United Nations

Only an international response can solve refugee crisis

Global cooperation is the only way to balance the need to protect borders and those fleeing conflict

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 September, 2016, 12:26am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 September, 2016, 12:26am

The United Nations often stands accused of being ineffective in the face of conflict, but it can still be an effective instrument of humanitarian cooperation. The biggest refugee crisis since the end of the second world war is a case in point. The UN General Assembly and the US State Department held separate summits in New York on what to do about 65 million displaced people. They consist of 21 million refugees, three million asylum seekers and 41 million migrants fleeing their homes for a better life. The announcement that 50 nations had pledged to take in 360,000 refugees from war-torn countries pales against those figures. The crisis overwhelms the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the outdated Refugee Convention under which it operates.

Governments fear that opening borders to people who need jobs and shelter will lead to a public backlash. A reminder of how divisive an open-door policy can be is to be found in a rebuke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered by voters in Berlin state elections.

Countries are not legally bound by agreements at the summit. As a result, human rights groups accused world leaders of shirking responsibility. But UN officials say a declaration aimed at a more coordinated approach could make a difference to emergency responses and long-term crises like the Syrian war.

China pledges more aid to tackle global refugee and migrant crisis

Among pledges to increase humanitarian contributions by about US$4.5 billion, China, often urged to do more in dealing with international crises, told the General Assembly it would provide US$100 million in direct aid and consider using a US$1 billion joint fund with the UN to address the global refugee and migrant crisis.

Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) called for ramped up international cooperation. In the short term, such aid is critical to UN goals such as increasing by one million the number of refugees in school and the number granted the legal right to work.

In the long term, the international community needs to reconcile the duty of governments to protect their borders with the challenge posed by an explosion of migration driven by the rise of cheap mass travel and regional pressures to seek a better life. The 1951 Geneva Convention to protect refugees in post-war/cold war Europe was never designed to deal with it. Apart from the office of the UN High Commissioner, international investment agencies need to become involved to help match up refugees with jobs in haven countries.