What Happened at the Refugee Summits?

By Sarah Hunter

540982386_4ca8d0c236_b

Photo: photos_mweber

Last week, there were two summits headed by world leaders to address the increasing global refugee and migrant crisis. Though historic in their initiation and lofty in their goals, whether the ideals advanced in these Summits will come to fruition remains to be seen.

UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants 

On Monday, September 19th, the UN General Assembly gathered for the inaugural Summit for Refugees and Migrants. The 193 member-states adopted The New York Declaration, which focuses on improving the social, political, and legal status of the increasing number of refugees and migrants. While the UN itself has advocated for a “soft law” approach to the crisis, which is very much what the New York Declaration is given that it does not bind countries to any particularized course of action but only encourages general concepts, many feel that this Declaration is toothless.

There are estimated to be 65.3 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, 21.3 million of whom are refugees. Nearly half of the refugees in the world are children. Given this historic rise in displaced population, the international response should be vigorous, not just symbolic. But world politics move slowly and world consensus even slower, so while the results of the Summit may not satisfy all involved, and certainly will not have an immediate effect on the lives of the many displaced, it is arguably a step forward. But with the more robust Global Compact on Refugees proposed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon postponed until 2018, organizations like Amnesty International have gone so far as to call the Summit an abject failure.

 

Leaders’ Summit on Refugees

On the heels of the UN Summit, 48 countries along with the World Bank and European Union, met for the Leader’s Summit on Refugees co-hosted by the US, the UN Secretary General, Ethiopia, Canada, Mexico, Germany, Sweden and Jordan to discuss the possibility of increasing global commitments to humanitarian efforts. The Leader’s Summit also focused on how international organizations could address the refugee crisis. Although this summit was more narrowly tailored in scope, as it only addressed refugees and not migrants or internally-displaced populations, it was still similar to the UN summit in its soft response to the problem. The Summit called for increasing education and work opportunities for refugees while creating more long-term solutions for refugees that address issues such as changing broken asylum systems.

Though still disappointing, the Summit did call for participants to pledge to resettle 360,000 refugees into third-party countries and increase funding to efforts by $4.5 billion. This includes efforts from the private sector as 51 companies have committed $650 million to finance efforts.

Some groups like the International Rescue Committee praise these efforts as well as the World Bank’s increased involvement in refugee response. But other groups including Human Rights First thinks that both of these Summits fail to adequately address this global humanitarian crisis by ignoring causes of the crisis and offering piecemeal solutions. After all, the UN has said that 10% of refugees globally, or over 2 million, are in need of permanent resettlement, and these commitments only chip away at that number. As far as actual commitments, neither Summit makes any binding promises and with the U.S. appropriations for 2017 currently showing cuts to the refugee resettlement program, it is hard to say what will actually come out of these well-intentioned, but ultimately unenforceable promises.

Dignity Denied to Refugee Women in Detention Centers

Dignity Denied to Refugee Women in Detention Centers

By Jenna Klein

With Famine Crisis Thousands of Somalis Flee to Ethiopia Refugee Camps

Photo credit: United Nations Photo

Only four months ago, in October 2015, the Australian government secretly flew a pregnant Somali refugee back to one of its immigration detention centers on the island of Nauru, preventing her from terminating her pregnancy. The woman, known by the pseudonym Abyan, was raped at the detention center in July, but because of the restrictive Nauruan abortion laws she requested to be flown to Australia in order to terminate her pregnancy. While her request was granted and she was brought to Australia, there was a “miscommunication” that led to her abrupt removal back to Nauru. The Australian government claims that Abyan refused treatment by declining to attend a medical consultation, but Abyan and her lawyers deny this allegation and protest that she only wanted further counseling.

After receiving international pressure to resolve the situation and advice from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to find a “decent” healthcare outcome for Abyan, the Australian government agreed to fly her back for further counseling and treatment. While Abyan’s particular story is troubling for many reasons, her case highlights broader international human rights violations in the treatment of female refugees and asylum-seekers, not only in Australia but worldwide. This story draws attention to the high rate of unprosecuted sexual violence and assault taking place within refugee camps and is indicative of the lack of reproductive rights and justice for refugees and asylum-seekers around the world.

