UN New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants Underlines Role of Disasters

Governments gathering at the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants adopted the landmark A/71/L.1 New York Declaration for Refugees and migrants underlining the role of environmental degradation, climate change and disasters alongside conflict as drivers of the ongoing migration crisis. In general terms, the Declaration contains commitments to protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants, irrespective of their status, prevent and respond to gender-based violence, support rescuing, receiving and hosting countries, condemning children detention and implementing a comprehensive refugee response based on a new framework setting out the responsibility of States and UN agencies.

Although the Summit was called to focus specifically to the suffering endured by those forced to move due to conflicts, the introduction of the Declaration recognizes the growing problem of non conflict-related displacement, by stating that people move ‘in response to the adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters (some of which may be linked to climate change), or other environmental factors. Many move, indeed, for a combination of these reasons.’ Furthermore, paragraph 18 of the Declaration expressly refers to the Sendai Framework by underlining that its recommendations include measures aimed to mitigate risks associated with disasters, including the flow of migrants. Finally, its paragraph 37, included in the section of the Declaration setting “Commitments that apply to both refugees and migrants”, acknowledges the need for ‘an approach to addressing the drivers and root causes of large movements of refugees and migrants … which include, inter alia, reduce vulnerability, combat poverty, improve self-reliance and resilience’. A similar wording can also be found in paragraph 43 elaborating on commitments applicable to migrants.

The Declaration contains concrete plans to implement the said commitments. Indeed, it calls for negotiations towards (i) an international conference to adopt a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration; (ii) the adoption of guidelines on the treatment of vulnerable migrants; and (iii) the achievement of a global compact on refugees in 2018 aimed at the equitable sharing of the burden and responsibility for hosting and supporting refugees.