Fulfilling International Commitments to Refugees Globally

Posted by Erin M. Barclay
November 22, 2016
In a light drizzle, a Syrian girl holding a balloon runs among tents at a camp for refugees and other migrants north of Athens. [AP Photo]

Today, there are more than 21 million refugees across the globe; more than 4.8 million refugees alone have fled Syria since the beginning of that conflict. In addition, more than 40 million more people have been forced to flee their homes yet remain inside their own countries. On September 20, 2016, on the margins of the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the United States, together with Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Mexico, Jordan, Sweden, and the UN Secretary-General, co-hosted the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees. The Summit set out to increase global responsibility sharing for refugees worldwide and thereby strengthen the international community’s capacity to address mass displacement.

At the Summit, a geographically diverse group of 50 leaders and senior officials, including 32 heads of state or government, pledged to increase multilateral humanitarian assistance by approximately $4.5 billion over 2015 levels; double the total number of refugees afforded lawful admission into third countries; and enact policy changes that will allow one million more refugee children to attend school and one million additional refugees to pursue lawful employment and livelihood activities.

A wide view of the High-level Leaders’ Summit on Refugees at the UN headquarters. Learn more about the commitments made at the Leader’s Summit on Refugees in the United Nations' summary of pledges. [UN photo]

The Summit focused international attention and resources at the highest levels on the more than 65 million people displaced globally -- but it was only the beginning. Efforts are underway now to press Summit participants to swiftly and fully implement the commitments they made. At the same time, we are looking to build on these commitments wherever possible in anticipation of a follow up meeting on the margins of UNGA next year led in large part by other partner governments committed to the goals of the Leaders’ Summit.

President Barack Obama (front row, center) and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (front row, center left) pose for a group photo with participants of the High-level Leaders’ Summit on Refugees on the margins of the UNGA general debate. [UN Photo]

As the next year of implementation moves forward, we expect our Summit co-hosts to remain centrally engaged as partners and are welcoming other Summit participants to exert even greater leadership as we seek to sustain the momentum generated around these issues this fall. In particular, we are looking to build on the new data collected around family reunification and humanitarian visas and other so-called “alternative pathways of admissions” for refugees to lawfully enter third countries. We would also like to keep a focus on refugee education and ensuring that host governments have the support required to help increase refugee enrollment. Finally, much more work needs to be done to facilitate refugees’ access to lawful employment and livelihoods. We expect a report to be issued on progress made over the next year in advance of the follow up meeting.

The United States will continue to be a leader in this effort and consistent with our longstanding tradition and policy, we will work with international partners to address the many humanitarian challenges we are facing on a global scale.

About the Author: Erin M. Barclay serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears on the State Department's Foggy Bottom publication on Medium.com.

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