Anne Longfellow, Managing Editor

On September 19, 2016, the United Nations held a historic summit on the issue of large movements of refugees and migrants. The Summit was held in New York City, which was reflected in the name of the declaration adopted by the General Assembly that day — the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. A United Nations press release described the Declaration as, “mapping a route towards a collective, rights-based response to record displacement numbers around the world.”[1]

Many commitments were set forth in the Declaration including: ensuring “a people-centred, sensitive, humane, dignified, gender-responsive and prompt reception for all persons arriving in our countries;”[2] collecting accurate information on movements of refugees and migrants;[3] prioritizing the welfare of children;[4] improving humanitarian financing to the affected areas;[5] developing non-binding guidelines for treatment of migrants;[6] beginning to negotiate “a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration;”[7] committing to “a more equitable sharing of the burden and responsibility for hosting and supporting the world’s refugees, while taking account of existing contributions and the differing capacities and resources among States;”[8] expanding “the number and range of legal pathways available for refugees to be admitted to or resettled in third countries;”[9] providing assistance in “key life-saving sectors;”[10] and providing education for refugee children.[11]

The declaration was met with varying responses from different groups. Some found it to be a “good first step”[12] while some applauded it as “historic.”[13] However, others pointed out that the declaration lacks any concrete measures, specifically lacking a promise by able states to take in more refugees.[14] Since it is just a declaration, there are no binding elements to this document. Hopefully, this declaration will serve as a starting point in addressing the massive refugee crisis and will lead to more binding agreements in the future.

[1] Press Release, General Assembly, General Assembly Adopts Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, as United Nations, International Organization for Migration Sign Key Agreement, UN Press Release GA/11820 (Sept. 19, 2016).

[2] U.N. Doc. A/71/L.1 at 22.

[3] Id. at 25.

[4] Id. at 32.

[5] Id. at 38.

[6] Id. at 52.

[7] Id. at 63.

[8] Id. at 68.

[9] Id. at 77.

[10] Id. at 80.

[11] Id. at 81-82.

[12] UNICEF statement on the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants (Sept. 19, 2016) http://www.unicef.org/media/media_92773.html.

[13] Peter Thompson, UN General Assembly Adopts Historic Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, Huffington Post (Sept. 19, 2016) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-thomson/un-general-assembly-adopt_b_12086674.html.

[14] The Guardian View on the New York Declaration: better than nothing, The Guardian (Sept. 19, 2016) https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/19/the-guardian-view-on-the-new-york-declaration-better-than-nothing.