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Syrian War, Refugee Crisis to Dominate UN Meetings

  • Margaret Besheer

World leaders will gather Monday in New York to tackle two of today's biggest global challenges: the war in Syria and the refugee crisis it has created.

They will meet at the annual U.N. General Assembly. This will be Barack Obama’s final such gathering as U.S. president, and it also will be the last for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose decadelong tenure at the helm of the organization will end December 31.

Across the planet, there are a staggering number of refugees and displaced persons: 65 million men, women and children. They are on the move because of conflict, natural disasters or extreme poverty.

On Monday, the U.N. chief will convene a special summit about their plight, with the aim of addressing the root causes and agreeing on separate global compacts in the next two years on refugees and migrants.

“I sincerely hope that, through this summit meeting on Monday, we will have a framework on how we can share these responsibilities,” Ban told reporters recently. “No one country can address this issue. Therefore, there should be global responsibility and global compassion on addressing this issue."

But before the summit has even taken place, some NGOs are already saying it will be ineffective.

Opportunity missed

“The U.N. had initially proposed an ambitious plan, but the European Union, Russia and China were among those who sacrificed refugees’ rights for national self-interest and missed a massive opportunity to back a global solution to the crisis,” said Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International.

The U.N.’s initial plan was to ask governments to resettle 10 percent of the world’s refugees each year. But in the summit’s outcome document, there is no requirement that countries take specific numbers of people.

On Tuesday, Obama will co-chair a leaders summit on refugees, along with leaders from Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan, Mexico and Sweden.

FILE - Syrian refugees board a Jordanian army vehicle at the Rakban refugee camp.

FILE - Syrian refugees board a Jordanian army vehicle at the Rakban refugee camp.

Some 20 million of the world’s displaced population are refugees. This conference will focus on increasing refugee financing, doubling the global number of resettled refugees through legal channels, and expanding work and education opportunities for them. A pledge is required for governments to participate in the meeting.

“We are not going to solve the refugee crisis on Tuesday,” said Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. “But I think you will see an important show of political will from leaders around the world.”

Summit co-host Germany is on the front lines of the refugee and migration crisis in Europe. Last year, the nation took in over 1 million refugees, and in the first six months of this year, 460,000 refugees have arrived from Syria, the source of most of the world’s refugees.

Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Harald Braun said Berlin wants to see the summit address all issues related to the crisis, “meaning the situation in the countries of origin, transition and integration, as well as the return of refugees.”

Preventing a lost generation

The leaders summit hopes to make progress in providing education for displaced children, raising by 1 million the number of refugee children in schools worldwide.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is the U.N.’s global education envoy, said there are 30 million displaced children worldwide, 10 million of whom are refugees.

“The majority of them are not going to school at all,” he told reporters. Two million of them are Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, while another 2 million are in Syria, where “none of them are getting the education they need.”

The costs of educating refugee children are often minimal. In Lebanon, Brown said, it is only $10 a week per child, and he urged leaders to pledge the necessary funding at the summit.

Bloodshed in Syria

Leaders realize that the human exodus from Syria will not end until peace and stability are restored.

A nearly week-old deal between Russia and the United States to reduce the violence and distribute aid is still a work in progress, but its success or failure is likely to be a large part of discussions in New York.

The Security Council will hold a high-level session on Syria on Wednesday, which could issue a statement or adopt a resolution endorsing the deal, if it is still holding. Members of the International Syria Support Group will also be in New York and could decide to meet. The group's members are those foreign powers and global organizations who began talks in Vienna in October 2015 to try to resolve the Syrian conflict, following previous peace initiatives had failed.

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