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UN summit on refugees to open in New York

September 19, 2016

The UN is to convene a summit on migration and refugees to address the more than 65 million people displaced by conflict. But critics say any outcome will be a political gesture rather than a legally binding declaration.

Symbolbild UN Generalversammlung
Image: picture-alliance/landov/Alan Tannenbaum

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will open the UN's first-ever summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants at the UN's headquarters in New York on Monday.

Yet months of negotiations over a planned joint declaration have resulted in a document that has been criticized for being a mere summation of existing laws and principles on the handling of migrants and refugees.

The original intent was for the UN's 193 member states to craft a more coordinated approach that protects the human rights of refugees and migrants, amid the largest movement of displaced people in Europe since the end of the Second World War.

'A missed opportunity'

But a number of countries rejected an earlier draft that set a hard target for nations to resettle 10 percent of the refugee population each year. That has led to criticism from human rights groups and migration advocates, who characterize this week's meeting of world leaders as a missed opportunity.

"Instead of sharing responsibility, world leaders shirked it," Amnesty International Secretary-General Salil Shetty said in a statement. "The UN summit has been sabotaged by states acting in self-interest, leaving millions of refugees in dire situations around the world on the edge of a precipice."

Ban, whose migration report laid the groundwork for the summit document, said he was aware of criticism that the final document won't carry legal weight.

"While we all wish it could be a stronger outcome document ... all 193 member states had to agree on their commitment. As you will see, my report was a strong one," he said. "I hope that, as the two compacts are adopted over the coming year and a half, some stronger language and commitment and elements from the report will reappear in the course of this negotiation."

Refugee crisis by the numbers

Griechenland Flüchtlingsunterkünfte
UNHCR says an "unprecedented" 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015, an increase of more than 5 million from a year earlier. They include 21.3 million refugees, 3.2 million asylum-seekers, and 40.8 million migrants.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Panagiotou

According to UN figures from the end of last year, conflict and persecution have driven a record 65.3 million people from their homes, meaning one in every 113 people globally is either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee.

Infografik Verteilung Geflüchteter weltweit nach Regionen Englisch

A day after Monday's summit, US President Barack Obama will host a leader's summit dedicated to increasing specific pledges and commitments to assist refugees. He'll be joined by the leaders of Germany, Canada, Mexico, Ethiopia, Jordan and Sweden and by the UN Secretary-General. Their aim is to increase financing for global humanitarian appeals by 30 percent, to double the number of refugees resettled globally and to raise the number of refugee children in school by 1 million.

The five-year Syrian civil war, which Ban says is causing the most "death, destruction and widespread instability" in the world, will also be discussed at a high-level meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday. Syria's latest tentative ceasefire came into force one week ago.

jar/msh (AP, dpa)