Golden sphere in front of UN New YorkThe UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants was held in New York on 19 September 2016. More than 150 government and non-government representatives gathered to adopt a framework to address the large-scale displacement and movement of people across the globe.

The key focus of the meeting was the shared responsibility of States for providing funding and resources to facilitate durable solutions to mass migration and refugee movement. State leaders were expected to make commitments towards increasing their intake of people and providing adequate services for resettlement.

The non-binding declaration (the New York Declaration) that was adopted at the Summit contains agreements that, as members of the global community, States must work cooperatively to address the global issues resulting from the movement of people. The document calls for:

  • greater support for host countries and the principle of non-refoulement
  • an end to racism and discrimination being directed at migrants and refugees increased efforts to stabilise countries in conflict, and
  • adherence to international human rights norms and laws.

The declaration states that providing education, healthcare, access to justice and language training is fundamental to inclusive settlement, and affirms that Government policies must reflect this commitment.

A step towards international co-operation and global responsibility was achieved at the Summit when an agreement was signed to partner the International Organization for Migration with the UN system. Leaders will reconvene in 2018 to adopt a ‘global compact’ which aims for ‘safe, orderly and regular migration’. States and the UN have welcomed these moves as important steps towards greater global coherence, both in terms of policy and practice.

Some human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, however, have labelled the Summit a failure. States are being criticised because of the lack of binding commitments to increase the numbers of refugees States are willing to resettle, in line with their individual capacity. The declaration has also been criticised as lacking in substance and tangible outcomes.

Global leaders who attended the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, convened by Barack Obama on 20 September, announced more concrete commitments to address the issues of displacement and resettlement. Together, States attending the summit have announced that they will increase humanitarian aid by $4.5 billion, with Australia offering $130 million over the next three years for peace-building and refugee assistance.

The coalition of States attending the Summit promised to double the number of resettlement places for refugees. Australia has offered to maintain our Refugee and Humanitarian Program at the increased level of 18,750 places from 2018-19 onwards, with a number of places set aside for refugees from Central America. Australia will also dedicate a minimum number of places over the next three years to displaced people from specific protracted refugee situations and establish 1,000 places under a Community Support Program, where communities and businesses can sponsor applications and support new arrivals.