The United Nations (UN) member states adopted a new declaration for refugees and migrants on Monday, as the general debate of the 71st UN general assembly kicks off in New York.
The declaration, which was drafted and publicised on 13 September, outlines how countries should respond to the large movements of refugees and migrants worldwide. The term ‘large movements’ does not reflect a number, but the mixed flow of people, refugees, or migrants, who seek similar routes and face similar threats.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said during the session that today’s summit represents a breakthrough to address challenges of human mobility.
“Refugees and migrants are not a burden but a potential if we unlock it,” he said.
He added: “If we translate today’s declaration, more children can attend school, more people will have real choices about whether to move once we end conflict, sustain peace, and increase opportunities at home.”
However, in order to put the declaration into effect, UN high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi said: “The world’s shock by images of people fleeing in huge numbers does not want our intentions to remain on paper.”
According to Grandi, the declaration needs global solutions, political engagement, funding, and support.
The UN general assembly also drafted a new resolution on 25 July paving the way for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to formally join the UN as a related organisation.
IOM’s director William Swing said this decision culminates a 65-year relationship with the UN. “For the first time, the UN has a migration agency. It’s an honour for the organisation, a genuine success for migrants and member states and also the summit.”
“Thank you for this bold and visionary decision,” he added.
The New York declaration for refugees and migrants contains 90 articles that bind participating countries to, inter alia, sympathise with and support all people who fled their countries for involuntary reasons, promote diversity, prohibit discrimination of any kind, propose preventive approaches to the crisis by working with countries of origin, work together and share the responsibility, and engage civil society and private sector.
Ibrahim Awad, director of the Center for Migration and Refugee Studies, told Daily News Egypt that the declaration is a good step as it acknowledges the responsibility towards refugees and migrants.
However, this declaration lacks many details, he said, stating that each country faces differing situations when dealing with the crisis, requiring more research on its implementation mechanisms. “What happens if a country fails to share responsibility? And how is it required to do so?” he questions.
The migrants rate during 2015 surpassed 244 million, growing at a faster rate than the world population, while refugees surpassed 21 million, according to the latest census of the UN.
There are several other ways in which this declaration may fail to be put into effect, Awad said. “The economic situation of hosting countries could be an obstacle for sharing the responsibility,” he believes. However, despite Lebanon’s deteriorated economic and political conditions, the country shares a responsibility in supporting the 30% of the population that consists of refugees, according to Awad.
Public opinion on the domestic level and cases of high xenophobia in hosting countries can be obstacles for countries when considering whether to take in more refugees or migrants, Awad concluded.
As of February, there are a total of 180,000 refugees registered at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Egypt, mainly coming from Sudan, Ethiopian, Syria, and Somalia among others. Syrian refugees alone make up about 66% of the total number, followed by Sudanese refugees at 15%.
Egypt is often not sought after as a final destination for those refugees, nor for any migrants, but it integrates an asymmetry between the stretched capacities of developing communities and the hate-imposed approaches by hosting nations. Refugees in Egypt are also not allowed to live in camps.
Khalid Gindeel fled from the Nuba mountains in Sudan, following increased security turbulence. He is currently the co-founder of the Nuba Mountain Association in Egypt, which provides assistance for arriving Sudanese refugees.
He told Daily News Egypt that Sudanese refugees in Egypt are facing multiple problems. “It is often hard for new refugees to instantly find shelter and jobs before they are registered.” The average registration time takes two months, but for some others it could reach five years, according to Gindeel.
Gindeel also highlighted that Sudanese refugees are facing discrimination based on the colour of their skin. He mentioned some examples, saying: “They are often exposed to theft and verbal assaults. They are denied access to microbus rides, and are offered higher rates for leasing apartments than Egyptians.”
UNHCR Egypt said in a report in February that there is a gap in its funding resources, as it is running on only 3% of the needed funding amount.
Meanwhile, Egyptians attempt to migrate through the Mediterranean Sea alongside other refugees. The army’s naval forces arrested 146 illegal migrants and seven boat crew members near the North Coast in mid-August.
A study by the Regional Center for Strategic Studies in May 2015 stated: “It is important to note that a larger percentage of Egyptian illegal immigrants come from poorer provinces,” especially Fayoum, Beni Suef, Minya, and Assiut.