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World Refugee Day: UN warns US against isolation from global problems

UN Chief Antonio Guterres has used World Refugee Day to chastise the United States over its refugee policy. Germany, meanwhile, has been honored for being a "humanitarian frontrunner" in confronting the refugee crisis.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the administration of US President Donald Trump that retreating from global issues won't be good for America or the rest of the world.

"I believe if the US disengages in many aspects of foreign policy it will be unavoidable that other actors occupy that space," he told reporters Tuesday at his first press conference since taking over as secretary general in New York.

Speaking on World Refugee Day, Guterres voiced concern over recent US decisions to cut funding to the UN, withdraw from the Paris climate change accord, and reject refugees. He said the US should return to its "generous and positive" refugee policy of three years ago under former President Barack Obama. He also urged other countries around the world to reset their resettlement quotas to ease the burden on developing countries, which currently host 80 percent of refugees.

The Trump administration has proposed slashing US contributions to the UN by roughly $1 billion, a move Guterres said would create an "insolvable problem" for the world body. The UN chief said he planned to travel to Washington next week to lobby members of Congress to reject the cuts.

Guterres also spoke about the war in Syria, which has displaced millions of people over the past six years. He said he feared the US downing of a Syrian jet over the weekend could escalate the conflict and lead to a direct confrontation between the US and Russia.

UN honors Germany

Also on Tuesday, the UN's refugee agency honored Germany for being a "humanitarian frontrunner" in helping to tackle the world's refugee crisis as it marked World Refugee Day. The day highlights the plight facing millions of displaced persons and calls on state actors to make tangible efforts in alleviating the suffering.

Read more: From the Sinjar mountains to Germany's Rhineland: a Yazidi refugee's story

Volker Turk, the Assistant High Commissioner for the UN's Refugee Agency (UNHCR), told German media that Germany had taken a leading role in helping to tackle the plight of refugees.

Turk said he hoped Germany would lead talks on resettling migrants at the G20 summit in Hamburg next month.

Since 2015, Germany has taken in more than a million refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, although the flow of refugees into the country has significantly slowed in the past year.

More recent efforts instead focused on providing humanitarian aid to besieged regions. Last year alone, Berlin spent some 1.3 billion euros ($1.4 billion) on aid, making it one of the world's most generous humanitarian spenders. Its humanitarian budget increased ten-fold over the past five years, according to Germany's foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel.

Around 307 million euros ($342 million) of that funding went to the UNHCR.

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Refugees Working in Germany

Gabriel: More international support needed

Gabriel, on Tuesday praised the UNHCR for being the country's "most important humanitarian partner."

However, Germany's top diplomat also had stern words for the international community, calling on it to do more in dealing with the global refugee crisis.

"Germany can't cope with these challenges on its own," Gabriel said. "We need joint international efforts and a fairer distribution of responsibility in order to alleviate the suffering of refugees around the world and prevent long-term refugee crises from happening in the first place."

A young refugee on a train

Germany has accepted more than a million refugees since the refugee crisis began

The UNHCR reported in its annual global trends on Monday that the total number of people displaced either within their own country or abroad had reached a record of 65.5 million.

Read more: UN: Record 65 million people displaced worldwide

In the past year alone more than 10 million people were forcefully uprooted from their homes, while more than 3.5 million people fled their countries.
Syria and Afghanistan remain the biggest sources of refugees, with 5.5 million and 2.5 million nationals from the two countries displaced respectively.South Sudan became the world's fastest-growing displacement crisis last year, according to the UNHCR. The number of South Sudanese who fled across the border almost doubled in 2016 from just under 800,000 to around 1.4 million.

nm/rc (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, KNA)

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