[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Two major international events will be held next week to improve the lives of refugees and asylum seekers. On Monday, the UN General Assembly will hold a day-long high-level summit to address large movements of refugees and migrants, with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach. And on Tuesday, the US President Barack Obama will host a “Leaders’ Summit on Refugees” alongside Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan, Mexico and Sweden, with an appeal to governments to pledge significant new commitments on refugees.
“While the Leaders’ Summit will focus on refugees, not migrants, the General Assembly High-Level Summit will address large movements of both,” a UN spokesperson said. “The two events will complement one another.”
The UN General Assembly has never before called for a summit at the Heads of State and Government level on large movements of refugees and migrants; and Monday’s event is being described by the UN as “a historic opportunity to come up with a blueprint for a better international response. It is a watershed moment to strengthen governance of international migration and a unique opportunity for creating a more responsible, predictable system for responding to large movements of refugees and migrants.”
The King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, will join presidents, prime ministers, ministers and officials from 126 nations and 19 organisations in addressing two separate plenary events during the day-long summit. There will also be six round-table discussions on different aspects of the refugee crisis.
The Anglican Communion will be represented by the Church of England’s Suffragan Bishop in Europe, David Hamid; and the Province of South East Asia’s Lay Canon Andrew Khoo, from the Diocese of West Malaysia. Andrew Khoo is a senior human rights lawyer and co-chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Malaysian Bar Council.
“There is an urgent need for improved advocacy on behalf of refugees and migrants, especially with governments of countries that are reluctant to provide legal recognition and actual protection,” Canon Khoo said. “I think of several South East Asian countries for which this is true, including my own.
“Critical as it is, the Church should not just be meeting the immediate and short-term humanitarian needs of refugees and migrants but responding in a more direct and intentional way to framing a long-term and durable solution that is based on appreciation of the dignity of the individual and respect for human rights.
“The role of the local church and Christians is crucial in reducing, if not eliminating, elements and expressions of hatred and xenophobia within countries receiving refugees and migrants.
“So often our societies quietly benefit from the cheap and exploited labour provided by refugees and migrants, who often work in the underground economy or on the margins of the law, and yet openly reject their need for safety, protection and to access legal work. But society’s attitude can only be changed if we ourselves are liberated from our own fears, prejudices and insecurities in respect of these ‘aliens and strangers’, as the Bible puts it.”
Bishop David called for all nations to recognise their shared responsibility for refugees; and for the Church – present throughout the world – to offer its knowledge to government agencies.
“The phenomenon of refugees and displacement and movement of peoples is symptomatic of deeper problems related to poverty, hunger, thirst – for many parts of the planet are drying up – as well as civil conflict and war,” he said. “Coordinated action by governments and solidarity among nations is essential to addressing these issues – they are global in scope and global cooperation and commitment is needed.
“We need, from every nation, to be co-responsible for the safety and security of people of every nation. The challenges faced by Europe in the past years, for instance, demonstrates that no region can assume it can live in isolation from these wider global issues. We are all connected in our planet, and the plight of people in one part of the world is ignored at the peril of the rest.
“The Christian Church is the best network around the world. We are everywhere, and the Church is in touch with people in every place, and know their challenges, their struggles, their gifts and their potential. Our ‘on the ground’ knowledge is unsurpassed and we are willing, gladly, to offer this knowledge and insight in the wider service of governments, international agencies and others working for the common good.
“Our values are those of sacrificial service, compassion, justice, bridge-building and peace-making. These we offer, along with people of every faith, to those who must govern and address the needs of the world's peoples.”
The one day-summit gets underway in the United Nations’ New York headquarters on Monday at 8.30am local time (EDT, 12.30 pm GMT); finishing at 8.00 pm (midnight GMT). It will be web-streamed on webtv.un.org.