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Strong welcome for UN refugee agreement – but action must follow

Posted on: September 22, 2016 1:10 PM
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon (shown on screens) addresses the opening of the United Nations high-level summit on large movements of refugees and migrants.
Photo Credit: Cia Pak / UN

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Anglicans have welcomed the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which was agreed by world leaders at the UN General Assembly’s High Level Meeting on Monday. The declaration “expresses the political will of world leaders to protect the rights of refugees and migrants, to save lives and share responsibility for large movements on a global scale,” the UN said as they summarised the agreement.

The New York Declaration contains “bold commitments” by member states to “start negotiations leading to an international conference and the adoption of a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration in 2018; to develop guidelines on the treatment of migrants in vulnerable situations; [and] to achieve a more equitable sharing of the burden and responsibility for hosting and supporting the world’s refugees by adopting a global compact on refugees in 2018,” the UN said.

Lay Canon Andrew Khoo, a leading human rights lawyer from the Diocese of West Malaysia in the Province of South East Asia, was one of two representatives of the Anglican Communion at Monday’s historic summit.

“The New York Declaration is an ambitious effort on the part of the United Nations system, and member states, to begin to address the enormity of the challenge that large movements of refugees and migrants poses,” he said. “Moving forward, this ambition has now to be matched with action on the part of member states in the area of national and domestic policies and practices.

“These will need to be re-shaped and re-orientated to be more accommodating towards refugees and migrants. The thrust of the Church’s advocacy must now be channelled towards encouraging member states to adopt policies and practices that are consistent with the ambition of the New York Declaration, and to hold member states accountable in implementing the goals of the Declaration.”

The Church of England’s suffragan Bishop in Europe, David Hamid, was the other Anglican Communion representative at the event. “I came away from the summit impressed by the sheer nature of the gathering, the member states, civil society, faith groups and others, who together recognise that we are facing a global crisis, a crisis that needs a new global approach that will need solidarity from all,” he told ACNS.

“There were moments of honesty when officials admitted that the present system in addressing the needs of refugees and migrants has failed and a new, better, comprehensive approach is urgently needed.

“It is hopeful that imbedded in the New York Declaration is a recognition that faith based organisations have a role to play in this new comprehensive approach. As to what that role may be, it must certainly involve us in the constructing of a new narrative about refugees.

“We need to change the narrative,” he said. “The New York Declaration speaks loudly about the need to counter xenophobia, racism, blaming migrants and refugees for all sorts of problems. The churches have a role in helping to change this toxic narrative. Imbedded in our biblical tradition are stories of exile, refuge, sanctuary, migration and welcome and hospitality.

“The other hopeful sign was the identification of the vulnerability of certain groups, particularly children and women, who need special protection and attention. This coincides with the churches’ own perspective, and commitment to serving the most vulnerable among the vulnerable”

The US-based Episcopal Church’s refugee and immigration policy analyst, Lacy Broemel, was also at the UN Summit on Monday. “The UN has invited civil society into this process and as a faith-based organisation, we must continue to engage with the global community to ensure the standards included in the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants are actually upheld,” she told the Episcopal News Service.

“Refugees and migrants are experiencing human rights abuses, being forced from their homes, and are facing xenophobic and racist attacks around the world. We cannot ignore people who need and deserve our attention,” she said. “The Episcopal Church must use the New York Declaration to engage in advocacy with our local governments, with other Episcopalians, and with refugees and migrants themselves.

“In the US, the Episcopal Church has long been committed to the work of advocacy. The New York Declaration provides us with another tool to urge our elected officials to develop humane and compassionate migration and refugee policies. Our work continues because we are committed to making our world more like the one God envisions for us,” she said.

Monday’s summit represented “a breakthrough in our collective efforts to address the challenges of human mobility,” the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said. The declaration will mean that “more children can attend school; more workers can securely seek jobs abroad, instead of being at the mercy of criminal smugglers, and more people will have real choices about whether to move once we end conflict, sustain peace and increase opportunities at home.”

On Tuesday, the US President Barrack Obama hosted a separate Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, bringing together the leaders of 50 states and organisations. The participants agreed to increase their contributions to humanitarian appeals in 2016 by $4.5 billion USD (approximately £3.46 bn GBP). President Obama said that major commitments by Turkey, Thailand, Chad and Jordan mean that more than one million children who are refugees will receive an education and one million adult refugees will be given training, new skills or help to find work.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, said later that he was “hugely encouraged to see the strong political commitments in the New York Declaration made immediately tangible through the new, concrete actions announced by governments” at the Leaders’ Summit.

“International solidarity for refugees means governments stepping up and providing fast, predictable funding, investing in host countries and communities, and giving refugees the right to live, work or study in their countries – and through that, a fighting chance to rebuild their lives,” he said.”