Rights

UN Chief Defends Refugees’ Right to Asylum, Urges ‘Greater Solidarity’

Ban Ki-moon urged leaders across Europe and the world to show greater solidarity as they strive to resolve the biggest refugee and displacement crisis of our time.

Members of a family gather on the floor of their dilapidated apartment in downtown Amman, Jordan. Credit: UNHCR/B. Szandelszky

Members of a family gather on the floor of their dilapidated apartment in downtown Amman, Jordan. Credit: UNHCR/B. Szandelszky

Washington, D.C.: “Refugees have a right to asylum – not bias and barbed wire,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared at the annual spring meetings of the IMF and the World Bank Group.

Taking up cudgels on their behalf, Ban emphasised that refugees bring new skills and dynamism into aging workforces, and are “famously devoted” to education and self-reliance. “When managed properly, accepting refugees is a win for everyone,” he said. “Demonizing them is not only morally wrong, it is factually wrong,” he added.

In an impassioned plea to resolve the biggest refugee and displacement crisis of our time, he reiterated a call to leaders across Europe and throughout the world to show greater solidarity as they strive to combat the deeper roots of conflict and continue to work towards securing human rights for all.

Participating in an event on the development challenges of forced displacement on April 15, the UN chief recalled his visit in March with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to the Middle East region, including Jordan and Lebanon. Ban said they heard the stories of thousands of refugees and he was “deeply moved, especially by the dreams and resolve of the young people”.

Ban said: “Half the world’s refugees are children. I myself was once an internally displaced person. As a child in war-torn Korea, I saw my village destroyed.  My family and others were forced to flee our homes. We survived on food and medicine from UNICEF. We studied with textbooks provided by UNESCO. And of course, the troops of many nations secured our freedom while fighting under the UN flag. The United Nations was our lifeline and beacon of hope.  Today, I am determined that the United Nations and the international community does everything in its power to help refugees everywhere.”

He also said: “Above all, this is not just a crisis of numbers – it is also a crisis of solidarity.” He also underscored that the current internal displacement and refugee crises are signs of deeper challenges that must be resolved – from Syria to Afghanistan to South Sudan.

With this in view, he will be convening the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May to provide a platform “to put a focus on root causes and prevention, to bridge the gap between humanitarian and development assistance, and to improve our global response to forced displacement”.

The World Humanitarian Summit will fuel “much-needed momentum” for the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, which is scheduled at the UN General Assembly for September 19.

Ban also stressed that world leaders must recognise that current internal displacement and refugee crises are signs of deeper challenges, and show greater solidarity not just through relief, but through resettlement and other legal pathways.

Addressing the global challenge of forced displacement and fostering greater investment in infrastructure were the main topics of discussion on April 16 as Ban spoke to leaders in Washington, D.C.

“Supporting states in addressing large movements of refugees and migrants is an issue ripe for more concerted multilateral action,” the Secretary-General told the 93rd meeting of the Development Committee. He was joined by Kim and Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF.

“We must strengthen international cooperation mechanisms, and boost our collective work,” he said, noting that governments are struggling for solutions and often responding by shutting borders, detaining asylum seekers and migrants, and other measures.

Ban pointed to six areas for “immediate action” to share challenges and obligations while maintaining the international community’s commitment to sustainable development.

He called for countering xenophobic narratives and sharing responsibilities in a more equitable, predictable and transparent way.

“We must better support countries that are hosting large numbers of refugees, including through your excellent new initiative of offering concessional loans to middle-income countries hosting large refugee populations,” he said.

This includes, for example, the World Bank’s recent announcement that it will offer Jordan $100 million in financing at rates usually reserved for poorest countries, to create some 100,000 new jobs for Jordanians and Syrian refugees over the next five years.

Ban also highlighted the need to create “safe, orderly and regular pathways” for refugees and migrants, enhancing cooperation to fight traffickers and smugglers, and continuing to fund humanitarian and development projects hand-in-hand.

The UN chief also spoke at an inaugural meeting of the Global Infrastructure Forum on the need for more investment to close gaps in electricity, water and sanitation access.

The Forum is one of the major deliverables of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development held last year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was created to identify and address infrastructure gaps, highlight opportunities for investment and cooperation, and work to ensure that projects are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.

Ban said that together, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, the Paris Climate Change Agreement, which will be signed in New York on April 22, and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda are international commitments “to transform the global economy, expand opportunities, and leave a healthier planet for future generations”.

The Forum’s role is to improve alignment and coordination among established and new infrastructure initiatives, bringing together multilateral and national development banks, UN agencies, development partners and the private sector.

All of which allows “for a greater range of voices to be heard,” he underscored.

Ban urged international support to bridge existing infrastructure gaps, particularly in vulnerable developing countries.

He noted also that the Forum should also work to ensure that all infrastructure investments are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.

Ban addressed the Ministerial Meeting of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). LDCs – including landlocked developing countries and small island developing states – are disproportionately affected by environmental challenges, health emergencies, natural disasters, poverty and hunger and youth unemployment.

The LDCs “are disproportionately affected by environmental challenges, health emergencies, natural disasters, poverty and hunger, and youth unemployment,” Ban said, but they also represent “enormous reservoirs of untapped potential.”

The UN chief urged the participating governments to attend a high-level meeting in Antalya, Turkey, at the end of May, which will focus on the development of LDCs.

Five years ago, the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries adopted the Istanbul Declaration and the Istanbul Programme of Action.

This year will also see the 18th replenishment of the International Development Association (IDA) as well as the start of the United Nations Decade for Action on Nutrition. And, this is the first year of implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, he said.

The Addis Ababa Action Accord addresses a full spectrum of issues, including resources, enabling environments and systemic challenges.

In this context, the replenishment of IDA 18 is a crucial moment, he said. It is important to ensure that the IDA’s allocation reflects LDC priorities such as infrastructure investment as well as climate change adaptation and mitigation, Ban said.

“It is equally crucial that IDA’s modality takes into account more favorable criteria to enable easier access to its resources by the most vulnerable countries,” he added. “I count on LDCs to play a constructive role in making both the IDA 18 negotiations and the UN Decade for Action on Nutrition successful.”

This article originally appeared on IDN-InDepthNews.