18 February 2016
The Refugee Crisis
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The Refugee Crisis: Rethinking and Strengthening the Response

The NGO Relations and Advocacy Section of the Department of Public Information held the briefing, “The Refugee Crisis: Rethinking and Strengthening Response” on 18 February 2016. The objective of the briefing was to raise awareness about the realities of the global refugee crisis, and share vital strategies for rethinking and strengthening responses that protect and assist displaced persons and refugees

The Director of the Outreach Division, Maher Nasser, opened the floor by recalling his experience as the son of refugees, recounting feelings of longing and of not being able to go back to his homeland – a feeling native to the close to 60 million refugees currently displaced around the world. He reflected on Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s statement that “refugees are being deprived of their homes but must not be deprived of their future.”

Six panelists and two discussants led the briefing, illustrating experiences and efforts taking place that call for rethinking and strengthening the response on the global refugee crisis. Ninette Kelley, Director of the Liaison Office at UNHCR New York, was the first to take the floor. She started by giving an overview of the current global refugee crisis through a powerful video entitled, “The Nation of the Displaced”. The video gave focus to the global refugee crisis, providing the growing numbers of refugees around the world and showing the circumstances they face. It highlighted the need to address the refugee crisis through a political will that shows solidarity, commitment and leadership. In the Q&A portion of the briefing, Ms. Kelley called on the audience to change the narrative surrounding the crisis by volunteering, hosting a refugee in their homes or donating to NGOs that work on the ground.

Karen AbuZayd, Special Adviser on the Summit Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants spoke of her current work on the comprehensive report for the Secretary- General on the issue at hand, which will be presented at a summit in September, planned to take place at the United Nations on 19 September. The report, expected to be released in May of this year, will require input from Member States and NGOs. Moreover, Ms. AbuZayd drew attention to plans to schedule consultations with civil society. She outlined possible opportunities and challenges building up to the summit and highlighted actions needed at the global, regional and national levels between Member States for dealing with and responding to large movements of refugees and migrants. She emphasized the importance of creating more equitable systems and a roadmap of migration that include commitments to provide access and investments, among other resources, to create safe and regularized movements for those displaced.

Predrag Avramovic, Head of the Humanitarian Section of the European Union Delegation to the United Nations in New York gave the perspective of the EU on the refugee crisis. He emphasized the EU’s commitment in continuing its efforts to provide assistance and protection to those forced to flee their home countries. He laid out a handful of ways in which the EU could better address the current refuges crisis. Mr. Avramovic then emphasized that assistance goes beyond just providing food and shelter. It also includes improving the livelihood of refugees by providing opportunities for integration and education, he said. He further focused on the need for cooperation of the different parties, stating “We can do it better together.”

Susana Sottoli, Associate Director of the Programme Division at UNICEF explained how her organization and other stakeholders are currently addressing the refugee crisis as it pertains to children. According to Ms. Sottoli, children are impacted in various forms, either by exposure to danger, risk of separation from families, child labour and loss of education. UNICEF’s support on the ground involves providing technical assistance, access to education and sanitation and psychosocial support, she reported. She also addressed the challenges that the lack of reliable data, and the highly politicized migration and asylum processes pose in providing relevant, timely assistance. She outlined three key principles needed to strengthen response to the current refugee situation, which calls for the commitment of all Member States before, during and after displacement, mainly, treating children as children; giving them priority in migration processing mechanisms; and ensuring that families are not separated.

Gabriel Garang Atem, Deacon of the Sudanese Dinka-language Congregation of All Saints Episcopal Church joined the briefing via Skype and moved the audience through his personal story as a refugee – having faced life-threatening situations. He shared how his faith uplifted and guided him through his personal ordeal as a refugee. He movingly thanked the United Nations for its work and services and further emphasized that lives could not be saved without collective efforts and how he was able to survive because of the UN.

Neil Grungras, Founder and Executive Director of the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration (ORAM) caught the audience’s attention via Skype from Turkey, describing the current refugee situation in that country. He presented the challenges faced by LGBTQI refugees, a minority that went unnoticed until recently, and that is now recognized as highly vulnerable by UNHCR. He closed his discussion by recognizing the efforts of international organizations in forming partnerships to address the issue, but emphasized that more work needs to be done. He indicated how the efforts of civil society are necessary to make change happen, and called on the audience to “roll up their sleeves” and act.

Speaking as a discussant from the floor, Joseph Donnelly from CARITAS emphasized that everyone can make a difference in working to protect and respect refugees and thanked UNHCR for its efforts in responding to the global refugee crisis. Freshta Poupal, a past volunteer in Greece, spoke of her experience as a volunteer and stressed the need for interpreters on the ground. She relayed the relief experienced by many refugees when assisted by volunteers who connect with them through language. She then called on youth to get involved, emphasizing that “youth, with a little guidance, can do so much.”

The briefing closed with a lively discussion between the audience and panelists. From the session, one can conclude that there is a dire need for constructing a counter narrative on refugee situation currently portrayed in the media. Participants left the briefing feeling that for this to happen, civil society must use its voice.

 

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