Today, the UN summit on migration and refugees takes place, and tomorrow the US-led summit on refugees where Sweden is a co-host. During the summits, Sweden and the EU must push for better support for the countries that receive the vast majority of the world's refugees, and for global commitments regarding resettlement to be strengthened. It writes Melanie Ward from the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
A year after the number of people fleeing war, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, suddenly increased dramatically, many European leaders are still focusing on trying to get their own houses in order. Efforts have been focused on processing asylum applications and on initiating the integration of those who have been granted a residence permit.
Compared to many of its neighbors, Sweden has been good at welcoming new arrivals and supporting refugees while they get to know their new homes. But the situation over the past year is only the beginning of the "new normal" when it comes to global migration. Therefore, all countries must share the responsibility for supporting the refugees already in Europe and guaranteeing a structured response so that the refugees of the future can be received in a more secure, humane and controlled manner.
EU leaders must lift focus from their own continent
This week, two summits are taking place in New York; The UN summit on migration and refugees and the US-led summit on refugees where Sweden is a co-host. While the UN summit will result in more general conclusions, the meeting initiated by President Obama could lead to significant decisions. But then Swedish and other European leaders must lift their focus from their own continent. The US-led summit provides an opportunity for Europe to not only strengthen its own commitments to refugees, but also to show the rest of the world what is possible.
The IRC has focused on two areas: better support for the countries that receive the vast majority of the world's refugees, and the expansion of refugee resettlement programs in other countries. Resettlement, also known as quota refugees, involves the organized relocation of refugees from the state where they have sought refuge to another state that has agreed to receive them as refugees and grant them residence permits.
Too short-term humanitarian efforts
Firstly, EU leaders must take advantage of the strong voice they have in these contexts as generous humanitarian donors and push for change in the way aid is delivered to countries that receive large numbers of refugees. 86 percent of refugees live in low- and middle-income countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Ethiopia and Kenya. For a long time, development assistance in crisis situations has been too short-term. On average, it takes 26 years before people who have been forced to flee can return to their home countries.
The IRC therefore calls on donors to guarantee more long-term humanitarian aid, better coordination of humanitarian aid and development aid, and that the support reaches local people living in poverty as well as refugees. Sweden has shown the way by investing in long-term, strategic financing of international development cooperation. But all countries participating in the US-led summit must commit to guaranteeing jobs and education for refugees to ensure that they can use their skills and contribute to the economy of the countries in which they now reside.
Resettlement can save lives
Secondly, the summit is a crucial opportunity to strengthen global resettlement commitments. The vast majority of refugees are in low- and middle-income countries, but the UN estimates that over one million refugees - those who are most vulnerable and those with the least opportunity to return home - need resettlement in high-income countries. Reception levels are far below demand.
Resettlement of refugees is not an alternative to the right to asylum, but it gives refugees a safe and secure path to a new life. The planning that resettlement enables increases the chances of successful integration, work and education. In addition, if enough refugees are offered resettlement, it will save lives, as fewer refugees see illegal and dangerous routes into Europe as their only alternative.
Sweden handles resettlement well, handles matters quickly and has special preparedness for emergencies. Sweden has already committed itself to increasing its commitment to resettlement to 5 places per year - a substantial contribution from such a small country. Sweden must now take on the role of leader by urging other countries to do the same. According to IRC estimates, EU Member States should receive at least 000 refugees a year through resettlement over the next five years. We also call on the United States and other governments to do more.
Europe has spent the past year in crisis. This week, it's time to turn a refugee crisis into an opportunity - both for refugees and for Europe.
IRC has produced a short video that highlights a resettled man's experiences. Khaled Fayad came as a quota refugee from Syria to Sweden via Lebanon. Watch the video Khaled's story HERE.