More Protection for People on the Move

UN Member States welcome the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants


September was an important month for the United Nations. Not only because the General Assembly was meeting in that period, but mostly because for the first time ever member states brought the topics of migration and refugee together to the centre of its debates and to the stage of its meetings. After months of negotiations, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted on September 19 the outcome document of the high-level plenary meeting addressing large movements of refugees and migrants, the now called New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants.

As expected, the extensive final document combines many advancement points with several disappointing remarks – a natural consequence of the negotiations that were based on compromises and consensus between member states that carry different views on the topic. A clear example of this situation can be found in the paragraph that addresses detention for the purpose of determining the migratory status of an individual (para 33). As much as it is a statement to promote due process and to abolish detention practices in such scenarios, it also implies that detention can be, in some cases, a measure taken in the best interest of the child. This affirmation sounds like a paradox itself.

The document is also meant to “ensure a people-centred, sensitive, humane, dignified, gender-responsive and prompt reception for all persons”, without discrimination and in accordance with standards of international law.

Although the UNGA’s declarations are not legally binding to member states, they constitute important instruments to put an end to controversial understandings and to help move the policy engine forward. In the case of the New York Declaration, it also forced states to put into words what they have been resisting to put into practice, giving civil society organizations stronger tools to push for better responses and more protection in their countries.


The Summit on Migration and Refugees

The opening ceremony of the Summit on Migration and Refugees came with some pleasant surprises for the civil society members seating at the gallery of the General Assembly hall. Aside from the disregard for gender-balance in the composition of the speakers and after the traditional speeches of most UN representatives, some provoking and bold thoughts from migrants and refugees themselves, and from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights echoed in the room and left a strong footprint of the hard reality faced by the people on the move, and of the insufficient – if not reckless – response of many member states.

In general terms, they expressed that states’ inability to agree on a coordinated and shared response has resulted in a massive failure to protect millions of migrants and refugees worldwide, has denied their future, dreams and rights, and has left them -in the words of a young refugee on the stage – “stateless and stuck”.

In the Plenary sessions of the Summit, member states left on the UN records their concerns, analysis and commitments related to the topic. Along the day much was said of the need to address the root causes of forced migration, and of the benefits of coordinating the efforts of humanitarian assistance with development policies. Furthermore, there were repeated references to the contribution of migrants and refugees for the development of countries of destination, and to the urge for states to work in collaboration and in shared responsibility.

Reverberating the voice of one of the speakers at the opening ceremony, we can only hope that after watching the appeal of migrants and refugees during the event, member states will put rights and peoples first, and will use their power to finally put their words into action.

Saionara König-Reis