Help refugees, mi­grants to save our ship

China Daily (USA) - - VIEW -

Per­haps no is­sue on the global agenda is more sus­cep­ti­ble to ma­nip­u­la­tion by grand­stand­ing dem­a­gogues than refugees and mi­grants. “Us” ver­sus “them” is a time­less if ir­re­spon­si­ble uni­fier, used through­out his­tory to ob­scure our com­mon hu­man­ity by those with dan­ger­ously self­serv­ing in­ter­ests. The dif­fer­ence now is that more peo­ple are on the move than ever be­fore, and in an era when sto­ry­lines spread with vi­ral speed, we see xeno­pho­bia ris­ing and too of­ten erupt­ing into vi­o­lence.

This week’sUnit­edNa­tions Sum­mit for Refugees and Mi­grants rep­re­sents a break­through at a break­ing point. With so many shrill voices dom­i­nat­ing the de­bate, govern­ments from around the world are re­spond­ing in mea­sured tones that can yield real re­sults if prom­ises are kept.

The sum­mit marks the first-ever gath­er­ing of top lead­ers to dis­cuss refugees and mi­grants. It adopted a ground­break­ing con­sen­sus agree­ment: theNewYork Dec­la­ra­tion. Fit­tingly, that doc­u­ment hon­ors a city renowned for its vi­brant di­ver­sity— sym­bol­ized by the Statue of Lib­erty stand­ing tall in­NewYorkHar­bor. Most im­por­tantly, the dec­la­ra­tion sets a prin­ci­pled and prag­matic ap­proach for ad­dress­ing the chal­lenges of peo­ple on the move while up­hold­ing our most cher­ished val­ues.

The stakes are high. There are 244 mil­lion mi­grants in the world. More than 65 mil­lion peo­ple are now forcibly dis­placed. Half of them are chil­dren. Refugees run­ning for their lives too of­ten face grave dan­gers on their jour­ney to safety. When they ar­rive, many suf­fer dis­crim­i­na­tion and even de­ten­tion. Fac­ing dif­fi­cul­ties in a mo­bile world, they of­ten travel far­ther in search of safety and sta­bil­ity. But le­gal path­ways are scarce, and un­scrupu­lous smug­glers take ad­van­tage, charg­ing ex­or­bi­tant sums for a risky chance to es­cape.

Wars are last­ing longer and refugees are find­ing it harder to re­turn home— with the length of dis­place­ment in some cases stretch­ing across gen­er­a­tions. Con­trary to pre­vail­ing im­pres­sions, the vast ma­jor­ity of refugees are not in rich coun­tries; 86 per­cent are in the de­vel­op­ing world. And the poorer coun­tries host­ing refugees do not re­ceive nearly enough help. Last year, UN hu­man­i­tar­ian ap­peals re­ceived barely more than half the funds that were sought.

Re­set­tle­ment op­tions are also a frac­tion of what they should be. Nearly 1 mil­lion peo­ple were iden­ti­fied as need­ing re­set­tle­ment in 2015, but just over 100,000 re­ceived it.

The chal­lenges are enor­mous — but we should not for­get the ben­e­fits. With the right ap­proach, refugees and mi­grants can bring ben­e­fits to both their adop­tive so­ci­eties and their home coun­tries. This well-doc­u­mented up­side should not be lost in the de­bate.

TheNewYork Dec­la­ra­tion should be seen in the wider con­text of newand am­bi­tious in­ter­na­tional ef­forts to im­prove con­di­tions where peo­ple live so they are not forced to leave. Cen­tral to this is the 2030 Agenda for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment, our global plan for peace and pros­per­ity on a healthy planet. We are also push­ing to pre­vent and re­solve con­flicts— and to sus­tain peace once the guns fall silent.

The sum­mit will fea­ture tes­ti­mony from those di­rectly af­fected. I ame­spe­cially look­ing for­ward to meet­ing again with an ex­tra­or­di­nary young woman I first en­coun­tered last month at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Yus­raMar­dini is Syr­ian— but she com­peted on the newrefugee team formed for ath­letes who, like mil­lions of other peo­ple around the world, have been forced out of their home­lands. Be­fore she swam in races, Yusra was in a race to save lives.

Last year, she left Syria on an over­crowded boat. When its en­gine died, she dived into the Aegean Sea and started push­ing the ves­sel, along with a fe­wother swim­mers among the group. It took a gru­elling three hours to reach the shore. They ar­rived ex­hausted— but they had proven the power of hu­man sol­i­dar­ity to ferry us to safety.

Hu­man­ity is to­gether in one boat. Stok­ing fear, blam­ing the “other” or scape­goat­ing mi­nori­ties will only in­crease the dan­gers for all.

Wise lead­ers un­der­stand that we should in­stead en­deav­our to save ev­ery­one, op­ti­mize the con­tri­bu­tions of each, and steer our com­mon ship to our shared des­ti­na­tion: a fu­ture of op­por­tu­nity and dig­nity for all.

The au­thor is sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the United Na­tions.

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