Summits Failing Refugees and Migrants

By Sarah Barden

International Women's Initiative News Writer

As the world struggles to respond to the refugee crisis, last month saw high-level meetings take place at the United Nations in New York with world leaders once again seeking to address the migrant crisis and its spread of consequences.  

Familiar and less familiar faces took to the podiums to have their say. Some speaking eloquently and emphatically, others alluding solely to concerns within their national borders, and others delivering barely audible or discernable messages.

Business as usual, then, some might say; and so accusations are exchanged, statements produced, draft declarations are made and at best, perhaps, a non-binding framework for action is set out.

The UN says some 13.5 million Syrians need humanitarian assistance. Over eight million are internally displaced and more than five million are refugees outside of Syria. That’s according to the UN Refugee Agency. More than 75 percent of Syrian refugees are women and children. Yet as the conferences took place, U.S.-Russia brokered ceasefires disintegrated and the barrel bomb attacks on civilians in Aleppo intensified and the unthinkable atrocities continue as I write and as you read soon after this report is published, or longer after.

On a global scale, wars and persecution have driven more people from their homes than at any time since the Second World War. 65.3 million, or one person in 113, were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution in 2015. All of these figures were again produced by the UN’s Refugee Agency, as it struggles to deliver on its programme to protect and support refugees with ever dwindling humanitarian resources.

Its’ studies found that three countries produce half the world’s refugees. Syria tops the list with 4.9 million, Afghanistan has 2.7 million and Somalia has 1.1 million. Together, these three countries account for more than half of the refugees under its mandate worldwide.

If we tip this data on its tail, of equal concern, are the numbers of those internally displaced in their own country of origin. Colombia – which has just signed an historical peace deal following fifty years of civil war – has 6.9 million, Syria has 6.6 million and Iraq has 4.4 million.

The numbers go on and on – each hiding a face, a person, dreams, life.

Back at the UN summit, the human rights lawyer and activist Amal Clooney gave a damning condemnation of the response and delivery of global leaders to the various current conflicts. She called for the world to bring ISIS to trial for crimes against humanity while representing Nadia, a young Yazidi woman, the victim of ISIS in Iraq.

“I am ashamed that women like Nadia can have their bodies sold and used as battlefields. I am ashamed as a human being that we ignore their cries for help. We know that what we have before us is genocide, we know that it is a war crime, we know who the perpetrators are. Yet two years on, 3,200 Yazidi women and children are still held captive by ISIS and not a single member of ISIS has been prosecuted.”

The British actress Emma Watson also addressed an audience at: “Partnering for Women, Children and Adolescents, to Thrive and Transform the World” in her capacity as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador.

“We know that if you change students’ experiences so they have different expectations of the world around them, expectations of equality, society will change. Experience must make it clear that the safety of women, minorities and anyone who may be vulnerable is a right and not a privilege. A right that will be believed and supported by a community that respects survivors,” said Watson.

My fear, in watching and waiting with the rest of the world, is that the debates and the disaccord is a cycle that repeats itself, never leading to small steps, let alone the bigger actions the global community needs. And so, another Nadia, Amina, Omran or Alan Kurdi will lose a leg or a limb or a life and never make it to school or eat a square meal again because the long-standing routines of sitting and stagnating spiral on. 

I believe a spirit of complacency reigns globally. We sit speechless and impotent as horror upon horror build the global narrative.

“As his presidency comes to a close, the fact is that Obama has little to show the world on Syria. With an estimated half a million deaths, the Middle East in flames and European allies destabilised by the impact of refugee flows, he will pass on a festering crisis to his successor,” said the Guardian’s Natalie Nougayrède.

“We are not as unified as we should be in pushing to make it stop,” said the outgoing President Barack Obama himself last week in New York, stopping short of blaming his administration or that or another country.

This is the reason we will see more shocking pictures of women and children caught in the crossfire, and why nothing will be done in the short or medium term to stop the suffering. The costs of our inaction are obvious.