UN: Narrow national self-interest must not endanger global refugee deal

  • UN talks to agree a Global Compact on Refugees by 2018
  • One week left before proposal is locked in ahead of September Summit
  • UK has accepted less than 1% of global refugees

With just under a week to go, there is still time for the new UK Prime Minister to take the lead to address the urgent need for global responsibility sharing for refugees at the UN September Summit, said Amnesty International.

This is the only worldwide effort under way to provide concrete action to deal with the global refugee crisis affecting 20 million people and it is in danger of being scuppered by the narrow self-interest of states.

Steve Symonds, Amnesty UK's Refugee Programme Director, said:

“Time is running out to influence these potentially game-changing talks and it’s absolutely vital the UK takes its fair share of responsibility for both hosting and assisting refugees in the current crisis. Millions of refugees who have fled conflict and persecution are living in dire and unsafe conditions around the world.

“But despite being one of the richest countries in the world, the UK hosts less than one percent of the world’s refugees. Since 2014 the UK has resettled less than 2,000 Syrian refugees - a pitifully small proportion of the more than 4 million now living in neighbouring countries.

“No European country is among the top ten hosts of refugees globally, but the UK has taken significantly less responsibility in this regard than several others in the EU. Countries among the top ten include Lebanon, Pakistan and Ethiopia – countries far poorer and less stable, each hosting between 750,000 and 1.5 million refugees.”

By the end of July, UN member states meeting in New York plan to finalise the text of an agreement towards a Global Compact on Refugees to tackle the current crisis and deal with similar emergencies in future. In the coming days, states have a final chance to change their positions before an outcome document is locked in for adoption at a UN Summit in September.

Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s Director General, said:

“With more than 150 heads of state and government due to gather at the UN in September to lay the foundations for a new global framework to address this refugee crisis, we should be on the cusp of a historic breakthrough. What looms instead is possibly a shameful historic failure, with some states sacrificing refugees’ rights for selfish national interests.

“But there is still time to step back from the precipice. Together with our millions of supporters around the world, Amnesty International will let our leaders know we won’t accept failure.”

"Since November 2015, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been calling for a new approach to large movements of refugees and migrants. In May 2016 he set out some proposals in a report to the General Assembly, including for internationally agreed Compacts on refugees and migrants. A final plan will be signed off in the coming week before being adopted on 19 September, at the UN General Assembly’s first-ever high-level summit on refugees and migrants, billed as “a historic opportunity to come up with a blueprint for a better international response”.

A cornerstone of the new deal is global responsibility sharing – no country should have to take on more than its fair share and all states should recognise their common legally binding responsibilities to fulfill the human rights of people who have been forced to leave their homes due to war or persecution. But instead of responsibility sharing many states are continuing to indulge in short-sighted, and ultimately self-defeating, responsibility shifting.

Amnesty International has proposed a five-point plan for UN member states to share responsibility for hosting and assisting refugees equitably – according to their GDP, unemployment and other objective criteria. 

However, governments appear to be on the cusp of rejecting the summit’s responsibility-sharing aims for a variety of reasons. Even the phrase “responsibility-sharing” is in jeopardy. And the Compact on refugees will now be deferred for two years because some states insist on giving it absolute parity with a Compact on migration.

All these excuses boil down to a lack of political will; a willingness to tolerate the entirely preventable suffering of millions of people, to keep building fences and to carry on with business as usual.

The Political Declaration due to be agreed in September and the Global Compact on Refugee Responsibility Sharing which would follow in 2018 would not replace the existing protection framework enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention and its accompanying 1967 Protocol. Instead, they aim to build on these norms by creating a durable system for dealing with long-term refugee flows and periodic surges.

View latest press releases