A Note on Indefinite Detention

As fellow student contributor Sarah Hunter wrote last October, before the story about Abyan was even reported, human rights groups have condemned Australia’s policy of indefinite detention centers as a violation of international refugee laws. Prolonged detention can have grave physical and psychological consequences. These types of detention facilities have been denounced for their inhumane conditions and use of unnecessary violence. Moreover, refugees and asylum-seekers are inherently a more vulnerable population due to the conditions which forced them to leave their country of origin in the first place as well as their attenuated status in a given host country. And within this highly susceptible group, there are particularly vulnerable sub-categories of detained individuals who require heightened attention and care. While Amnesty International identified four of these sub-groups in their report (Stateless persons, Children, Family Groups and ‘Pacific Solution’ detainees), I believe that there is a larger group that deserves special consideration: Women.

Sexual Violence in Refugee Camps

Refugee women are entitled to and require far greater protection against sexual assault than they are currently afforded. Women often are forced to flee their homes due to extreme sexual violence, only to experience further assault and abuse as refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued guidelines in 1995 for the prevention and response to sexual violence issues for refugees. However, the prevalence in recent years of stories like Abyan’s is alarming. Even more troubling is the fact that many women, including Abyan, are too afraid of retaliation to report the crimes. This means that in addition to the number of reported cases, there are many more women suffering silently under violent attack as they try to gain access to safety in a new home.

Women are subjected to sexual violence and abuse not just from other refugee men in the camp but also at the hands of government and humanitarian officials. This obviously creates serious issues relating to execution of effective protection and prosecution policies. So while numerous international treaties and conventions work to provide protection for the rights of refugee women, continued international attention and support is required to adequately attend to the problems with their implementation and to provide uninhibited access to justice for these women. In December, in response to the consistent allegations of human rights abuses and sexual assault, concerned citizens circulated a petition urging Australia to ratify the UN’s protocol against torture, which would allow UN inspection of immigration detention centers. Countries like Australia with large populations of refugee and asylum-seekers need to address the human rights abuses taking place in their offshore refugee camps and the international community must hold them accountable.

Reproductive Rights and Justice for Refugees

International law clearly establishes reproductive rights for refugees. Again, UNHCR issued guidelines for the specific protection of refugee women. Moreover, reproductive rights for all human beings, including refugees and internally displaced individuals, were firmly recognized in the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994. However, just because the international community has acknowledged the right and identified a population in need of extra protection does not mean that countries have ensured effective care or protection for the sexual and reproductive health of these women. The truth is that many crucial reproductive health interventions for refugees, such as emergency contraception and access to safe abortion services, are surrounded with such ideological controversy that providing proper care becomes extremely difficult, if not practically impossible.

Without adequate services available, the acknowledgment of reproductive rights as fundamental international human rights is without force. Abyan’s story provides one example of the severe and disturbing consequences this lack of care can have. Another example emerged from the same refugee camp only weeks after Abyan’s story was released. Medical authorities on Nauru refused to send a refugee to Australia for a complex birth procedure, despite insistence that her and her baby’s health were both in extreme danger. While Australia cited its policy that refugee women must give birth on Nauru, doctors at the Nauru Hospital desperately scoured the Internet (specifically, LinkedIn) for a specialist who would fly to the island to provide the care that was required to save the lives of the woman and her child. The fact that medical professionals were forced to resort to such extreme measures demands closer international scrutiny of the quality of reproductive care that is offered to refugee women. Women who have already suffered unbelievable trauma, women whose precarious immigration status affords them little to no control over their reproductive choices, and women whose rights we have committed to protecting as an international community.

 Conclusion

Abyan’s experiences serve an important purpose as they prompt the international community to examine the severe human rights violations associated with the treatment of refugees in indefinite detention, sexual assault in refugee camps and reproductive rights for refugee women. These are issues of equality and human dignity. Non-citizens should have access to the same quality of fundamental health and justice services as citizens. And women deserve to retain control over their reproductive choices and bodily integrity, despite their immigration status. Refugee women represent one of the most vulnerable populations in the world and the international community has an affirmative duty to protect their rights and bodies from systematic, institutionalized abuse.

Jenna Klein is a J.D. candidate at Berkeley Law. She is a student contributor for Travaux.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals and Metropolitan-Level Collaboration

UN Sustainable Development Goals: SDG 11 Should Emphasize Metropolitan-Level Collaboration to Achieve Its Objectives

8171127825_b71fa3c398_o

By: Madeleine Wykstra

SDG 11 may foster a valuable opportunity through metropolitan collaboration and regulation at the subnational level to combat climate change, while avoiding political obstacles and bureaucracy at the national levels of government.

