Shared responsibility to address the challenges of human mobility

Silvia Fontana | Global Peace Index Ambassador,Coordinator in conflict zones, World Bank, DG ECHO |4 ottobre 2016 

Peace is about shared responsibility

On September 21 we celebrated the International Day of Peace. Established in 1981 by United Nations (UN) resolution 36/37, the General Assembly has declared this as a day devoted to “commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.” 

Recently I was in Matera to present the 2016 Global Peace Index (GPI) to fellows from the International Jacques Maritain Institute, institute that organizes annually one week of dialogue, sharing and listening on Peace in the Mediterranean. The 2016 GPI revealed a deterioration in the global peacefulness mainly due to the MENA region (Syria in primis). Global inequality in peace has widened in the last year, highlighting the global complexities of peace and its uneven distribution. The GPI deterioration was mainly driven by increase in the impacts of terrorism, higher level of displacement and increased political terror. I will explore the recent developments to respond to the displacement of more than 65 million people worldwide. Commemorating the ideals of peace means to me sharing thoughts and challenges on human mobility today.

Discontent and reality check on the current EU measures on migration

In this intense month of September meetings, conferences and agreements have been made on migration with mixed results and conclusions. The Bratislava agreements were criticized by the Italian Prime Minister Renzi who called for a more incisive response to the migration crisis. EU leaders discussed on collaborations on defence and security at their external borders but little progress was made in terms of migration governance. The strong position undertaken by the Italian leader showed the fragility that characterizes Europe in terms of shared vision and unity among its members to tackle such an important global challenge. In his State of the Union speech, the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker affirmed, “Let us all be very honest in our diagnosis. Our European Union is, at least in part, in an existential crisis.” Our leaders are aware and deeply concerned about the lack of commonality and fragmentation in Europe, however they struggle in finding a common ground for a renewed vision and the different positions on the migration phenomenon reflect this.

The recent report by ODI sheds light on the effectiveness of the policies so far taken by the EU to tackle the issue. In 2016 three million arrivals were expected via overt channels (mainly by sea, across the Mediterranean); the situation changed after the EU-Turkey deal with a 330.000 people expected to arrive in Europe by sea with an important decrease therefore. However, according to ODI, the new asylum applications will be 890,000 in 2016; this suggests an increasing number of people now looking for alternative (and riskier) ways to reach Europe via “covert” channels (vehicles, plane with false docs). While border controls and restrictive policies reduce the migrants and refugees via overt channels, they divert the flows to higher covert migration, more difficult to control at national and international level. In terms of deterrence measures, from 2014 Europe spent approx. EUR 1.7 billion for building walls and increasing borders controls with a long-term effect in terms of reduced transport, trade and movements that could cost Eur. 1.4 trillion. Moreover, Europe spent approx. EUR 15.3 billion for deterrence measures outside its borders, to decrease migration flows by increasing economic opportunities in countries of origin or neighboring countries (e.g. Trust fund for Syria and Africa). However, the study reveals that development in the short term seems to increase rather than reduce human mobility. The European approach to manage the large movements of migrants and refugees seems to be short sighted and insufficient. A new approach is necessary accompanied by a strong political engagement from all parties involved.

The NY Declaration: sharing responsibility for refugees

The New York Declaration signed on September 19, 2016 by heads of states reunited at the high-level meeting to address large movements of refugees and migrants aims to propose a shared vision on the phenomenon. It includes commitments to protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants. The declaration asks all leaders for a Comprehensive Refugee Response (CRR), based on a new framework that sets out the responsibility of states, civil society partners and the UN system. The Declaration contains also a commitment for the adoption of a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration in 2018, with migration, like other areas of international relations, guided by a set of common principles and approaches. Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), affirmed that the “Declaration marks a political commitment of unprecedented force and resonance. It fills what has been a perennial gap in the international protection system – that of truly sharing responsibility for refugees, in the spirit of the United Nations Charter.”

Mixed reactions from the civil society

The first reactions to the NY Declaration from the civil society were mixed. Although the NY Declaration represents an important step forward in the definition of a global approach, the lack of a concrete plan of action might delay the global and concrete responses needed. The civil society asked for a more pragmatic approach as stated by the civil society Action Committee for the Summit. According to Gianfranco Cattai, President of FOCSIV, the NY Declaration lacks immediate responses to the crisis ongoing and postpones, de facto, the operational plans to the adoption of CRR Framework in 2018. In line with this position, other organizations delivered even stronger critics on the declaration: MSF speaks about a complete detachment from the reality of the global displacement crisis as we see today and for Oxfam the UN Summit failed to deliver real solutions.

Is the NY declaration another vague political commitment?

With no doubts, the NY declaration is a milestone in our recent history. It is the necessary step towards a shared vision, a global alliance to share responsibility for refugees. Nevertheless, the remarks of the civil society are correct in light of the day-to-day difficulties. UNHCR here plays a critical role in guaranteeing the rapid design and assessment of the CRR for 2018 and support and coordination for 2017. The future months will represent the reality check for the global vision described in the NY Declaration: a very complex process of alignment should take place among countries. Safety and Dignity should be the key values of this process.

Private Sector as Multiplier

During the UN Summit, Federica Mogherini, Vice President of the European Commission, underlined in a very honest and appreciable way all the difficulties we are facing to create a vision of unity and commonality among European countries to respond to the migration flows. In her view, the global alliance is not only among countries at institutional level but refers to all sectors of our society. In this sense, the launch of the Investment plan for Africa and the Mediterranean by the EU to mobilize 44 billion euros represents a push globally. Alongside with the institutional commitment, the involvement of the private sector is an important element to consider as potential multiplier of the NY vision.

Leadership already in place

President Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on September 20 showed some concrete steps towards the political commitment envisaged by the NY declaration: among others, Italy confirmed an increase in humanitarian budget and the USA administration committed to welcoming and resettling 110,000 refugees. Other countries such as Poland are studying the humanitarian corridors promoted by the Community of Sant’Egidio in collaboration with the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy and the Waldensian Church as a viable strategy to manage the arrivals. At the Summit serious engagement of the private sector has been done too. CEOs of over 50 small and large companies made commitments of US $650 million to support 6,3 million refugees in over 20 countries, Soros declared an investment of US $500 million in startups, existing businesses and initiatives founded by migrants and refugees convinced of the great contribution the private sector can bring.

Coordination and monitoring will be key actions to put in place as soon as possible with the support of the civil society, to guarantee effectiveness of the programmes and the respect of regulations and human rights along the way. Despite the clear complexities, these first concrete steps from the governments and the private sector bring hope towards an integrated approach to address the challenges of human mobility.


Picture: Baobab Center, Via Cupa, Rome

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