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Expert Views: Refugees Take Stock of the New York Declaration

A year after the New York declaration, Refugees Deeply asked a delegation of refugees what impact it has had so far and where it has fallen short.

Written by Charlotte Alfred, Kim Bode Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
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Sana Mustafa, Network for Refugee Voices, speaks at the 2017 Concordia Annual Summit at Grand Hyatt New York on September 18, 2017.Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Concordia Summit/AFP

In the year since the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants was signed, work has begun on the two global compacts – on refugees and on migration – mandated by 2018.

A delegation from the new Network for Refugee Voices (NRV) was in New York for the anniversary. They are building a coalition of refugees to advocate with the international community for better refugee policies, including in the global compacts.

We asked some of the founding members of the network – Syrian refugees with migration policy expertise, now living in different countries – what impact the New York Declaration has had so far and where it has fallen short.

Osama Salem, migration expert, Berlin, Germany

One year on, I am pessimistic that either global compacts will profoundly improve the international response to the crisis. Of the two, the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) is more likely to pass because it largely reaffirms principles and commitments outlined in existing treaties. In the best-case scenario, states would adopt the Compact and agree on the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF). This might help clarify key unresolved problems such as how to humanely deal with refugees whose legal status is in limbo, and those living in camps.

The Global Compact for Migration is not looking as good. I fear states will either compromise by adopting something that reflects the lowest level of ambition or fail to pass it at all. After a year of thematic discussions, a clear division has emerged between the Global North and the Global South, which are pursuing different goals. If history is any indication, it is the position dominant in the Global North that will ultimately be reflected in international documents.

The debate over the past couple of days at the UNGA reminds me of the idea of “fortress Europe” that gained ground over a decade ago when the E.U. started making agreements with neighboring countries to channel migration outside of the E.U. Current policies demonstrate that they’ve decided the only way forward is to keep migrants out. Today, we see European governments, like Italy, championing the Malta-Libya deal, and I am having deja vu.

Sana Mustafa, founder of Sana Mustafa Consulting, U.S.

We celebrate the fact that the global migration crisis is being prioritized. However, international efforts to date, including the New York Declaration, have been no more than symbolic gestures. Nothing has changed on the ground. This is made evident by the significant lack of participation of refugees and migrants in these processes. I attended the Refugee Summit last year, the UNGA and the Global Mayors Summit on Migration this year, and I did not see my fellow refugees there or hear their voices. So far, the process of implementing the New York Declaration, despite championing a “whole-of-society” approach has taken place behind closed doors, among diplomats and Western CSOs and NGOs. No space has been made for refugee communities, whose interests are not represented by their home or destination countries.

As refugees, we have the agency to address these issues and suggest solutions that are practical, rather than theoretical. My family and I have first-hand experiences with the gaps and the downside of existing policies. We have ideas about how these gaps can be addressed and improved. We are refugees, but we are also human beings with personal and professional experiences that position us well to shape policies that will ultimately affect our, and our communities’, lives.

Amaf Yousef, development coordinator, Rethink Rebuild Society, Manchester, U.K.

Given that it is 2017, I am surprised that at high-level summits representatives are still overwhelmed with the “Refugee Crises.” Today, we have easy access to information on the global crises and their repercussions, we know the root causes and their implications, and yet, states are still in a learning and solution-development phase.

In general, around the world, the economic debate on the refugee crises is prevailing over the human rights debate. Every aspect is debated in economic and financial terms without taking into consideration that seeking safety is a human right, and should be respected by all member states. In my opinion, in order for the New York Declaration, or any other global response to the refugee crisis, to be a success, states and U.N. agencies must work with local host communities to develop sustainable solutions. These communities need to be invested in and developed in order to accommodate new arrivals, and embrace the fact that refugees and migrants are not aliens that should be marginalized, but rather an opportunity to emphasize the host community’s human rights and enrich it socially, culturally and economically.

The answers have been edited for clarity and length.

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