UN officials have characterized the one-day summit of world leaders as a “breakthrough” and a “game-changer.” But the document that emerged from the meeting—the fancy-sounding New York Declaration—suggests the game is much the same, and dragging on.
Grandi says “it’s time” to take “urgent” action, but the New York Declaration calls for reaching a “global pact” on refugees in 2018. In other words, countries won’t specify how they’ll share the responsibility of resettling refugees for another two years—a timeline that indicates neither urgency nor much action.
“UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is nearing the end of his term, had sought to push for a deal to be negotiated this year, but that plan had to be pushed back ... amid coming elections—including in the U.S., France and Germany,” The Wall Street Journal reports, particularly given rising concerns about terrorism and immigration in Europe and the United States.
Grandi says the Declaration “marks a political commitment of unprecedented force and resonance,” but the document contains no specific commitments or legally binding provisions. In August, a pledge to resettle 10 percent of the world’s refugees per year was removed from the draft text, owing to opposition from several UN member states, including the United States and Russia. Instead, the Declaration reminds us that “Since earliest times, humanity has been on the move,” before reaffirming various international principles for handling refugees and migrants.
A smaller refugee summit on Tuesday in New York, organized by U.S. President Barack Obama, will produce more concrete commitments from several countries to resettle more refugees and/or provide them with greater humanitarian aid and access to education and employment. But here too “time” and “urgency” have been watered down. U.S. organizers have secured substantive pledges to help refugees, but it took them nine months to organize the conference. And, as Josephine Liebl of the NGO Oxfam has pointed out, “It’s a one-off event with no follow-up mechanism.”
In New York this week, time is being measured in months and years. But in refugee camps, it’s measured in agonizing seconds and minutes and hours. Here’s how Habib, an Afghan refugee living in a repurposed baseball stadium in Greece, described the nature of time to Miki Meek of the radio show This American Life, through an interpreter.
[Y]ou wake up in the morning. We look at each other. There’s nothing. Then we go and have breakfast. Then we come back and sit and look at each other. There’s nothing else. We used to have some playing cards, and then somebody stole it. So we try to listen to music on the cell phones. And then we look at each other again. And then it’s afternoon. Then we go and have some lunch. And then we come back and sit here and then look at each other again.
And then we just fall asleep. We take a long nap until 6:00 PM. And then at 6:00 PM, we go and play some soccer. And then we come back here, have dinner. And then we look at each other again, and then we fall asleep. ...
[O]n normal days, regular days, one hour to us passes like one whole year of boredom.
If an hour passes like a year, what will two years of UN negotiations feel like for refugees like Habib?