UN says countries agree on refugee document

AP News
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Posted: Aug 09, 2016 5:25 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — After five months of difficult negotiations, U.N. member states have reached agreement on a political statement ahead of the first-ever summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants to be held in New York in September, officials said Tuesday.

Karen AbuZayd, the U.N.'s special adviser on the summit, said the agreement, approved by all of the U.N.'s 193 member countries, "addresses the issues we face now" and protects the human rights of refugees and migrants at a time when more people have been forcibly displaced from their homes than at any time since World War II.

The agreement is legally non-binding, but AbuZayd said if countries honor their commitments, refugee camps would become the exception and a framework would be put in place to handle every new large outflow of refugees.

"Refugees, migrants, those who assist them and their host communities and countries will all benefit if the commitments in this document are met," said AbuZayd.

She said that under the agreement countries would agree to resettle some 1 million refugees in 2017. That number represents about 5 percent of the world's refugee population, or about half the amount U.N. officials had initially sought to resettle, according to AbuZayd.

The agreement comes at a time that refugees and migrants have become a divisive issue in Europe and the United States. A number of countries rejected an earlier draft of the agreement that called on countries to resettle 10 percent of the refugee population each year, something AbuZayd now admits would be overwhelming in terms of logistics.

Instead, the agreement allows the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to the set the number depending on need.

The U.S. and a number of other countries also objected to language in the original draft that said children should never be detained, AbuZayd said. The agreement now says children should seldom, if ever, be detained.

Refugees and migrants are expected to be the top issue when world leaders gather for the high-level General Assembly meeting at the U.N. next month. The agreement will provide the foundation for the meeting and its final outcome document.

The issue of migrants will be taken up further at an intergovernmental conference in 2018, where countries are expected to reach agreement on a global compact, AbuZayd said.