U.N., U.S. hold parallel summits to address migrant crisis

NEW YORK -- “More people than ever are on the move. Some flee war; others seek opportunity,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said at the opening of the U.N. Summit on Refugees and Migrants, after the U.N. signed and adopted the outcome document, called the New York Declaration.

The agreement covers migrants and refugees, at the same time that the International Organization on Migration (IOM) becomes part of the U.N. It provides a framework for protecting them and lays out a non-binding framework for countries to share the burden of the mass movement of forcibly displaced persons, to be negotiated during 2017-18.

The 22-page declaration document sets out a two-year timetable to negotiate the specifics of how to get it all done.

“Today’s summit,” Ban added, “should make a real difference in the lives of refugees and migrants: the New York Declaration which governments adopted today, this morning, just now, can be a turning point if leaders fulfill their commitments.”

It’s that “if” that has some prominent migration and refugee advocates concerned. Pakistani girls’ rights advocate and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai warned people to “not be fooled by what we heard at the United Nations today; focus on what we did not hear.”

Other advocacy organizations questioned the lack of specific pledges in the U.N. agreement for the resettlement of refugees.

“The gap between the funds that we have and the funds that we need remains enormous,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at the U.N. summit. “Today, the United States remains the world’s largest donor of humanitarian assistance and refugee relief, and we are proud of that. But we would be even more satisfied if the need were ended.”

The following day, the U.S. would bring together countries that agreed in advance to make a contribution to one of the areas of reform. They called it a “pay to play” leaders meeting.

The point of the twin refugee and migration summits -- one led by the U.N. and the other by the U.S. -- was to find a way to create a framework to include migrants in the U.N. system and to share the cost and resettlement of refugees fleeing war and persecution. The U.N. summit brought migrants into the U.N. family and the U.S. leaders’ summit raised funds and commitments to address immediate needs.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, noted at the U.N. summit that the world’s six richest countries, which make up more than half the global economy, host less than nine percent of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers; “Those that have the responsibility and the broadest shoulders continue to turn their backs on desperate people.”

The U.S.-led Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, hosted by President Obama along with Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan, Mexico and Sweden, raised billions and unlike the U.N. summit, did garner commitments.

The White House announced the results: 52 countries and international organizations attended and increased their current financial contributions to U.N. appeals and international humanitarian organizations by $4.5 billion over last year, doubled the number of refugees they resettled or admitted legally in 2016 to 360,000, improved access to education for one million refugee children globally, and, gave legal work to one million refugees globally.

“Both summits are crucial to raising awareness of refugee and migration concerns, and both events are designed to harness the political will of member states to address the global refugee and migration crises we are all facing,” John Kirby, U.S. State Department spokesman said.

“Migrants and refugees are some of the world’s bravest people, but also among the most vulnerable,” Peter D. Sutherland, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Migration said at the U.N. summit.

In the end, the twin summits provide a complementary framework for both refugees and migrants, with funding to support resettlement programs, diplomats said.

President Obama, meanwhile, offered a warning to his fellow leaders; “I believe history will judge us harshly if we do not rise to this moment.”

  • Pamela Falk

    Pamela Falk is CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst and an international lawyer, based at the United Nations.