There is no disputing that the World Humanitarian Summit comes at a significant juncture for global refugee affairs. The timing could not be more favorable, given that it follows the recent Geneva conference on Syrian refugees organized by UNHCR in March and precedes the United Nations summit on refugees and migrants, in New York in September. The WHS could use the lessons learned from the Geneva conference to push for more stringent commitments at the New York summit.
A number of proposals have already been tabled by key agencies such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) ahead of next week’s summit.
IOM’s recommendations are fourfold. They have called for better access to humanitarian assistance for all vulnerable migrants; partnerships with national civil society and the private sector; an increased focus on disaster risk reduction; and improved coherence between humanitarian action and development planning.
ECHO has stressed the imminent need for a new model for humanitarian-development cooperation using risk analysis, made feasible with multiyear financing. In other words, states must commit financial resources and staff to a comprehensive plan. They have asked that these efforts be focused on refugees and internally displaced populations in protracted situations.
These proposals, in addition to the final agenda for the summit’s Special Session on Migrants and Humanitarian Action, are timely – and entirely in line with the humanitarian focus of the summit.
But the summit’s two main objectives are to secure commitments toward a long-term humanitarian strategy, that is “fit for the challenges of 2016 and beyond”, and to develop “stronger partnerships and innovative solutions.” This is especially important, given that the Geneva conference on Syrian refugees ended with feeble commitments in terms of strategy, financial support and collaboration between different actors.
It is indeed surprising, then, that there is no explicit agenda to discuss national security and border management policies, which would need to take place in tandem with any humanitarian strategy in order to bear fruit. Given that “irregular migrants in transit” is one of the key items on the table of the Special Session on Migrants and Humanitarian Action, the need to address border management is even more important.
As the ongoing experiences in Europe have proved, humanitarian action and refugee protection can be seriously hindered by weak and uncoordinated border management policies.
Insufficient measures to prevent flows from exceeding the capacity of single countries, or regions as in the case of the European Union, combined with the inability to process asylum applications adequately and offer acceptable reception and protection standards have created unsustainable conditions at the borders of Europe. Greece, which until the adoption of the E.U.-Turkey agreement, was receiving some 80 percent of the migrants and asylum seekers coming into Europe, and whose capacity to identify, register and document new arrivals had been seriously stretched, is certainly a case in point.
The limitations of the E.U.-Turkey deal became apparent when humanitarian actors, including the U.N., withdrew from Lesbos, Greece, due to the flagrant violations of refugees’ rights under international conventions. The lack of foresight was reiterated when population transfers in both directions dwindled due to hurdles at the respective borders.
These issues must be addressed at the summit.
Without implementing coordinated border control and early warning systems to prevent mass migration from Turkey, Libya and beyond, a viable strategy will be nearly impossible to achieve. It is one of the several elephants in the room that needs to be addressed.
It is equally surprising that none of the five core responsibilities for the summit explicitly covers issues of interstate solidarity and burden-sharing in the field of migration. There would have been merit in gauging commitments and the appetite for cooperation among participating states as a prelude to New York.
Interstate solidarity and responsibility-sharing in this case would entail cooperation between host and source/transit countries in managing mass migration, while also deploying fair resettlement policies. Since the adoption of the E.U.-Turkey agreement on migration, the flow of refugees from Turkey to Greece has almost dried up while the flows from Libya, where no cooperation agreement can be put in place due to the lack of a stable government and viable institutions, has increased exponentially.
And, to date, both the E.U. and the U.S., two of the most important host regions in the world, have shown their reluctance to share responsibility. As of May 2016, only 15 percent of the European Resettlement Scheme and less than 1 percent of the European Relocation Plan has been fulfilled. By the end of April, the U.S. had taken in only 1,736 Syrians out of the 10,000 that President Obama had pledged to accept.
As U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon noted, “Receiving states are often left to respond to a mass influx of new arrivals on their own. Regional mechanisms to share responsibility have been found wanting. International cooperation has been unable to provide sufficient financial and other support to countries and communities affected by large movements of refugees and migrants.”
Notwithstanding the above reflections, there is little doubt that the World Humanitarian Summit could turn out to be a defining event, particularly if a viable strategic agenda is to be agreed by all the major players. At the very least, the summit could act as a dry run for the most pressing issues related to migration and asylum that will be discussed at the highest level at the U.N. Summit in September.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Syria Deeply.