GENEVA, Switzerland – UN chief Antonio Guterres called on countries to take joint responsibility for caring for a surging number of displaced people as he opened a global refugee summit in Geneva Tuesday, December 17.
"It is a moment to build a more equitable response to refugee crises through a sharing of responsibility," Guterres said in his opening speech to the Global Refugee Forum.
With a full 80% of the world's refugees living in poor and developing countries, which often feel left to shoulder the heavy economic and societal costs alone, burden-sharing is high on the agenda at the meeting.
"The world owes all countries and communities that welcome large numbers of refugees a debt of gratitude," Guterres said, stressing though that "gratitude is not enough."
"At this time of turbulence, the international community must do far more to shoulder this responsibility together."
The need for the world's wealthier nations to do their share will likely be hammered home by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey is the world's largest refugee host with more than 3 million refugees on its soil, mainly from Syria.
Erdogan is expected to renew demands for more international support, and could also reiterate his threat to allow millions of Syrian refugees to go to Europe if the international community does not do more.
The forum, which will last through Wednesday, December 18, begins exactly a year after the UN General Assembly adopted a framework aimed at creating a more predictable and equitable approach to providing assistance to refugees and host communities.
The meeting is the first of its kind, pooling together heads of state, government ministers but also business leaders, humanitarians and refugees themselves to offer ideas and pledges for more efficient support.
"We would be naive if we ignored the reality," UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi warned Tuesday.
"The protection environment today is complex and troubling," he said, lamenting that "we see refugees who have fled for their lives being demonized and turned into figures of fear."
"We see people making political capital by stoking public anxiety."
At the end of 2018, nearly 71 million people were living in forced displacement due to war, violence and persecution, including nearly 26 million people who had fled across borders as refugees.
During the forum, hundreds of pledges are expected from countries, organizations and businesses, including financial donations, but also technical and material assistance, legal and policy changes meant to help ensure greater inclusion for refugees.
The UN said it was also hoping for more resettlement spots in third countries for vulnerable people already living as refugees, and moves to ensure safe returns to their places of origin.
Even before the forum officially opened, there was a focus Monday, December 16, on possible contributions of the private sector, and the some 100 businesses taking part in the event.
"Businesses are really influencing refugee inclusion through education, jobs and the power of entrepreneurship," Dominique Hyde, head of external relations for UNHCR, told reporters in Geneva.
"Every action counts and everyone counts."
During the two-day forum, Grandi also called for countries to sign up to a "Clean Energy Challenge," aimed at ensuring clean electrical provisions to all refugee camps on the planet by 2030.
Not 'empty words'
But the challenges remain overwhelming, aid charity Oxfam warned Monday, charging that today's system is "fatally flawed and putting the responsibility unfairly upon some of the poorest countries."
"Millions of vulnerable refugees are at risk or stuck in limbo because many countries are failing to shoulder their fair share of responsibility for protecting people forced from home," Oxfam chief Danny Sriskandarajah said in a statement.
Mohammed Badran, a 25-year-old Palestinian refugee who fled Syria's war for the Netherlands, meanwhile urged the international community to ensure concrete actions are agreed to and implemented.
Badran, who is among some 80 refugees attending the forum, told Agence France-Presse he feared the event could become just another conference with lots of speeches but little action.
"We need actions and we don't just need empty words," he said. – Rappler.com