Thursday, February 23, 2017

New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (2016): Can we make the global compact happen?

By Monzima Haque, UNA-NCA Fellow (2017)

         The issue of refugees and migrants has remained a politically charged subject matter for a long time. The sensitivities that surround this topic have played an enormous role in shaping the political discourse and direction of the recent American and European elections. On one side, liberals see the potentials of inclusiveness and cultural progress blended in the expertise that migrants bring along; while the conservatives highlight the risks associated with it citing instances of insecurity and terrorism. In an era of xenophobia, hate speech and negative media regarding refugees and migrants, what can be done to protect the rights of the people who are citizens of the same world we live in? What are our responsibilities as global citizens in this post-truth world?

According to the United Nations refugee agency, at least 3,800 migrants perished in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016 in an attempt to reach Europe. These are not mere statistics but a reflection of how we think and act. As global citizens of the post-truth world, it is our responsibility to confront the negative narrative about migration. The UN may not be able to force member states to abide by their commitments, but citizens have the power to shape policy makers’ opinions and preferences. It is at our end to determine what world we want to live in and employ our intellect and resources to make it better.

On the sidelines of a vibrant Members’ Day at the UN headquarters in New York, the 2017 UNA-NCA Graduate Fellows engaged in an enlightening discussion with Kellie- Shandra OGNIMBA from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The discussion complements the past session with Tom Bradley, member of the Board of Directors of UNA-NCA and Vice President of Development, who shared the traumatic experiences of Syrian refugee children and women. One of the key arguments that came up during the past conversation was the lack of consensus on the issue of migrants’ rights and the understanding that there is more work to be done. In line with that argument, the young professionals learned about the latest landmark New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (2016) and discussed its potential to address the complications that surround the subject of migration in today’s changing context.

At the UN Summit on September 19, 2016, member states expressed their commitment to the protection of the rights and responsibilities of refugees and migrants. It was certainly a global expression of political will to create a platform of conceptualizing the protection of refugees and migrants as member states’ obligation. As noted by Ms. Kellie, from a human rights perspective, this declaration is a practical tool for a global compact on migration where member states have come together to develop a better approach to deal with the issue of migration. The declaration provides for two compacts: Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). The New York Declaration is, therefore, a human rights instrument that contains tangible plans and timelines to achieve meaningful global compact to protect the lives of refugees and migrants based on common principles.

While this is certainly a historic step to create consensus surrounding the rights of refugees and migrants and to systematize the process of response, it is also likely to encounter challenges.  It is based on normative commitment rather than a legally binding agreement. The draft resolution and modalities have yet to travel a long way before reaching the final global compact. Undoubtedly, this still needs the expression of determination to be continually displayed. 

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