Filippo Grandi | United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
The 21st century is proving to be a century of people on the move. Tragically, for a record number, their journeys are not made out of choice. They are fleeing proliferating wars and persecution in search of safety. Forced displacement now impacts more than 66 million people worldwide.
The bitter civil war in Syria, now approaching its seventh anniversary, has displaced 5.4 million people across the country’s borders, including about 1 million to Lebanon and more than 3 million to Turkey. Another 6 million are displaced inside Syria. The imperative is to seek a peaceful resolution to this and other crises around the world, such as those in Myanmar, South Sudan, and Yemen, and to tackle their root causes—in many cases poor governance, impoverishment, repression, environmental degradation, and growing inequality.
As that search continues, more must be done to ensure that the millions of displaced men, women, and children are not left languishing in uncertainty, but are able to live dignified and meaningful lives and to build a future. Greater global responsibility sharing must ensure refugees are welcomed, protected, and allowed access to work and education, that nearby countries hosting the vast majority of refugees receive adequate international support, and that refugees are welcomed in other countries beyond their own regions through visa and resettlement programs.
War has robbed millions of their past. It is only through working together and stepping up to our shared responsibilities that we can ensure it does not steal their future.
Claudio Cordone | Lebanon director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East
For Palestine refugees, whose condition represents the most protracted refugee situation in the world, things seem to be getting tougher by the day. Prospects for a fair and lasting solution to their plight appear as remote as ever. The peace process seems all but dead. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is facing calls for its dismantlement as well as the Trump administration’s decision on Tuesday to contribute $60 million of the planned U.S. contribution and to reconsider the rest, after having barely scraped through in 2017. The impact of UNRWA’s not being able to provide its services to an already vulnerable and marginalized population would be catastrophic for the refugees, and also for the stability of their host countries and the region as a whole. Coming on top of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Palestinian refugees can be forgiven if they feel increasingly abandoned and under attack.
But not all is doom and gloom. There is unwavering support in the UN General Assembly for the rights of the refugees and the continuation of UNRWA’s operations. UNRWA’s leadership and staff remain fully committed to maintaining the agency’s services, and mobilizing new resources to ensure this. In Lebanon, the consensus among political parties for the removal of restrictions on the Palestinians’ right to work, supported by the results of the recent census of the Palestinian population, provides a good basis for improving the refugees’ living conditions. The challenges are growing, but the determination to address them is also stronger than ever.
Allan Rock | President emeritus and professor of law at the University of Ottawa, former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and senior advisor to the World Refugee Council
Migration presents the world today with one of its greatest challenges. The numbers are unprecedented, with some 220 million migrants overall. They cross their borders to a new frontier for many reasons: to seek economic opportunity and a better life; to escape the consequences of climate change; or to follow their jobs as they are posted to a new country. The most fortunate among them are immigrants, entering their new country by choice and with permission, often selected because of skills they bring with them.
However, many must follow a more difficult path. Some 24 million are refugees, fleeing persecution or the risk posed by violent conflict. Refugees frequently abandon their homes, bringing few possessions, and depend on the ancient notion of asylum while seeking refuge in what they hope will be a safer place.
Migration in general and claims for asylum in particular have become more difficult in recent years. Rising nativism and xenophobia are, in many places, creating resistance to newcomers from foreign lands. Toxic narratives about migrants are being fueled by ignorant and racist leaders, including the current occupant of the White House. Wars in the Middle East have sent waves of refugees to Europe, causing a backlash and political upheaval.
The United Nations is struggling to meet these challenges. Its member states are negotiating a new Global Compact that aims, among other things, to achieve a greater sharing of responsibility for refugees. This must include adequate levels of stable funding for host countries, a role for every state in responding to cases of forced migration, and protection for the internally displaced. Groups such as the World Refugee Council are feeding into the UN’s work by generating fresh thinking about how best to achieve these goals. Negotiations will culminate in a meeting of member states in Morocco later this year.
But as we seek a formula for dealing fairly and humanely with global migration, the key element will not be found at the negotiating table. It lies in the hearts of people everywhere, and their willingness to see “the other” as a fellow human being. When those hearts are open and willing to share, we will find ways to manage and meet the challenges that migration can bring.
Maha Yahya | Director of the Carnegie Middle East Center
Their situation is dismal. The international system is not set up to deal effectively with the record-breaking numbers of people moving across borders. This includes more than 65 million people forced to make treacherous trips across land and sea in search of safe havens or a better life, or seeking shelter from violence within national borders. International responses are fragmented and largely focused on addressing such situations as humanitarian crises. Yet millions are spiraling further down into abject poverty, thousands have lost their lives, while generations lose out on education and future opportunities. Meanwhile, the fate of internally displaced populations is left to the whims of states that, in places such as Syria, are key perpetrators of the violence that forced them to leave in the first place.
With regard to the Middle East and Africa in particular, international responsibility to ensure the security of refugees and migrants has fallen by the wayside. Instead, political efforts have focused on containing the flow of populations toward the European continent and ensuring that those who fled remain in their region of origin.
A recognition of the political roots of the refugee and migration crisis is long overdue. This means considering a regional as well as an international architecture for development that capitalizes on local and national resources and creates parameters for sustainable and equitable growth. It also necessitates an architecture of peace, one that rests on the principles of dignity, justice, equity, and accountability. Without acknowledging this, peace will remain elusive and individuals will continue to be displaced in horrific circumstances.