The global refugee crisis is one of the biggest political issues of the 21st century, and it is right and proper that the UN is holding a summit to address the problems. It is the source of much human misery and the cause of deep political divide.
The UN says a record number of people have been displaced by conflict and estimates that 65.3m people were either refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced at the end of 2015, an increase of 5m in a year.
A lot of that will be down to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq and Afghansistan, and the political instability in countries like Libya add to the flow of people, but many of the people fleeing through Libya from other African countries are also fleeing violence with many also trying to get away from religious persecution. That violence and lawlessness always impacts on the economies of countries and can lead to life-threatening shortages of food and water.
The UK’s Prime Minsiter Theresa May says she wants a greater distinction between refugees and people trying to enter a country for economic reasons. But sometimes economic circumstances can force people to become refugees. Deciding the status in each and every case of a migrant is going to be a Herculean task consuming a lot of resources.
Mrs May also says refugees should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach - this is what is supposed to happen when refugess come to the EU but that puts an impossible burden on the countries with southern shores like Greece and Italy, and for Turkey. There is also the physical difficulties associated with this - we have seen that walls and fences rarely work.
Mrs May also askes for the root causes to be addressed by way of combating the stream of migrants, but the fact is that the EU or the West or the UN cannot create peace and stability in every country, which is the only effective way of cutting the problems driving people from their homes.
And it has to be wondered whether the hugely growing gulf between the world’s richest and poorest is not also a root cause.
The issue of immigration and migrants was one of the biggest points of contention in Britain’s vote to leave the EU. How immigrants are treated is one of the biggest points of contention in the EU, with the Eastern European nations and Germany and France completely and seemingly intractably divided on any solution.
Unfortunatley all Mrs May is doing is giving reasons why the actions taken so far are not working, but all she is proposing is doing more of the same. There is no new initiative or action, there are no concrete proposals, she is offering no solution.
The UN is beginning two years of negotiations on politically binding compacts on refugees and migrants for nations.
And it is only by agreeing to help people in need that this crisis wil be managed, and that needs to be done transparently and for humanitarian reasons, and as fairly as possible. Mrs May needs to achknowledge that as a starting point.