Thursday, September 15, 2016

Contesting World-Views

The UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants will take place at UN headquarters in New York on September 19 with a follow-up “Leaders Summit” hosted by Obama, a day later.

“If global leaders adopt a resolution with some nice language – but so lacking in concrete commitments it fails to make any real difference to the lives of those fleeing war and conflict – they are merely fiddling while Rome burns,” Richard Bennett, Head of Amnesty’s Office at the United Nations, told IPS. Revealing a process in which member states stripped back meaningful promises to vague re-affirmations of shared responsibility, Bennett said, “there’s this enormous crisis, and these diplomats sit in New York discussing words which may or may not even be implemented… there’s a huge gap between their rhetoric and the reality.” Criticising those states “who are continuing to put up borders and walls,” Bennett said, “there is no trigger mechanism; there are no concrete, objective criteria for deciding how a country meets its fair share… It’s a kind of ad-hoc approach, based on largesse, of whether a country offers resettlement places or money or not.” States, said Bennett, are “reluctant to set targets when it comes to taking and supporting refugees because there is a toxic narrative about migration and refugees which affects national politics. Another concern we have about the outcome document of the summit is that it moves in the direction of securitisation – of seeing the movement of people as a security issue, and not that refugees will make societies more diverse and actually stronger.”

A clause on the detention of children was considered too controversial by some member states. Karen AbuZayd, Special Adviser on the summit, explained that the implementation of children’s right never to be detained had been extremely contentious for some states and amended to the principle “for children seldom, if ever, to be detained.”

At the preliminary talks Bennett said: “I didn’t really hear any countries give examples of actual refugee or migrant stories… for the states this seemed like an abstract, academic exercise.”

Meanwhile, “Global citizenship is already happening, and what we need to do is learn from those examples and scale them up,”  Professor Fernando Reimers, Ford Foundation Professor of Practice in International Education, explained. “All the barriers, all the boundaries we have invented to define our identities, are really in the end quite irrelevant.”

The idea of a global citizen, a person who identifies more strongly with a global community and with universal values than with a particular nation or place, is a useful, though by no means settled or straightforward, means of navigating an ever-more globalised world – in which unprecedented migration, the sovereignty of multinational corporations, international political interventions and the multi-actor conflicts they address – are increasingly normal parts of citizens’ existence.

Global citizenship is enshrined in such value systems as universal human rights, a history which Reimers traced during the seminar. The concept of global citizenship was formalised in the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s 2012 ‘Global Education First Initiative’, central to achieving Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Oh Joon, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Republic of Korea to the UN, global citizens identify more with the broad class of ‘humanity’ than with national peers, prioritising international cooperation and inclusion over national self-interests. All people must, Joon said, “think critically about our responsibilities both to our planet and ourselves. In many ways a paradigm shift is needed to guide our decisions.”


Jordanian Ambassador Sima Bahous, quoting Queen Rania, left the audience with a memorable call-to-action, saying: “whereas national citizenship is an accident of birth, global citizenship is an act of will… It requires that we take time to learn about the world beyond our borders – its merits, challenges and injustices – and our role and responsibility in it. It requires moral courage and a commitment to step up and make a difference.”

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