High-Level Summit on Refugees and Migrants

On 19 September 2016 the UN General Assembly hosted a high-level summit (HLS) to address large movements of refugees and migrants, with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach.

This was the first time the General Assembly has called for a summit at the Heads of State and Government level on large movements of refugees and migrants and it is a historic opportunity to come up with a blueprint for a better international response. It was a watershed moment to strengthen governance of international migration and a unique opportunity for creating a more responsible, predictable system for responding to large movements of refugees and migrants.

Both states and civil society, as concerned stakeholders, were actively involved in preparations for the Summit.

States, from February through July 2016, engaged in a series of informal consultative meetings, facilitated by the Ambassadors of the Permanent Missions of Ireland and of Jordan. After a first round of lengthy negotiations, they reached an agreement on the modalities of the Summit, including its format, the round tables, the role of civil society, etc. Then, toward the end of June they proceeded to negotiate an outcome document to be signed by heads of state on 19 September. This outcome document, now known as the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants, was adopted by member states on 2 August and consists of three parts: 1) a political declaration, 2) an annex on responsibility sharing for refugees; and 3) a second annex on a roadmap for a compact on protection of migrants. The New York Declaration negotiations used, as a starting point, the UN Secretary General’s Report, In Safety and Dignity.

Civil Society (CS), concurrently with states, was highly active and visibly involved in the Summit preparations. In April, the Office of the President of the General Assembly (OPGA), facilitated by the Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS) and UN DESA, selected a CS Steering Committee for the Summit preparations responsible to the OPGA. At the same time, CS, facilitated by the CS Coordinating Office of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) in Geneva, decided to organize a parallel 22-member Action Committee, chosen by, and responsible to, Civil Society members. The NGO Committee on Migration had representation in both groups.

The Action Committee, in accordance with the Modalities Resolution, was in regular contact with the co-facilitators of the Informal Hearings, and provided both verbal and written input during the intergovernmental negotiations on the New York Declaration. During our NGO Committee’s monthly meeting on 14 May, the Irish co-facilitator, Ambassador Donoghue, briefed us on the proceedings and encouraged CS to participate actively in the preparations for the Summit.

In that spirit, the CS Action Committee prepared a 5-page document entitled: A new deal for refugees, migrants and societies, which it released on 24 June immediately prior to the start of the Outcome Document negotiations.  Based on input from CS organizations around the world, and building on the UN SG Report, A new deal… proposed that states launch: an international plan NOW to protect refugees and migrants on the move and on arrival; a global compact on responsibility sharing for refugees; a roadmap for a global compact on safe, regular migration, and action for social inclusion and against xenophobia. The document, which expressed some of CS’s principal starting points for the intergovernmental negotiations, remains our baseline for CS advocacy to UN member states through the Summit and beyond.

On 18 July, in conformity with the Modalities resolution, a PGA- organized interactive multi- stakeholder hearing took place at the UN in preparation for the 19 September Summit. It was attended by CS representatives from every region of the world, as well as by UN agencies and representatives of some member states. It provided stakeholders with the opportunity to share their concerns and proposals, and to call upon member states to see that the Summit results will be translated to changes on the ground for refugees, migrants, and home societies. On the preceding day, 17 July, CS held a preparatory meeting to strategize on priority messages to bring to the multi-stakeholder meeting, as well as to consider CS organizing for, and beyond, the Summit to ensure follow-up, implementation, and accountability of governments.

During the final week of intense inter-governmental negotiations on the New York Declaration, the CS Action Committee made last ditch efforts to rescue those commitments of greatest concern to Civil Society and to prevent the ongoing watering down of agreed- to commitments. On 28 July, the Committee prepared and circulated to states a 2-page appeal entitled World leaders must step up efforts to conclude robust and principled deal for refugees and migrants. The appeal listed five “tests of success” that the Outcome Document would need to achieve in order for it to be considered a success rather than a “repetition – or diminishment – of existing commitments.” The consensus document adopted by Government representatives on 2 August, received mixed reactions in the press, as well as from CS organizations. While acknowledging the Outcome Document’s adoption by consensus as an achievement, many felt that most of the work remains to be done, particularly with respect to observing human rights obligations regarding the non-detention of children.

With the inter-governmental negotiations completed and consensus achieved by states on the New York Declaration, civil society began looking beyond the 19 September Summit to propel concrete follow-up, implementation responding to clear timelines, meaningful involvement of civil society—especially refugees, migrants and diaspora—in all related processes, and accountability of governments. Fora like the annual Global Forum on Migration & Development (GFMD), including the one in Dhaka, Bangladesh from 8-12 December 2016, were to provide additional opportunities for CS and Governments to take these issues forward.

The structure of and participation in the 19 September Summit was set in the Modalities Resolution. The HLS included an opening plenary, six round tables, and a closing plenary. Working with the Steering Committee that it convened, NGLS concluded the process of creating a short list of candidates for the speaking roles available to civil society: 1 CS representative for each round table, plus 3 for the opening plenary. This list was then submitted to the OPGA, which made the final selection of the CS speakers. The Action Committee is now in the process of sending presentation guidelines reflecting our most important concerns and recommendations to the CS speakers selected by the OPGA, as well as contacting individual States to advocate for their support of these critical issues.

More detailed information about the 19th September Summit and related events is available on the civil society website for the High-Level Summit.