We Are Failing Refugees Everywhere

07/10/2016 13:16

In September, there were two summits that were supposed to turn the tide of the refugee crisis. World leaders came together; first, for the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants, and, second, for the US Summit for Refugees hosted by Barack Obama. We were told that they were going to change the way the world helps the 65 million people in the world that are forcibly displaced. We were told that this was the beginning of a new, more immediate, international course of action. This did not turn out to be the case.

What happened? A commitment was made, as per usual. The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants was officially adopted, which "expresses the political will of world leaders to save lives, protect rights and share responsibility on a global scale". On paper this is commendable, a unifying call to bring the major players together in agreement on one of the most important issues facing humanity today.

But it's undermined by its timeline, and the lack of concrete, time-bound actions. It's unanimously understood that the crisis is on our doorstep. Just this week, 6,000 refugees were saved by Italy in a single day as they crossed the Mediterranean in crowded boats. On that very same day, nine of them died. A global compact provides one potential avenue to force concrete actions to address the crisis. And yet the declaration delays action until 2018. Not now. Not even next year. The agreement now in place has pledged action just far enough into the future that it can tumble further down the list of global priorities.

How has this been allowed to happen? Listening to our leaders talk about the issue, you could be forgiven for thinking they intend to act. But, to scrutinise their statements, all that is being said has been said before. What we're seeing is a rehashing of old commitments, an echo lost down a tunnel that's only getting longer. We need these leaders to follow through on their rhetoric, increase their ambition, and actually face up to the problems at hand. Small talk isn't enough. The crisis demands big action.

Collectively, we must demand more of our leaders. Last year the appalling image of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy found dead on a Turkish beach, shocked the world. The outcry provoked the UK to promise to resettle 20,000 refugees by 2020. But we've become insensitive to the crisis as it has dragged on unsolved. Developed countries with the most to offer often give the least: developing countries take 86% of the world's refugees. According to Amnesty, just 8,000 Syrians have been accepted into the UK since 2011, whilst Jordan, ten times smaller with just 1.2% of the UK's GDP, has taken over 656,000. Jordan, however, hosts over a million, of which 70% live below the poverty line. The situation has got worse, not better, as we've shut our eyes to the atrocities. We must make sure our leaders hear us.

At this year's Global Citizen Festival in New York, we gave a stage to those who have survived the long journey to safety. Sarah Mardani, sister to an Olympian swimmer, found a home in Berlin. She helped save the lives of those who travelled with her in a boat to Greece after the engine failed. Alek Wek, born in Sudan, came to Britain after her father died escaping war with their family. She's now an activist and fashion model. And Brendan Cox, husband to the late MP Jo, has vowed to carry forward her message: "we hold more in common than that which divides us". Their message is simple: unified, we can fix this.

Next year, the G20 Summit will take place in Hamburg. This is an immense opportunity to act. After the festival, Global Citizens everywhere called on Chancellor Merkel to make the refugee crisis a top priority at the G20. The most powerful countries on the planet will come together, and Merkel must lead from the front in forcing words to become action. It is not acceptable that the UN & US summits refused to enforce meaningful change; they have failed refugees everywhere. For every moment we hesitate, more people will be lost: fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters.

We cannot buy more time with empty promises. "On 19 September 2016 the United Nations (UN) General Assembly collectively, and spectacularly, failed the 21 million refugees of this world", Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, writes candidly, "the cost of failing to act is that we condemn millions to endure lives of unrelenting misery. The most vulnerable will not survive." It's time to step up to the issue at hand, and act with the urgency that the crisis demands. Otherwise, it may soon be too late.