World leaders have an opportunity to transform the lives of millions of refugees

World leaders have an opportunity to transform the lives of millions of refugees


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There are today some 65.3 million people uprooted around the world by conflict and persecution. A third of them, having fled not just their homes but their countries, are refugees. Next week, world leaders gathering in New York for this year’s U.N. General Assembly session will have a vital opportunity to transform the lives of millions of those refugees, and to support those states who have taken them in.

The United Nations building in New York City. (Photo credit: Ian Gratton/Wikimedia Commons)

The United Nations building in New York City. (Photo credit: Ian Gratton/Wikimedia Commons)

On Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama, alongside leaders from Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan, Mexico and Sweden, will co-host a summit on the global refugee crisis. Around 50 countries are expected to attend. In order to receive an invitation, most of these have had to commit to unveil pledges on Tuesday that will support the summit’s key objectives:

  • Increase overall support for UN and aid agencies’ humanitarian efforts by 30 percent this year
  • Double the number of refugees resettled or otherwise safely transferred from the states in which they are currently sheltering to new countries
  • Get a million refugee children into school, and another million working-age refugees into employment

These are laudable goals, and must be met. In recent years, the gap between the money requested by the UN for emergency aid efforts and the amount actually provided by donors has been as much as 50 percent. Developing regions, by accident of geography, currently host 86% of the world’s refugees. Resettling the most vulnerable to wealthier countries is a way to move towards redressing this imbalance. And with today’s refugees stranded for ever-longer periods – less than one percent went home last year – getting adults into work and children into school means that the impact of their dispossession is lessened, and that they can start to rebuild their lives and contribute to the societies around them.

A man living in Dadaab, Kenya—the world's largest refugee camp.

A man living in Dadaab, Kenya—the world’s largest refugee camp. (Photo credit: ONE)

But these goals and commitments, welcome as they are, as just the beginning of what is required to properly address this crisis. To meet the humanitarian needs of refugees, of people displaced by conflict within their own country, and others who require emergency assistance this year, the UN has requested $21.6 billion. Halfway into September, that appeal is still less than 40 percent funded. So even if Tuesday’s commitments are turned into action, billions of dollars more will still be needed. And that is just for 2016.

Similarly, while getting a million refugees into school would be life-changing for the children involved, it would provide little consolation to the 2.7 million refugees of primary and secondary school-age who would remain outside of education. ONE has been calling on world leaders to commit the resources and implement the policies necessary to ensure that every single refugee child receives a quality education as soon as possible, and to build a roadmap setting out exactly how that aim will be achieved. Without these levels of ambition and commitment, the futures of millions of the world’s most vulnerable children risk being lost.


The ‘New York Declaration’ that UN member states will adopt on Monday, at a high-level summit on refugees and migrants hosted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, acknowledges this, and stresses signatories’ determination to “provide quality primary and secondary education in safe learning environments for all refugee children… within a few months of the initial displacement”. Like the rest of the commitments in the Declaration, which constitutes a collective undertaking to respond appropriately to the ongoing refugee crisis and global migration trends, it is worthy in aim but thin on detail.

Ensuring that the pledges in the Declaration are transformed into concrete, positive outcomes for refugees and the countries where they have found safety will be the collective task of governments, civil society and global citizenry from Monday onwards.

SIGN NOW: Tell world leaders to deliver a concrete plan to provide quality education for all refugee children.

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