World leaders gather to tackle global refugee crisis


All 193 member states of the United Nations at Monday’s summit are set to make a long-overdue commitment to show their will — and solidarity — in addressing the worst refugee crisis in history.

By Nicholas Keung-Immigration reporter

For two decades, Maher Qubbaj has worked in international development projects in Jordan, but the focus of his job quickly shifted to aiding Syrian refugees crashing the border over the past five years.

These days, the program director with CARE International is occupied with the four centres he runs in Amman, helping refugees meet the most basic needs such as housing, food and medicine.

Like the displaced refugees he serves and other burned-out aid workers in the region, Qubbaj will be watching from afar for the outcome of Monday’s UN refugee summit, which many hope will be a game-changer in the global response to the refugee crisis.

“The people here are struggling to survive. Things are not getting any better. We just hope it is not going to get worse,” Qubbaj told the Star from Jordan.

“We have Syrian children working 12-hour days in construction and vegetable markets, making $3 a day to help support their families. The refugees’ hopes are always there, that the destruction and war would be over, but they also have hesitation. We will be following the summit.”

With global tension brewing, casualties rising and xenophobia surging, all 193 member states of the United Nations are set to make a long-overdue commitment to show their will — and solidarity — in addressing the worst refugee crisis in history.

On Monday, they are expected to endorse a declaration to facilitate border movements, improve marine safety, tackle xenophobia and resettle the world’s refugees among a framework of principles.

Canada will play a key role and be responsible for a breakout session at the one-day summit to showcase its unique refugee resettlement system involving private sponsorship groups, highlighted in its recent Syrian resettlement effort.

On Tuesday, Immigration Minister John McCallum will join Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion at U.S. President Barack Obama’s follow-up conference which aims to urge world leaders to commit to accepting more refugees and put up more money for humanitarian aid.

“The summits allow us to continue the important dialogue around migrants and refugees, forge collective solutions to their hardships, and find ways to maximize their positive contributions,” said McCallum, who will also take part in Monday’s UN summit.

“At a time when the world is witnessing large-scale movement of migrant populations, we have not only the responsibility, but the opportunity to respond by creating a more balanced global vision and stronger commitment to the world’s displaced.”

Johannes van der Klaauw, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ representative in Canada, said the summit will be an “opportune moment for Canada to reassert its leadership in the international community in its support for the global refugee crisis.

While the world community has responded in the past to various refugee crises in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Somalia among others, the summit is historic because it helps formalize a structured response to existing and future crises, he said.

“There is a comprehensive refugee response framework. We’ll have a plan from the onset of a crisis to the reception at the border and access to health and education for refugees,” said van der Klaauw.

“We look at the summit as a significant and unique reaffirmation of the institution of asylum and the beginning of a process that helps us to implement our responses to refugee crises.”

However, many feel the prepared declaration doesn’t go far enough.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s original plan would have started now by asking world governments to commit to welcoming 10 per cent of the world’s refugees annually.

“The UN had initially proposed an ambitious plan, but the European Union, Russia and China were among those who sacrificed refugees’ rights for national self-interest and missed a massive opportunity to back a global solution,” said Salil Shetty, secretary-general of Amnesty International.

“We desperately need a quick and decisive show of leadership from a core group of countries willing to take responsibility and immediately help by welcoming in some of the most vulnerable refugees and providing others with humanitarian, work and student visas.”

According to the UN, there are 21 million refugees globally, with only 14 per cent of them in the richest parts of the world. Ethiopia, Kenya, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey host a third of the world’s refugees.

Each year, only 100,000 refugees or 1 per cent of those under the UN mandate are resettled, 90 per cent by five countries — the U.S., Canada, Australia, Norway and the United Kingdom.

“With the Mediterranean crossing and refugee influx in Europe, there is a realization that immigrants and refugees are becoming a larger issue globally,” said Brian Dyck of the Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders’ Council, who is part of the Canadian delegation at the summits.

“If this is just talk, then it would be a disappointment. This is what we have and we will see where it goes. Let’s hope it doesn’t stop here.”



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