Commitment for greater cooperation in addressing global refugee crisis, at UN Summit

KUALA LUMPUR, 19 September 2016 (UNHCR) - World leaders will gather today in New York for the UN General Assembly Summit on Refugees and Migrants, where they are expected to adopt a set of commitments to enhance the protection of refugee and migrants. These commitments will be known as the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants.

The Summit is a historic opportunity to garner political will of world leaders to save lives, protect rights, and share responsibility on refugee protection at a global scale.

“The world is witnessing a record number of people forced to flee their homes. At the start of this year, 65 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide – the highest since World War II,” said Richard Towle, UNHCR Representative in Malaysia.

“More and more refugees are moving in circumstances where their lives are at risk, and their reception is overwhelming for countries on the front lines. At this critical moment, what is needed is greater international cooperation and burden-sharing among States, and between States and the UN.”

Malaysia is currently hosting over 150,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, of whom 93% are from Myanmar, and many have been in the country for decades.

“The positive changes in Myanmar means that for the first time in decades, there is a unique opportunity to explore solutions for refugees from that country. To achieve this, stronger cooperation between the Government of Malaysia and UNHCR needs to be established,” said Towle. “In this context, UNHCR welcomes the recent announcement, made by Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi, of a Joint Task Force for practical cooperation among Government agencies and UNHCR in addressing refugee protection in the country.

“We believe that with strengthened cooperation between UNHCR and the Government of Malaysia, we will be able to address legitimate concerns around law and order and security concerning mixed migration. We can also identify solutions for refugees to provide them greater safety and self-reliance, including access to legal work.”

194 States in the General Assembly are expected to adopt the New York Declaration which will reaffirm the rights of refugees and migrants, and pledge robust support to those countries and communities affected by large movements of people in a broader, and more systematic and sustainable way.





1. Why does this UN Summit matter?

At a time of multiple global crises, and when large-scale movements of refugees and migrants are challenging many countries – even stoking xenophobia in some quarters – it is very significant that 194  Member States of the United Nations are coming together to agree on a way forward to manage the challenges better, together.

Once adopted, the New York Declaration will be a significant milestone.  In it, States declare profound solidarity for people who are forced to flee their homes; reaffirm their obligations to full respect of the human rights of refugees and migrants; and States pledge robust support to those countries affected by large movements of refugees and migrants.

The Declaration includes commitments common to refugees and migrants, including: combating exploitation, racism and xenophobia, savings lives en route, ensuring border procedures follow due process and are in line with international law. It also includes paying attention to the needs of women, children and those with health care needs, recognising and facilitating the positive contributions of migrants and refugees, ensuring they are part of development priorities, and ensuring adequate, flexible and predictable funding.

In addition, the Declaration sets out specific commitments in relation to refugees and to migrants. 

On the refugee side, some of the specific commitments include increasing support to the countries and communities hosting the largest number of refugees.  There are related commitments to boosting early childhood and primary and secondary education for refugees, and creating jobs and income generation schemes for refugees and host communities. There is also an emphasis on expanding opportunities for resettlement or other forms of admission to third countries.

The Declaration also provides for a Comprehensive Refugee Response (CRR) Framework to be applied in response to large scale refugee influxes or protracted situations. This will be broader than a typical refugee response, bringing in a range of stakeholders from the outset including local and national authorities, humanitarian and development actors, the private sector and civil society.   The Framework also emphasises the importance of refugees becoming self-reliant and addressing the needs of local host communities.


2. What does this mean for refugee protection?

The New York Declaration is a reaffirmation of the importance and application of the international protection regime — the 1951 Refugee Convention, human rights and humanitarian law – at a time when there are record levels of forced displacement.

Governments specifically acknowledge that the protection of refugees and assistance to host states is a shared international responsibility, and not to be borne by host countries alone.  This is a critical development.

The New York Declaration also signals a shift beyond a mainly humanitarian response to refugee movements – usually in itself, severely underfunded – to a broader, systematic and more sustainable response to help refugees and the communities hosting them. 

This will mean working on several fronts at once: addressing humanitarian needs, bringing in development actors sooner to help refugees and their hosts, and starting the longer term planning for solutions beyond the emergency phase.

UNHCR also very much welcomes the Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis on 20 September convened by President Obama, which provides an opportunity for governments to make concrete commitments in funding to humanitarian appeals and international organisations, to admitting more refugees through resettlement and other pathways, and increasing refugees’ self-reliance and inclusion through work and education opportunities.


3. Format of the Summit

The Summit will begin on 19 September with an opening plenary chaired by the Secretary General and statements from high-level UN officials, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. There will be two parallel plenary sessions for statements by Member States.

There will be six roundtables dedicated to various refugee and migrant themes and a closing plenary. A concurrent civil society meeting will be held from 10 – 12.30pm.

In addition to the formal one day formal session, a series of side events are being organized between 13 and 23 September.

Media contacts on the Summit:

•             In Geneva, Ariane Rummery +41 79 200 7617

•             In Geneva, Melissa Fleming +41 22 739 7965

•             In New York, Jenifer Fenton   +1 646 255 3054

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