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UN Summit commits to protect refugee, migrant rights

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi addresses the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants at the UN General Assembly in New York. © UN Photo/Cia Pak

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi addresses the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants at the UN General Assembly in New York. © UN Photo/Cia Pak

NEW YORK – At a high-level UN Summit in New York today, the governments of 193 countries adopted key commitments to enhance protection for millions of people who have been forcibly displaced and are otherwise on the move around the world.

Amidst record levels of displacement worldwide, the Summit brought together government and UN leaders and representatives of civil society to better safeguard the rights of refugees and migrants and share responsibility on a global scale.

“Refugees and migrants are not to be seen as a burden; they offer great potential, if only we unlock it,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in an opening address to the Summit. “We must place the human rights of all refugees and migrants at the heart of our commitments.”

“Refugees and migrants are not to be seen as a burden – they offer great potential, if only we unlock it.”

The UN Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants met at the opening session of the UN General Assembly. Once the forum adopted the key commitments, they became known as the New York Declaration.

The Declaration calls on countries which can resettle or reunite many more refugees to do so. It also calls for those in the richer part of the world to recognize their responsibility to provide timely and dependable humanitarian funding, while robustly investing in communities that host large numbers of refugees.

Host countries are called upon to increase opportunities for refugee adults to work and for children to go to school. The Declaration commits governments to better address the drivers and triggers causing the record numbers of forcibly displaced in today’s world.

The Declaration also tasks UNHCR to develop a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, setting out a blueprint for a stronger system with more reliable funding and early engagement of development actors to help those forced to flee their homes and the communities hosting them.

“Today we have an extraordinary opportunity to change gear,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in remarks to the Summit on Monday (September 19).

Grandi said the Declaration “marks a political commitment of unprecedented force and resonance.”

“It fills what has been a perennial gap in the international refugee protection system – that of truly sharing responsibility for refugees.”

“It fills what has been a perennial gap in the international refugee protection system – that of truly sharing responsibility for refugees, in the spirit of the UN Charter.”

Grandi pledged to work with world leaders to manage forced displacement in a principled manner, and resolve it with courage and vision. He called on governments to provide political engagement, funding and concrete acts of solidarity in support of host countries and pursuit of solutions for refugees.

“The world – shocked by images of people fleeing in huge numbers and dying at sea – does not want our intentions to remain on paper. It demands practical action and results.”

With the Declaration, the International Organization for Migration was formally brought into the United Nations system on Monday.

The commitments in the Declaration were agreed last month, and will serve as the basis for future compacts. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, believes the Declaration will mark a significant milestone in refugee and migrant protection.

Today’s adoption of the New York Declaration will be followed on Tuesday by a Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis, convened by U.S. President Barack Obama. Here, participants are expected to make concrete pledges in the form of additional funding, new resettlement places or more opportunities for refugees in host communities.