Without a doubt, this General Assembly is about the refugee crisis. And while you might think, as perhaps Amal Clooney does, that the UN is rather late to the game on the whole issue, there is an indisputable power to having the world’s leaders lining up to declare that something must be done and that the world must turn away from fear to a new optimism.
But what is to be done? President Obama called for rich countries to do more: “Together, now, we have to open our hearts and do more to help refugees who are desperate for a home.” Addressing the fear-mongering surrounding migration, the President echoed Secretary-General Ban’s call to all leaders “not to engage in the cynical and dangerous political math that says you add votes by dividing people and multiplying fear” but instead to “stand up against lies and distortions of truth, and reject all forms of discrimination.”
Perhaps the most optimistic and upbeat speech came from Canada’s Justin Trudeau who can only have added to his cult status among his young voters with his declaration that “Canada is here. And we’re ready to help.” He spoke impressively on Canada’s sponsored resettlement programme, an initiative that has seen the effective integration of large waves of migrants into Canadian society. The UK’s new prime minister, Theresa May, struck a more cautious note, preferring instead to focus on combating the illegal trafficking of migrants and the support that is provided for refugees in their first safe country.
All this is of course in stark contrast to the atmosphere outside the Assembly building. In the streets of New York, traffic is largely at a standstill: there are rolling roadblocks, presidential cavalcades and sweating traffic policemen in the humidity. From where I sit, twelve floors up and five blocks over from the UN plaza, all you can hear are car and truck horns, sirens and whistles blaring. New York is in a heated, angry gridlock.
And that’s how the debate on refugees feels. Leader after leader in the Assembly Chamber is calling for open hearts and a new approach; outside, the rhetoric is of walls and now the bizarre metaphor let loose by Donald Trump Jr comparing Syrian refugees to skittles. It can only be hoped that what is said by each leader in the hall will get things flowing again, to open a source of generosity in the public’s attitude to refugees and migrants.
However. There is a short phrase that is missing from all these emotive declarations: internally-displaced people. President Obama looks to welcome migrants to America. Prime Minister Trudeau is going to charm them over (and, to be honest, if he asked – I’d go). Prime Minister May wants to help them in their neighbouring countries. But what about the people like the families in Ankawa, who want support to help stay in their own country?
The problem with being an internally-displaced person, as we have discussed on this site often, is that you are often overlooked by the eyes of the world. Financially, it’s much more preferable to be listed as a refugee as then you receive significantly more support. But if you are only moved up the road, as our families in Ankawa have, then you are left with little. It does not matter that you have moved to a place where you do not speak the language, where there is too little educational provision, you have lost everything and you have no part in the political process, as our families do – you are still within your own country. Many of the Ankawa IDPs stay because they want to remain part of a community: they want to stay on familiar soil near to the place they called home.
It's only Day 2. And there are plenty of powerful messages coming from the Chamber. We hope that the families in Ankawa will benefit from a new wave of generosity of heart. We hope that, if they want to leave, that they will be welcomed by the nations that they seek to shelter in. But we also hope that are supported to stay in Iraq, rather than join that diaspora of 68million people wandering the world without a home.