Supporting Syrian refugees not only an act ‘of generosity’ but also of ‘enlightened self-interest’ says UN chief

Supporting Syrian refugees not only an act ‘of generosity’ but also of ‘enlightened self-interest’ says UN chief

UN Secretary-General António Guterres with students at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Photo: Stephane Dujarric

UN Secretary-General António Guterres with students at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Photo: Stephane Dujarric

Visiting the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan that is hosting about 80,000 Syrian refugees, the United Nations chief urged the parties to the conflict in Syria and the countries that have influence over them to realize that the crisis is not only a tragedy for Syrian people but also a threat to regional stability and global security.

“This is the moment for all countries that are involved, directly or indirectly in the conflict, to put aside their differences and understand […] the common interest from the fact that they are all threatened by the new risk of global terrorism,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters at a press conference at the camp.

“Solidarity with Syrian refugees is also a way to be able to express our capacity to guarantee global security. It’s not only an act of generosity. It’s also an act of enlightened self-interest,” he added, noting that by failing to support refugees, groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and al Qaida could use such inactions as arguments to further their own vested interests and put global security at risk.

In his remarks, Mr. Guterres also hailed the generosity of the Government and the people of Jordan for supporting refugees despite having a vulnerable economy, and appealed for international solidarity with countries such as Jordan that have been hosting Syrian refugees.

“I hope that that if all countries that have an influence on the Syrian situation are able to come together, these refugees, [who have been living here for more than four years,] will be able to restart their lives again, to find jobs, to work, to have a normal life,” he said.

He also underscored the importance of Arab unity and said that when Arab countries are divided, it has allowed others to intervene and to manipulate situations, creating instability, breeding conflict and facilitating activities of terrorist organizations.

The UN Secretary-General further called on to the wider international community to increase their humanitarian support as well as to make sure that more opportunities are given to the refugees and to make sure that the countries that have an influence on the parties to the conflict “come together to put an end to this tragedy”.

The Week Ahead – 19 September 2016

Secretary-General Ban and President Obama have begun their final “UN Week” in New York – a series of events that together make up the can’t-miss week for anyone looking to find solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. The hectic pace has already spilled over into Washington as many of the global leaders headed to UNHQ came here first – including for the Secretary Kerry hosted ‘Our Ocean’ conference. More high-level visits are expected next week.

The issue of migrants and refugees is high on the UN Week agenda – as are climate change, development and humanitarian work. And while the meetings revolve around the leaders of the 193 member states, great effort will be made to open the sessions to those around the world via webcast and social media. Such efforts are a testament both to the power of technology and its reach and to the understanding that success on any of these issues depend on global engagement.


71st UN General Assembly:

World leaders adopt bold plan to enhance protections for refugees and migrants (9/19)

Ahead of World Peace Day, UN chief says Global Goals are ‘building blocks for peace’ (9/16)

Curtain rises on world’s busiest diplomatic arena at UN Headquarters (9/16)

Refugees, climate change and Syria likely standouts during whirlwind week (9/14)

For a detailed list of events and meetings, please click here.

The Secretary-General:

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will participate in every high-level meeting and expects to meet with more than 100 heads of states and foreign ministers in New York this week.

Throughout the week – and the remaining months of his tenure as Secretary-General – Ban is working to see the Paris Agreement on Climate Change come into force. That will happen when at least 55 countries that together emit 55% of the world’s greenhouse gases – approve it.

  • For a list of emission levels by countries, please click here.

Ban will cap his week at the Global Citizen Festival (9/24) – a concert on Central Park’s Great Lawn that last year drew more than 60,000 people.

At the Security Council:

New Zealand holds the presidency for the month of September when the Council will host high-level briefings on the Middle East (particularly Syria), and on counter-terrorism/aviation security. Other briefings include those on Liberia, Libya, Somalia and Sudan.

  • The Council will receive the Secretary-General’s report on the humanitarian situation in Syria (9/20); and his report on UNDOF about the Golan Heights (9/22). It also will hear a briefing on Syria (9/21) and on counter-terrorism/aviation security. (9/22)
  • Last week, the Council approved Security Council resolution 2308, focusing on the situation in Liberia (9/14); and welcomed the peace agreement in Colombia and approved a UN monitoring/verification mission there. Security Council resolution 2307. (9/13)

In Washington:

Last week saw visits by:

  • Jamie McGoldrick, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen
  • UNDP Administrator Helen Clark
  • FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva
  • UNEP Executive Director Erik Solheim
  • UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé

No UN officials are expected this week.

Around the UN System:

  • Human Rights Council’s 33nd session (13-30 September)
  • The Secretary-General launched the “Together” campaign, which aims to highlight the economic, cultural and social contributions that migrants and refugees make to countries of origin, transit and destination. It will also counter some of the misinformation and misperceptions on refugees and migrants and encourage interpersonal contact between refugees, migrants and those in the destination countries.

International Days:

21 September                         International Day of Peace

The Sustainable Development Goals’ potential to be building blocks for peace is highlighted at numerous events at UN Headquarters. Events will be webcast live.


