Lo­cal re­lief groups join call for refugee sys­tem over­haul

At U.N. sum­mit, lead­ers agree to boost spend­ing on ef­forts by to­tal of $4.5B

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Ian Dun­can

As the U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly meets to dis­cuss the worst refugee cri­sis in his­tory, hu­man­i­tar­ian agen­cies based in Bal­ti­more are join­ing the call to over­haul the way the world comes to the aid of peo­ple forced from their homes by wars and dis­as­ters.

Paul Miller, an ad­viser at Lutheran World Re­lief, says the cur­rent sys­tem, de­signed 70 years ago to ad­dress the flow of peo­ples across Europe after World War II, isn’t able to re­spond ef­fec­tively to the con­flicts of to­day, which can leave peo­ple liv­ing as refugees for decades.

“Is this thing fit for pur­pose?” he asked, and an­swered him­self: “No. It no longer is.”

So­lu­tions, they say, in­clude re­solv­ing the con­flicts that drive peo­ple from their

”It was in­spir­ing to wit­ness not just com­pas­sion, but a sense of moral re­spon­si­bil­ity for the refugees.” Carolyn Y. Woo, pres­i­dent and CEO of Catholic Re­lief Ser­vices

homes, but also prepar­ing to ed­u­cate and em­ploy dis­placed peo­ple who might never be able to re­turn.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on Tues­day called the dis­place­ment of an es­ti­mated 65 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide “one of the most ur­gent tests of our time,” and an­nounced that 52 na­tions and or­ga­ni­za­tions had agreed to boost their spend­ing on refugee ef­forts by a to­tal of $4.5 bil­lion.

“Just as fail­ing to act in the past — for ex­am­ple by turn­ing away Jews flee­ing Nazi Ger­many — is a stain on our col­lec­tive con­science, I be­lieve his­tory will judge us harshly if we do not rise to this mo­ment,” he said at a sum­mit con­vened by the United States.

The 193 mem­ber states of the United Na­tions, meet­ing in New York for a first-of-its-kind con­fer­ence, adopted a dec­la­ra­tion of sup­port for the es­ti­mated 65 mil­lion refugees and mi­grants now dis­placed world­wide.

“You hear all around the world the U.N. hasn’t han­dled the refugee cri­sis,” said Sa­man­tha Power, the U.S. am­bas­sador to the world body. “The way the U.N. will han­dle the refugee cri­sis is if all of us coun­tries within the U.N. step up and dig deep and face those po­lit­i­cal head­winds that we all face, to do more, to give more, to take on a greater share of the re­set­tle­ment chal­lenge.”

Par­tic­i­pants Tues­day in­cluded World Re­lief and Catholic Re­lief Ser­vices, both of which are head­quar­tered in Bal­ti­more.

Carolyn Y. Woo, pres­i­dent and CEO of Catholic Re­lief Ser­vices, said she had “wit­nessed … an un­com­mon show of com­mon pur­pose to ad­dress the many chal­lenges posed by the refugee cri­sis among coun­tries that don’t al­ways see eye to eye.”

“It was in­spir­ing to wit­ness not just com­pas­sion, but a sense of moral re­spon­si­bil­ity for the refugees,” she said. “It was good to hear the call for peace; I hope our lead­ers dig­nify the refugees by their fol­low through.”

Be­fore the con­fer­ence, Catholic Re­lief Ser­vices said it had joined with 30 other or­ga­ni­za­tions to pledge $1.2 bil­lion for refugee re­lief in the next three years.

In the dec­la­ra­tion ap­proved Monday by the Gen­eral Assem­bly, mem­bers pledged ef­forts to stan­dard­ize their re­sponse to refugee crises and to pro­vide bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion and jobs to refugees. They also en­cour­aged re­set­tle­ment and planned a cam­paign to com­bat xeno­pho­bia.

That could prove a chal­lenge. Pop­u­la­tions in Europe and the United States have grown po­lar­ized over refugees and mi­grants.

Mem­bers failed to agree on spe­cific mea­sures to im­prove the con­di­tions of the dis­placed peo­ple. They agreed in­stead to keep work­ing on the is­sue for an­other two years.

Sev­eral coun­tries re­jected a draft of the agree­ment that called on na­tions to re­set­tle 10 per­cent of the refugee pop­u­la­tion each year. Sev­eral hu­man rights groups crit­i­cized the doc­u­ment as a missed op­por­tu­nity.

The United States and some other coun­tries also ob­jected to lan­guage that said chil­dren should never be de­tained. The agree­ment now says chil­dren should sel­dom be de­tained, if ever.

The dec­la­ra­tion paves the way for ne­go­ti­a­tions on a pair of global com­pacts — one to pro­vide guide­lines on the treat­ment of vul­ner­a­ble mi­grants, and an­other to seek more eq­ui­table bur­den shar­ing in sup­port of the world’s refugees.

While the sum­mit Tues­day led to more spe­cific prom­ises from some coun­tries to aid refugees, Obama said more had to be done.

“I’m heart­ened by the com­mit­ments that have been made here to­day. They will help save lives,” he said. “But we’re go­ing to have to be hon­est: It’s still not enough, not suf­fi­cient for a cri­sis of this mag­ni­tude. That’s why I be­lieve this sum­mit must be the be­gin­ning of a new global move­ment where ev­ery­body does more.”

One of the big­gest chal­lenges, Miller said, is end­ing the con­flicts that lead peo­ple to flee in the first place. With­out a plan for do­ing that, he said, it’s hard to move on to ques­tions of how to help refugees re­turn home.

“That’s what re­ally needs to be ad­dressed,” he said. “And that is the hard­est thing be­cause it in­volves diplo­macy.”

While the pol­i­tics of chang­ing the world’s ap­proach to han­dling refugees and end­ing wars are dif­fi­cult, the re­lief or­ga­ni­za­tions, which work closely with dis­placed peo­ple, say mean­ing­ful steps could be taken.

Jill Marie Ger­schutz-Bell, a lob­by­ist with Catholic Re­lief Ser­vices, said the world needs to change the way it thinks of refugees. Rather than be­ing dis­placed only briefly, in many cases they might not re­turn home for years — if ever.

That means think­ing through how to ed­u­cate the chil­dren of refugees and find­ing ways to al­low them to work legally.

As part of Tues­day’s sum­mit, the White House said, 17 coun­tries with large refugee pop­u­la­tions had vowed to in­crease op­por­tu­ni­ties for school­ing and 15 coun­tries had pledged to make new eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able.

The con­flict in Syria, which has driven 4.8 mil­lion peo­ple to flee for other coun­tries and dis­placed an­other 6.6 mil­lion within the coun­try, has drawn new at­ten­tion to refugees. But large pop­u­la­tions have also been dis­placed by con­flict in Afghanistan, Colom­bia, the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo, So­ma­lia and Su­dan, among other na­tions.

In some coun­tries new refugees have ar­rived even as those from pre­vi­ous con­flicts in the re­gion re­main stuck. Refugees have flooded into coun­tries that were al­ready strug­gling to pro­vide for their own ci­ti­zens.

Ger­schutz-Bell said it’s worth think­ing through a new ap­proach now, be­cause the world can ex­pect more refugees in the fu­ture.

“We will con­tinue to see large-scale move­ments of per­sons whether it’s be­cause they’re flee­ing vi­o­lence or cli­mate shocks or nat­u­ral dis­as­ters,” she said.


Pres­i­dent Barack Obama speaks Tues­day dur­ing the Lead­ers’ Sum­mit on Refugees in New York. He called the refugee cri­sis “one of the most ur­gent tests of our time.”

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