spoke to us via Skype from Istanbul. He called Turkey the Ground Zero for refugees with over 3 million found everywhere in the city. These people, he stressed, are desperate with no hope at all - you walk over them in the streets of Istanbul. 

Mr. Grungras was particularly passionate when speaking about the LGBT group who are the most vulnerable, invisible and largely ignored. This group is subjected to extraordinary violence especially in the refugee camps where they have no work, no school, and no health care. The situation is tragic. He closed with some good news: the international community has made it a priority to resettle these LGBT refugees. We must ALL roll up our sleeves to attack this crisis together. There are just too many refugees for the UN to respond to on its own!

Q and A: some key points
 The needs of refugee widows must be recognized and addressed.
 All Special needs are examined and addressed when giving assistance.
 The long-term goal is the successful integration of refugees.
 NGOs must use their voices on the regional, national and local levels.

 A participant asked what is being done to stop arms sales and to stop terrorist groups in Syria and Lebanon. No real answer was given, but it was noted that for every dollar spent by the UN on peacekeeping, the world spends $200 on weapons.