In Case You Missed It:

·         UN chief urges support for historic expansion of educational opportunity (9/18)

·         Ban hails fund to fight AIDS, TB, malaria as model for Global Goals (9/17)

·         The number of South Sudanese refugees reaches 1 million mark (9/16)

·         Syria: Aid convoys unable to reach besieged areas despite US-Russia deal (9/15)

·         Senior UN official sheds light on growing threat of antibiotic resistance (9/15)

·         UN agency launches action plan to tackle threat of ‘superbugs’ (9/14)

UN reports issued:

Secretary-General reports and notes:

Other reports:

Secretary-General Ban and President Obama’s Final UN Week

The World Looks to New York as Secretary-General Ban and President Obama Take Their Final “UN Week” Turn

The 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly has begun, with a very busy high-level week ready to kick-off in New York on Monday, September 19.  Over the last several years, “UN Week” has become the place to be for anyone looking to find solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.  Much of the increased participation and focus on this annual convening can be credited to UN Secretary-General Ban and President Obama.  As both leaders will be participating in and presiding over “UN Week” events for the last time – their tenures end nearly simultaneously as 2016 comes to an end – it is worth a quick look at how this week has been transformed into the can’t-miss week for global problem-solvers.

Leaders' Summit on countering violent extremism

Leaders’ Summit on countering violent extremism

Both the Secretary-General and the President have made sure UN Week serves to actually tackle issues, not just talk about them.  SG Ban has made a tradition of holding a Summit each year on a key issue on the global agenda in order to force governments to focus and make progress while their top leaders are in New York.  These have included climate change, development (the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals), and, this year, Refugees and Migrants.  The General Assembly has taken up the SG’s calls to assure that progress is made.  I, for one, am convinced that these summits led to the successful negotiations that gave us the truly historic Sustainable Development Goals and The Paris Agreement on Climate Change last year.  These annual gatherings have allowed leaders to dream big, and to begin the practical steps toward achieving shared aspirations.

For his part, President Obama has pushed governments to make real commitments on issues by hosting his own high-level meetings.  In these “leadership” sessions, governments must put forward real actions to be invited to the table – and when the U.S. President is hosting, the klieg lights are bright and leaders want to be there.  Last year many countries put forward significant commitments to better support UN Peacekeeping. This year, look for much the same during the President’s session on Refugees.

But, the week is not just for government leaders anymore.  The Secretary-General and his UN team know that today’s challenges need everyone at the table – civil society, the private sector, academia, and anyone who has an idea or a belief in change for the better.  There are literally hundreds of big and small so-called “side events,” both at the UN and around New York City, where offering or just considering thoughts, ideas, and dreams is open for all.  And, it is not solely restricted to those in New York: the UN has thrown open its doors, webcasting many events and engaging via social media, to ensure the widest possible participation.

This is what makes “UN Week” so important and exciting: you might rub shoulders with some of the biggest political leaders in the world, but you also might hear the solution for tackling global poverty or ending a civil war in a venue uptown, downtown, or crosstown.  During “UN Week,” everyone in New York – or tuned into New York – can make a difference!    You can follow me and participate in events in NY and beyond on Twitter with #UNGA and @RobbinWashDC and @UNICDC.

To escape gangs and poverty, Central American children making risky journey to US – UNICEF

The flow of refugee and migrant children seeking refuge from brutal gangs and stifling poverty in Central America and making their way to the United States shows no sign of letting up, despite the risks of being kidnapped, trafficked, raped, or killed on the journey, a report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found.

In the first six months of 2016, almost 26,000 unaccompanied children and close to 29,700 people travelling as a family – mostly mothers and young children – were apprehended at the US border, according to the report, Broken Dreams: Central American Children’s Dangerous Journey to the United States.

“It is heart-rending to think of these children – most of them teenagers, but some even younger – making the gruelling and extremely dangerous journey in search of safety and a better life. This flow of young refugees and migrants highlights the critical importance of tackling the violence and socio-economic conditions in their countries of origin,” said UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director, Justin Forsyth, in a press release.

The report was released ahead of the UN Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, on 19 September at UN Headquarters, in New York, as well as a summit on the global refugee crisis, hosted by US President Barack Obama during the high-level segment of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly on 20 September.


Migrant Routes from Central America to the United States, 2016

According to the report, most of the apprehended people are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which have some of the world’s highest murder rates. They seek to get away from brutal gangs that target them or poverty and exclusion that deprive them of education and hope. Many also travel north to reunify with their families.

Many of the adults and some of the children apprehended at the US border are deported in expedited proceedings, women and young children spend weeks, and at times months in detention, while unaccompanied children may face years of uncertainty as their cases go before immigration courts, the report noted.

If deported, some of them could be killed or raped by the gangs they had sought to escape in the first place, and all these children need protection every step of the way – at home, along the journey and at their destination, the report stressed.

Data shows unaccompanied children who do not have an attorney in US immigration hearings – 40 per cent – are more likely to be deported than those who do. In recent cases, 40 per cent of unrepresented children were ordered deported, as compared to 3 per cent for represented children.

In the first six months of 2014, more than 44,500 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the US border; the number dropped to almost 18,500 in the same period in 2015 and rose again this year to almost 26,000 by June, the report said.

Further, the report noted that thousands never make it as far as the US border. In the first six months of 2016, more than 16,000 refugee and migrant children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras were apprehended in Mexico. In addition, hundreds of refugees and migrants die every year in the harsh environment along the Mexico-US border. Many more are missing and are feared to have been kidnapped, trafficked or murdered.

UNICEF said that detention of children on the basis of their migration status should be prevented. Children also should have full access to healthcare and other services and should be allowed to live with their families whenever possible.

Together with its partners, UNICEF is working to address the causes of migration by supporting the efforts of governments to improve children’s lives and address communal and criminal violence in countries of origin.

UNICEF also works to strengthen services that reduce the vulnerability of children to violence, with a strong focus on education and health. It also advocates for the protection of children’s rights throughout their journey, and for governments to provide assistance to returnee children.

“We must remember that children, whatever their status, are first and foremost children. We have a duty to keep them safe in a healthy and nurturing environment,” Mr. Forsyth said.