UN urges ‘reboot’ of refugee response as millions uprooted


U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, left, Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis, center, and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, right, pose during a meeting prior to the opening of the UNHCR – Global Refugee Forum at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, Pool)

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BERLIN (AP) — The United Nations urged governments, businesses and others on Tuesday to “reboot” the world’s response to refugees as the number of people fleeing their homes rises along with hostility to migrants.

The first Global Refugee Forum, being hosted in Geneva by the U.N. and Switzerland on Tuesday and Wednesday, is meant to draw pledges to pave the way for a fairer and more coordinated approach to hosting and integrating millions of refugees worldwide.

But it also underscored international tensions, with Turkey’s president complaining of a lack of support for his country’s plans to resettle up to a million Syrian refugees in Turkey to Turkish-controlled regions of northern Syria. Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, used his appearance to criticize neighbor and archrival India.

“Our world is in turmoil and 25 million refugees are looking to us for solutions,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told the event. He noted that the number is far higher if people displaced within their own countries are added in.

“As a new decade dawns with some 71 million people uprooted from their homes globally, inside and outside their countries, it’s time to reboot our responses,” Grandi said.

He called for a “broad alliance” of governments, business, development institutions, the aid community, sports organizations and others. Business executives and the head of the International Olympic Committee were among those attending the forum.

The forum was “co-convened” by Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Germany, Pakistan and Turkey, most of them among the world’s major refugee hosts. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that nine of the top 10 — all but his own country — have low or medium incomes.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said that “developing and middle-income countries admirably host the vast majority of refugees and warrant greater support.”

In addition, he said, “at a time when the right to asylum is under assault, when so many borders and doors are being closed to refugees, when even child refugees can be divided from their families, we need to reaffirm the human rights of refugees.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country’s invasion of northern Syria to drive U.S.-allied Kurdish forces out of a “safe zone” along the border has drawn widespread criticism, said Syrian oil revenues could be used to help relocate Syrians in Turkey. He complained that no one wants to spend the money on the refugees.

“I say: come let’s take out the oil in the wells together and let’s implement projects in these areas … so that these people can be settled in the houses, schools, hospitals that we build,” Erdogan said. “But they don’t support it because they need the oil more (than refugees).”

“We need to put into effect formulas that will keep refugees on their own soil and allow those in our country to return,” he said.

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