UN approves compact to support world's refugees amid US objection

Published 19.12.2018 01:07
Updated 19.12.2018 08:00

With only the United States and Hungary voting no, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a non-binding compact Monday that provides more robust support for countries where most of the world's more than 25 million refugees live. The vote in the 193-member assembly was 181-2, with the Dominican Republic, Eritrea and Libya abstaining.

The Global Compact on Refugees also sets out measures to share responsibility to help those who are forced to flee their countries because of conflict or persecution, and ease the burden on the small number of nations that host the majority of refugees. The compact builds on the 1951 Refugee Convention in addition to human rights and humanitarian law and makes way for a follow-up Global Refugee Forum every four years.

U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi called the compact "historic" in a tweet, adding: "It is the biggest effort to broadly share refugee responsibilities that I have witnessed in 34 years of work with refugees."

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said the Global Compact is very important because "in recent years, we have seen a contagion of closed borders, contrary to international refugee and human rights law."

"Millions of refugees are facing years in exile, or risking their lives on dangerous journeys to an uncertain future," she told an event marking the adoption. "Refugees are among those furthest behind. Persecuted, isolated and marginalized in their home countries, and too often in their countries of destination, they have struggled to be counted — and to count."

The U.S. found itself isolated in the U.N. General Assembly on Monday over Washington's concerns about the promotion of abortion and a voluntary plan to address the global refugee crisis. The U.S. was the only country to oppose the draft resolution last month when it was first negotiated and agreed by the General Assembly human rights committee. It said elements of the text ran counter to its sovereign interests, citing the global approach to refugees and migrants. General Assembly resolutions are non-binding but can carry political weight. U.S. President Donald Trump used his annual address to world leaders at the United Nations in September to tout protection of U.S. sovereignty.

The Global Compact on Refugees was adopted at a time when a record-high 68.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes. This includes 25.4 million who have crossed borders to become refugees, 40 million who are displaced within their home countries and 3.1 million who are seeking asylum. According to the U.N. refugee agency, nine out of 10 refugees live in developing countries, where basic services like health or education are already strained. Grandi stressed that it's "a tough world" for refugees and migrants who are often stigmatized and politicized as threats. "One message is that these people not only deserve compassion and protection and solidarity, but when given the opportunity, they can make a formidable contribution to society," he said.

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