Global migration peaked in 2015 and the topic is high on the international political agenda. Safe and responsible migration is included in the 2030 Agenda and this year’s UN General Assembly commenced with the first ever summit at the Heads of State and Government level on large movements of refugees and migrants. The summit has been hailed as a watershed moment and a historic opportunity to come up with a blueprint for a better international response to the multidimensional refugee crisis. Back to back with the UN General Assembly meeting, US President Obama hosted a ”Leader’s Summit on Refugees”, alongside a number of co-hosts, including Sweden.
This seminar discussed the outcomes of the two September meetings. Different stakeholders gave their perspectives on the importance and limitations of the New York Declaration that came out of the summit, as well as broader reflections on the current challenges of responsibility sharing, protection of refugees and forced migrants.
The Swedish Ambassador for Migration, Nicola Clase, started off by stressing the important signals of the summits, which indicate increased international acknowledgement of the prominence of the issue of migration. Significant outcomes include the integration of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) into the UN system, the New York Declaration with a number of important commitments made or reinforced, and widely exceeded expectations of the US meeting in terms of increases in humanitarian assistance.
Karolina Lindholm Billing, Deputy Regional Representative of UNHCR Northern Europe, continued by explaining how the New York declaration fills a gap in the international protection system by concretizing what international cooperation and responsibility-sharing among states regarding migration means in practice in order to ensure a global response to refugee and migration situations. She described the declaration as a consolidation and reaffirmation of existing good practices, principles and standards of the international protection system, which is important as in practise many states have questioned these fundamental principles. She also explained how UNHCR will take the lead on developing a new multi-stakeholder ”Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework”.
Mats Karlsson, Director of the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, claimed to be proud of the UN for what it delivered in the September summit, but even more worried about countries’ willingness to play ball on these issues. Leaders who mobilize by xenophobia challenge some of the very basic assumptions at the foundation of the UN. To manage the migration challenges we need both leadership and mobilisation, and those of us who believe in multilateralism and the founding principles of the UN must mobilize much harder, he stressed. Normative change is needed and currently countries do not even live up to current norms.
Speaking from a humanitarian perspective, Anna Sjöblom, Medical Humanitarian Advisor at Doctors without Borders (MSF), appreciated some of the wordings in the declaration – including the protection of women and children, strengthening the fight against organised crime, improving access to health care and the reiteration that border control must be implemented in conformity with international law. However, she emphasized that there is a large disconnect between words and practice – in realty people are fleeing under these harsh conditions because of policies put in place by the very people who agreed on this declaration. She also stressed the great risks in the politization of humanitarian aid, and explained why Doctors without borders decided to stop their operations in the Moria camp in Lesbos.
Finally, Monica Svantesson, Migration Expert at Delmi, focused on the European perspective and discussed how the negative narrative of migration needs to be countered. The fears among the public, which are effectively used by anti-migration parties, must be neutralized. This can be done both by emphasizing the human rights dimensions and by taking an historic perspective which shows that migration is nothing new. We should not close our eyes to the challenges of migration, but it is equally important to point out its positive effects. Furthermore, the restrictive stance is not necessarily more realistic or less costly, she stressed.
The individual interventions were followed by a panel discussion and questions from the audience. Discussions were moderated by Henrik Hammargen, Executive Director of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation.
Watch the seminar here:
The event formed part of the seminar series “Implementing Agenda 2030”, jointly organised by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and UNDP Sweden.