World Leaders Just Released A Document To Help Refugees And Migrants. It Falls Short Of Commitments.

In this Thursday, July 28, 2016 photo, about 150 sub-Saharan refugees and migrants wait aboard an overcrowded rubber boat to be assisted by an NGO during a rescue operation on the Mediterranean Sea. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/SANTI PALACIOS
In this Thursday, July 28, 2016 photo, about 150 sub-Saharan refugees and migrants wait aboard an overcrowded rubber boat to be assisted by an NGO during a rescue operation on the Mediterranean Sea. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/SANTI PALACIOS

All 193 UN member states agreed on a 22-page “draft outcome” document late Tuesday in response to the global refugee crisis — but the document lacks substantial solutions to give permanent resettlement for the displaced.

The document will be used next month at the United Nations General Assembly when world leaders meet to discuss and commit to helping refugees and migrants, but as the New York Times pointed out, it contains “virtually no concrete commitments to make their journeys better or safer. Nor does it have any force of law.” The publication also noted that specific commitments for countries to act on were deferred until 2018.

“While the draft text has no force of international law, every sentence has been negotiated,” the New York Times reported. “The resulting language is sometimes so vague that it is likely to bring little comfort to the millions who are seeking safety and opportunity abroad.”

The draft includes statements that are already supported by international law like not allowing refugees to return to places where they could face war and persecution. It also calls for countries to allow refugees to work and let children go to school, but it didn’t have stronger language saying that they had a right to do so. The draft also contains language appeasing E.U. nations, like asking countries to take back citizens who lost their asylum cases.


But the New York Times also reported that the draft distinguished the need for two compacts: (1) one for refugees who may permanently be displaced from their home countries and may not be able to return because of dangerous conditions and (2) one for migrants who move to improve their lives and may not face danger if they are returned to their home countries.

Many host countries currently shouldering the burden for globally displaced people have been disproportionately middle to low income countries.

The draft includes language changes from the United States on a paragraph about the detention of children, namely that it should “seldom” be used. But letters sent on behalf of human rights organizations like Human Rights First and another joint letter by 21 organizations all condemn the current draft outcome, saying that detention is “never in the best interest of children.”

The U.S. government has a controversial reason to ask for the language change. As an unprecedented number of Central American women and children entered the southern U.S. border, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson ordered the expansion of immigrant detention centers to house families waiting for their immigration court cases to be adjudicated. Children and mothers have allegedly been put in deplorable conditions at family detention centers in Pennsylvania and Texas. But last year, a federal judge ordered the release of all children out of detention, relying on a 1997 legal settlement known as the Flores agreement, that requires immigrant children to be placed in the least restrictive setting possible.


Confining children in detention cells can have profound physical and mental health effects, with children becoming emotionally volatile, agitated, and suppressing their appetite.

The 2018 deadline may not come quickly enough for displaced people, especially children. Italian rescuers helped about 8,000 refugees just over the past five days on the Mediterranean Sea.

“It is increasingly common for kids uprooted by war to spend their entire childhoods as refugees,” United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Tuesday. “Yet the world is not doing nearly enough to provide for child refugees, or for refugees in general, for that matter.”

The lack of concrete solutions is concerning given the scale of the refugee crisis today. More than 65 million people — over half of whom are children — are globally displaced, driven from their homes because of war, famine, and even climate change. African and Middle Eastern refugees and migrants have taken on treacherous journeys on dinghys across the Mediterranean Sea, with a record-breaking 3,120 drownings so far this year. Closer to home, Latin American children have been running from gang violence and impoverished conditions, arriving at the southern U.S. border in large numbers since at least late 2013.

E.U. nations have shut down their borders, brokering a controversial deal in March to return refugees to Turkey while the E.U. processes a limited number for refugee resettlement. And the United States has quickly detained and deported Central American immigrants through deportation raids that have scarred immigrant communities since January. But global displacement rages on with 24 people forced to flee each minute in 2015, according to United Nations.