Refugee crisis: No progress made one year on

Prime Minister Theresa May is meeting world leaders to discuss the biggest refugee crisis since World War Two.

Fionna Smyth, the Head of Humanitarian Advocacy and Campaigns at Oxfam, writes for ITV News on what little progress has been made one year on.

This time last year we had become tragically accustomed to television images of desperate men, women and children clinging to overcrowded rafts for dear life.

The summer had seen tens of thousands of people, many fleeing the horrors of war, walking across Europe in search of rest and refuge.

News of an international summit in New York to address the worst refugee crisis since World War Two came as a relief – finally the world’s governments were stepping up to the plate.

Three-year-old Ragika from Syria at a Greek refugee camp. Credit: AP

The ambitious promise they made one year ago to "save lives, protect rights and share responsibility on a global scale" gave me and many others hope that the system worked. That when people were literally dying for refuge, world leaders would intervene and show compassion.

Yet 12 months on from their landmark agreement, no meaningful progress has been made.

The two-year deadline they set to develop and agree on a global action plan is half spent - and yet governments continue to stall and delay.

Students at the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in Uganda. Credit: Oxfam

One of the key principles of the agreement they made was that of responsibility sharing – a method to work out each country’s responsibility for hosting, protecting, and caring for refugees. This will not work itself out.

Poorer countries like Uganda and Lebanon bear the brunt of the crisis, hosting almost 90% of displaced people around the world according to Oxfam analysis.

Fewer than one in 10 of the world’s refugees lives in the six richest countries – the US, China, Japan, Germany, France and the UK.

But while diplomacy grinds slowly on, the situation refugees are facing changes fast.

A Nigerian woman comforts a child after they were rescued from a migrant boat. Credit: AP

In just one year, the number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda has more than doubled to over a million.

This small east African nation with an economy a fraction the size of the UK’s now hosts the largest refugee settlement in the world.

In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of people have embarked on treacherous boat journeys to Bangladesh.

Closer to home, more than 2,400 people have died in the Mediterranean so far this year.

Most of those who survive the crossing from Libya will have experienced unthinkable abuse at the hands of traffickers.

Disembarkment of migrants at the port of Catania, Italy. Credit: Oxfam

Despite this, there has been no end to discriminatory and xenophobic laws and practices towards people on the move.

President Trump’s harmful and discriminatory travel ban is still alive and fighting for survival in the courts.

European nations continue to pursue policies to prevent people from leaving Libya so they don't make it to Europe's shores.

The physical abuse of migrants on the Western Balkans route continues unabated.

An Afghan migrant prays inside the abandoned Serbian warehouse where he is living. Credit: AP

Such policies and practices are not only harmful, but they do nothing to solve the underlying problems of why we have more than 65 million people in the world displaced by wars and violence.

All governments, but particularly those of rich nations like the UK, should deliver the global solution they have promised.

When Prime Minister Theresa May delivers her speech at the UN General Assembly in New York, she should follow Germany and Turkey’s lead in calling for a system that shares responsibility more fairly.

The UK can stand proud of its track record in providing aid to countries that are hosting large numbers of refugees, but it still hosts a shamefully small number on its own shores.

Nigerian women and children are rescued from a boat in the Mediterranean sea. Credit: AP

One simple and compassionate way the British government can address this is to change the rules so more refugees can reunite with their family in safety in the UK.

Oxfam’s work in countries like Italy, Greece, Lebanon and Jordan shows again and again how people feel that embarking upon dangerous journeys is their only option.

Allowing those who already have a relative in the UK to join them here would provide a safe route and help keep families together.

Later this year Oxfam and the Refugee Council will publish a report showing how beneficial such reunions can be for the successful integration of refugees into British society.

An Italian coastguard boat sails past a burning migrant dinghy. Credit: AP

The agreement made in New York one year ago provides hope for a fairer and more humane approach to refugees.

We have reached half-time but world leaders are still passing the ball back and forth.

It’s time to blow the whistle on the time-wasters before we squander this valuable opportunity.

The lives and futures of millions of men, women and children are depending on it.

  • The views of Fionna Smyth do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.