It’s Urban October, according to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN–Habitat). The campaign is one of many promoted by various UN branches to encourage sustainable urban development and address uniquely urban challenges. Such emphasis on the role of the city in sustainable development is rightly placed. The new UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted at last month’s summit, recognize this important relationship between cities and sustainable development in its eleventh goal (SDG 11): to “[m]ake cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

The SDGs establish a new set of global objectives for member states over the next fifteen years. They succeed the organization’s eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which launched in 2000 and aimed at combatting various dimensions of poverty. Salient criticisms of the MDGs were their “tensions with international human rights legal standards,” a lack of emphasis on regional and local level participation and difficulty in measuring their ultimate role in mitigating poverty—all of which remain ongoing debates, for another time.

The new SDGs, seventeen in all, are set to be achieved by the year 2030. Some goals are reinvigorated versions of their MDG predecessors while others, like SDG 11, are novel additions. SDG 11 recognizes that half of the world’s population presently resides in cities, and acknowledges that the continued expansion of cities means metropolitan areas will play a central role in sustainable development efforts.

Climate change is the quintessential transnational challenge. To meet this challenge requires the cooperation of nearly two-hundred countries whose governments hold varying degrees of commitment on environmental efforts. SDG 11 presents an opportunity to combat climate change through metropolitan-level collaboration, while avoiding political and bureaucratic obstacles at the national levels of government. Every city faces unique sustainability challenges, but there are many shared challenges that are inherent to urban areas. A platform for cities to engage, collaborate, and self-regulate could produce tangible strides on issues of sustainability, and SDG 11 could provide that space.

The Value of a Transnational Municipal Network

A metropolitan-level approach to sustainable development recognizes that climate change, while international in scope, possesses “different histories and geographies, varying across time and space and in its implications for economies and societies” as noted by Professor Harriet Bulkeley. Moreover, the city is a center of innovation. It possesses the resources and diversity needed to develop creative, groundbreaking approaches to sustainable development. SDG 11 has the potential to harness the innovative capacity of major metropolitan areas and provide a platform for the exchange of solutions through a transnational municipal network. According to research published through the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, cities would benefit from greater collaboration with one another to “spread best practices, embrace new technologies, and replicate other creative solutions adopted elsewhere.”

Under many circumstances, municipalities have authoritative capacity, through regulatory power, to implement their own sustainability initiatives. Utilizing this capacity, SDG 11 could encourage cities to sign on to environmental agreements, address common challenges to sustainability, and cooperate in finding solutions for a diverse spectrum of metropolitan spaces. A transnational municipal network would offer a platform for these activities. It is sensible that a group of entities, sharing similar goals and facing similar challenges, be provided with a space in which to confront these challenges in concert.

Current Trends in Metropolitan Sustainability Initiatives

City-to-city collaboration is not a novel idea, and there are many city partnerships working at local, national and international levels. Cities like New York utilize public-private partnerships to foster economic growth, sustainable development, and to achieve various other objectives. However, many of these partnerships involve collaboration between the city and private partners, as well as civil society organizations. City-to-city partnerships are less common, but do exist. There are regionally-based partnerships such as the European Innovation Partnership for Smart Cities and Communities, and globally-oriented initiatives such as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), and C40 cities. Until 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) also operated a Climate Neutral Network, though membership was limited to ten countries.

Despite the presence of numerous nonprofits and partnerships aimed at sustainable urban development, participation in such entities is largely limited to those cities which already possess the means and willingness to self-regulate in order to meet sustainability goals. An analysis of different transnational city networks illustrated that such networks are largely “networks of pioneers, for pioneers.” Where SDG 11 could prove most valuable is if it is able to improve participation and self-regulation of cities less active in the sustainability movement. None of the aforementioned partnerships possess the global exposure of the new UN goals. Perhaps by leveraging the expertise and resources of partnerships already underway, a transnational municipal network under the direction of the UN may be able to entice action in cities of UN member states which are less active in the sustainable development movement. It could also encourage funding from private actors towards sustainability initiatives in cities that lack the necessary financial resources to undertake such projects.

Like their MDG counterparts, the viability of the Sustainable Development Goals has been met with some skepticism. Political leaders and scholars alike have voiced concern over the scope and structure of the SDGs. UK Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that there are simply too many goals, and this may muddle their overarching message. Yet a goal such as SDG 11 has greater capacity to include community initiatives, through emphasis on the metropolitan level, and thus develop more tangible results than the more abstract MDGs. A key determinant in achieving SDG 11, and the SDGs generally, will be whether the goals can in fact foster greater commitment and participation of local communities in the sustainable development movement.

Madeleine Wykstra is a J.D. candidate at Berkeley Law. She is a student contributor for Travaux.