UN Summit on Refugees Likely to Fall Short

Leaders must remember that the purpose of this UN summit is to better protect refugees and migrants, and share responsibility for some of the most vulnerable people in the world. We need to see countries welcoming more refugees and offering them education and work.

September 18, 2016

Governments may be patting themselves on the back when they attend Monday's UN summit on Refugees and Migrants in New York, but their political commitments are falling far short of what is needed to address the global displacement crisis or protect people on the move, says Oxfam. While it is right for countries to put national interests first, the last few weeks have seen backsliding on commitments to share the responsibility for refugees with a summit agenda that barely changes the status quo and, in some areas, weakens current protections. 
 
EU Member States and Russia have blocked commitments to expand ways for refugees to reach safe havens. The United States, which detains Central American children fleeing violence in their home countries, has also resisted moves to stop the detention of migrant minors at the southern border with Mexico. And Eritrea has even complained that the references to human rights in the UN summit document were “redundant”. 
 
On refugees and migrants, Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International said: "Leaders must remember that the purpose of this UN summit is to better protect refugees and migrants, and share responsibility for some of the most vulnerable people in the world. We need to see countries welcoming more refugees and offering them education and work. 
 
“Many governments are worried about how this issue plays out on their political agendas at home, but they must uphold their obligations under international law and demonstrate leadership and empathy. We hope that governments will use the opportunity offered by this event - and by President Obama’s Leaders' Summit - to start an improved global response, as lives are on the line."
 
At this year’s UN General Assembly Oxfam would also like to see world leaders take on the challenge of shutting down tax havens for good. Tax havens and corporate tax dodging impact all countries but it is the world’s poorest countries that are hit hardest (30% more than OECD countries, according to IMF researchers). Shutting down tax havens so that developing countries can collect their fair share of tax revenues is critical if governments are to raise the funds needed to deliver on the UN Sustainable Development Goals agreed by world leaders in New York one year ago. 
 
On tax reform, Byanyima said: “What is urgently needed is the establishment of a new UN-led global body for tax matters that decides on the fundamental reforms needed for the international tax system to work for the benefit of all countries. All governments must work together to achieve this by first shutting down tax havens and ending the race to the bottom on corporate tax. The G77 Ministerial meeting taking place next week is an important opportunity to get this process started.”
 
Oxfam is looking to the high level events next week about the Lake Chad Basin and Yemen, as both crises are reaching the tipping point. 
 
On the Lake Chad Basin, Byanyima said: “The Lake Chad Basin is one of the poorest, most fragile and most neglected parts of the world. Across the region, 21 million people are affected by the crisis and 9.2 million are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. World leaders attending the UN General Assembly must address the economic, political and social problems that have led to this crisis.”
 
In Yemen there are more people in need of humanitarian assistance than in any other country in the world: a shocking 21.2 million. That is about the same population as Sri Lanka.
 
On the Yemen crisis, Byanyima said: “We call on donors and international agencies to return to Yemen to increase their response to this massive humanitarian crisis before it is too late. Oxfam is calling on all parties to the conflict to bring an immediate end to the violence and seek a political solution. International humanitarian and human rights laws must be obeyed at all times, including taking all steps to avoid civilian casualties and ensuring access for humanitarian aid to reach those in need.” 

Notes to editors

1. Interviews are available with Oxfam spokespeople in New York including:

  • Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Oxfam International 
  • Jim Clarken, Executive Director, Oxfam Ireland
  • Ray Offenheiser, President, Oxfam America
  • Josephine Liebl, Policy lead on Oxfam’s Global Displacement Campaign (English and German)
  • Paula San Pedro, Migration Advoacy lead for Oxfam Intermon, Spain (English and Spanish)
  • Susana Ruiz Rodriguez, Fiscal Justice Policy lead for Oxfam Intermon, Spain (English and Spanish)

2. Local civil society organizations at the UN summit: Oxfam is also supporting media for local civil society organisations who are attending the summit, all of whom are available for interview, including Mohammed Badran, SYVNL (Syrian Volunteers in the Netherlands), who will be addressing the opening session of the summit.

3. Oxfam's report, I Ask the World to Empathize: Voices of people on the move, tells the stories of some of those millions of people who have fled conflict, violence and persecution - and the millions more driven from their homes by disasters, drought and inequality. 

Other recent Oxfam reports on refugees and migration:

Contact information

For interviews and more information, please contact:

For the refugee summits - Attila Kulcsar | attila.kulcsar@oxfaminternational.org | +1 (917) 257 6518 | Skype: LondonW1

For other UNGA events, inlcuding tax havens, Lake Chad and Yemen - Vanessa Parra | vparra@oxfamamerica.org | (202) 476-0093

For interviews in Canada - Melanie Gallant | melanie.gallant@oxfam.ca | 613-858-2658