The United Nations General Assembly adopted a new global treaty that spreads responsibility for those helping refugees flee from war and persecution.
The Global Compact on Refugees passed by a vote of 181-2, with the Dominican Republic, Eritrea and Libya abstaining. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, praised it as “a new deal for refugees.” Only the United States and Hungary were opposed.
As global financial help for refugees lags, some leaders have been raising concerns that insufficient resources can destabilize the security of neighboring countries and regions that provide shelter and help for people fleeing war-torn nations. The new treaty, which was adopted after two years of negotiations, addresses the severe stresses that unequal burden-sharing puts on some nations.
“It is the biggest effort to broadly share refugee responsibilities that I have witnessed in 34 years of work with refugees,” UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said. The vast majority of refugees have been taken in by neighboring, developing countries, where the financial resources to help them are spread thin.
The new refugee pact asks wealthier nations and businesses to provide more services and materials, educational opportunities, clean energy sources and ways to minimize environmental impacts.
The effort to push through the treaty accompanied a similar effort in support of a pact for migration that the U.N. General Assembly also approved this month. Both grew out of the U.N.’s New York Declaration for refugees and migrants in 2016. That declaration came from a U.N. summit at which world leaders vowed to better protect rights and share responsibility for people uprooted worldwide.
The @UN General Assembly has just agreed to a historic #RefugeeCompact. It is the biggest effort to broadly share refugee responsibilities that I have witnessed in 34 years of work with refugees. pic.twitter.com/CWiWUMvAuW
— Filippo Grandi (@FilippoGrandi) December 17, 2018
‘A global aspiration’
Proponents said the new refugee pact also builds on the 1951 Refugee Convention and various international humanitarian and human rights laws. Under the new pact, a global refugee forum is expected to be called to monitor progress every four years.
As sole holdouts, the United States and Hungary called the treaty a threat to sovereignty and stability. Some provisions “are inconsistent with U.S. immigration policy, and the global approach in the New York Declaration is simply not compatible with U.S. sovereignty,” U.S. envoy Kelley Currie said.
“President Trump has made strong, clear, and repeated public statements opposing global approaches that are incompatible with U.S. sovereign interests,” she said in testimony before the U.N. Economic and Social Council in November.
Refugees are those people who have been escaping wars and other conflicts, or who fear violence and persecution. Migrants are those who have been seeking better lives elsewhere mainly for economic reasons. Both are vulnerable to getting swept up in the dangerous world of human trafficking.
“As a Portuguese citizen, I am a migrant in New York. But I didn’t have to risk my life on a dangerous journey to get there. Migration must be an act of hope, not despair,”said U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, a former head of UNHCR and ex-prime minister of Portugal. “Safe migration cannot be limited to the global elite.”
The world had almost 25.4 million refugees as of the end of 2017. More than half of those were under the age of 18. Some 60 percent were being hosted by just 10 nations. With the Syrian war on its border, Turkey alone hosted 3.5 million that year, more than any other country.
Jan Egeland, a veteran diplomat who heads the Norwegian Refugee Council and served in numerous high-level U.N. positions, said nationalists, populists and the far-right waged “a concerted disinformation campaign” trying to defeat the new refugee treaty.
It won approval nonetheless, he said, because it wholeheartedly represents “a global aspiration of some sanity and civilization in providing protection for those of us who are forced to flee.”