The Refugee Crisis: The UN Summit, The Latest Facts, And The World's New Plan

Get the who, what and why on the refugee crisis here. Click on to learn what exactly refugees are, why they are fleeing, how the world is responding and more, and learn more about how you can help here.

Remember this Syrian boy whose photo went viral a few months ago? This is Omran Daqneesh, a 5 year old boy from Aleppo, one of the worst hit cities in the Syrian war. who was injured in an attack in August. The photo of him stunned and barefoot in the back of an ambulance sparked outrage worldwide.

Omran has a new friend in Scarsdale, NY- 6 year old Alex, who is even willing to share his toys. At the United Nations this week, President Obama shared a letter he received from Alex. 


“Dear President Obama, Remember the boy who was picked up by the ambulance in Syria?” Alex wrote. “Can you please go get him and bring him to our home?” "We will give him a family, and he will be our brother" he continued. 

The President hit the nail on the head when he said, “the humanity that a young child can display, who hasn’t learned to be cynical, or suspicious, or fearful of other people because of where they’re from or how they look or how they pray... we can all learn from Alex.” 

Young Alex from New York should stand as a symbol for all of us. A symbol of peace, hope and an example of how we all, as brothers and sisters of this planet, should be treating one another and approaching those who are most vulnerable. 

This young boy is free of fear and full of love and hope. When do we lose our compassion, our empathy? When do feel stop seeing people and start seeing race, religion, ethnicity and differences- and become fearful of these things?

We are all human beings- we all want the same things for ourselves and our families and our children. We all want to be accepted, loved, safe. We all require the same basic neccessities to survive. 

We must have empathy and compassion for one another and put ourselves in the shoes of these people. Imagine a life where stepping outside your front door puts yourself and your loved ones in grave danger. Imagine the sound of bombs and gunfire being an everyday norm. Imagine watching your family and friends perish right in front of you. Imagine having to leave your family and everything you ever knew and worked for with no real place to go, with nothing but the clothes on your and your children's backs. No food, no shelter, nothing. Imagine begging on your knees to people and countries to help you and your children only to have them turn their backs to you.  

We all have basic human rights that are promised to us, and those of refugees and displaced people are not being upheld. The world- us as individuals and our leaders, have an obligation to step up and help those who are most vulnerable and ensure that we protect their human rights and safety and uphold their dignity as human beings. 

The refugee crisis falls in and out (mostly out) of headlines in the media and only seems to come front and center when a horrific photo, like Omran's or the Syrian toddler found dead at the beach emerges, and the world is reminded that the crisis is far from over, and that the millions upon millions of refugees and displaced people and children around the world live an unimaginable reality. They are food insecure, have no homes, can't work and can't attend school, among other things. 

The UN estimates around 65 million people are currently displaced (4.8 million are Syrian refugees)- the highest since World War II. 1/2 of the world's refugees are children. 

Refugees are dependent on the protection and support of the international community, and governments have repeatedly failed them. Some countries, like Germany, Sweden and Canada have really stepped up, but the burden (86% in fact) falls on developing countries who are closest to the conflict. This is unacceptable. (Check out my past article: Is World In A Moral Abyss?)

This past week, world leaders gathered at the United Nations General Assembly to address the growing refugee crisis. 

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, sent the right message when he convened the UN summit on refugees and migration and called for international action to uphold the safety and dignity of refugees and migrants and address the challenges and opportunities of these large movements of people. He talked about the commitments that he hoped all world leaders would collectively adopt that day:
  • To protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of their status.  
  • To increase support for the hardest-hit countries.   
  • To assist despairing people in protracted crises.    
  • To ensure that children get an education.
  • To improve search and rescue operations.
  • And to boost humanitarian funding and resettlement of refugees
President Obama led the meeting and urged countries to do more to assist in the growing crisis saying,

"We cannot avert our eyes or turn our backs. To slam the door in the face of these families would betray our deepest would deny our own heritage as nations, including the United States of America, that have been built by immigrants and refugees.”

World leaders pledged to increase the number of refugee children going to school, to enhance access to legal work for refugees, and to provide more resettlement opportunities. 

The White House announced that a total of $4.5 billion had been pledged be used for UN and other humanitarian agencies, a doubling of refugee resettlement places and plans to improve access to employment and education. The President also promised to increase his country’s own refugee intake to 110,000 in the year 2017, up from just 10,000 this year– a commitment that will fall on his successor to hold up to. 

The one major outcome of the UN Summit is the adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which “expresses the political will of world leaders to save lives, protect rights and share responsibility on a global scale" and affirms the commitment of governments to the protection of the human rights of refugees, education for refugee children and the need for support for countries hosting refugees. 

All in all, the outcome of the summit feels grim. The Declaration makes a lot of promises but shies away from concrete commitments, targets and outcomes. Many countries simply re-announced promises already made earlier this year, and many countries simply re-annouced promises they already made earlier this year.

Let's hope that we as an international community do what needs to be done to address the growing refugee crisis and give our fellow brothers and sisters the life they deserve and have a right to. I am happy to know that President Obama and our country has promised to do their part and if promises are implemented, it could be a lot of great change. Now all that's left is a lot of follow through.


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