This week’s UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants – which had been referred to as an “extraordinary opportunity” by UNHCR Chief Filippo Grandi – has instead been widely criticised by civil society organisations. The outcome of the Summit, the so-called New York Declaration, has been described as a document “thin on content and connections to practice” which fails to  provide much needed reform and reflects the interests of States more than those of refugees.

At the Summit, Mohammed Badran, representative of the organisation Syrian Volunteers Netherlands, warned: “Crisis after crisis, conference after conference, it seems inaction is the only thing that the international community can agree on […] If world leaders today are unable to find a solution to the refugee crisis, and the Syrian crisis, then this Summit is no different from all other conferences.”

Through the New York Declaration, States have made a series of non-legally binding commitments to, among other things, protect the rights of all refugees and migrants regardless of their status; ensure access to education for migrant and refugee children; support countries rescuing, receiving and hosting large numbers of refugees and migrants; and to work towards ending child detention. In addition, the Declaration also provides for the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to become an official UN agency.

Human Rights Watch’s Philippe Bolopion, commented, “I would say if you measure this document by what is at stake here, it certainly falls short of the mark. We’re facing an historic crisis and the response is not historic.” He added, “Is the outcome document up to the challenge? No, unquestionably it’s not. Does that mean the summit is pointless? No, because it’s precisely at moments like this that you need to regroup” to find durable solutions.

Among the biggest shortcomings of the document identified by human rights groups are the leeway left for continuation of child detention as well as the exclusion of internally displaced people (IDPs) from the agenda. A civil society alliance, which includes among others Amnesty International, the Norwegian Refugee Council and the International Rescue Committee, stressed that maintaining child detention as a practice of “last resort” opens a legal backdoor that runs counter to the best interest of the child. Alexandra Bilak from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre has called the exclusion of IDPs a “strategic mistake” which is “symptomatic of the ever-growing disparity between the scale of internal displacement worldwide and the lack of global focus on protecting and assisting IDPs.”

The New York Declaration will lay ground for the Global Compacts on Migrants and Refugees that are to be agreed in 2018. The Global Compact on Refugees will be based on a “comprehensive refugee response framework” to be elaborated largely by UNHCR and meant to provide a response to each specific refugee situation worldwide. By 2018, UNHCR expects to have gathered enough feedback to conclude the Global Compact on Refugees.  The Global Compact on Migration will instead be drafted through a different process, based on State negotiations, due to the absence of an international convention dealing with all elements of migration.

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