Syrian refugee crisis demands united global action: UN chief

epa05235981 United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (L) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, Italian Filippo Grandi (R) give a joint statement after the meeting on global responsibility sharing through pathways for admission of Syrian refugees, at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, 30 March 2016. The UN refugee agency wants to find places abroad over the next three years for one-tenth of the 4.8 million Syrian refugees who are crowded into countries in the surrounding region.  EPA/MARTIAL TREZZINI

Geneva / AFP

UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday called for greater global efforts to tackle the Syrian refugee crisis, as he opened a conference on securing resettlement places for nearly half a million of those displaced by the five-year conflict.
“We are here to address the biggest refugee and displacement crisis of our time,” Ban told the conference in Geneva. “This demands an exponential increase in global solidarity.”
The UN secretary general, a South Korean, recalled his own experience of fleeing his village with his family as a six-year-old during the Korean War sixty years ago and said that for him stories of refugees stranded in camps with meagre resources “have personal meaning.”
“Attempts to demonise people fleeing conflict are not only demeaning, offensive and counter-productive, they are factually wrong,” Ban told journalists after his speech, in an apparent reference to rising anti-migrant rhetoric voiced by some political leaders across the developed world.
The Geneva meet follows a conference in London in February where nations pledged $11 billion (9.7 billion euros) to help manage one of the largest displacements of people since World War II.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates that 4.8 million Syrians have fled the country during its five-year civil war, with another 6.6 million people internally displaced.
While calling for a humane approach to care for those displaced, the UN chief stressed that a peace deal must be part of a lasting solution.
“There is no alternative to negotiating a political transition that will lead to a new Syria,” Ban said.
Talks led by Ban’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura paused last week, but the sides remained deadlocked over the fate of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, whom the opposition insists must leave power before a transitional government is agreed.
Extremist forces including the IS group, which is excluded from the peace process, continue to be targeted in the Russian-backed regime’s offensives.
Soldiers were locked in heavy fighting with IS fighters on Wednesday in central Syria after dealing the extremists a major blow by seizing the ancient city of Palmyra.
A ceasefire between Damascus and non-extremist opposition forces has broadly held since February 27, but isolated clashes persist in the conflict that has killed more than 270,000 people.

10 Percent
The aim of the Geneva meet is to secure relocation pledges from countries—excluding Syria’s neighbours—for 10 percent of Syria’s refugees, or 480,000 people, within three years.
Ban said the 480,000 figure was “a relatively small number,” compared with those being hosted by Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
The British charity Oxfam on Tuesday noted that wealthy countries had so far only resettled 67,100 Syrian refugees—a mere 1.39 percent of those forced to flee.
It identified Canada, Germany and Norway as the only countries who have promised to go beyond their “fair share.” The UN continues to voice concerns over a deal agreed between Turkey and the European Union, under which all migrants landing on the Greek islands face being sent back to Turkey.
UNHCR and the UN’s rights office have warned that the deal might violate some migrants’ legal right to asylum. Noting concerns about the deal, Ban described it as “a good start”, as it demonstrated engagement from the EU and Ankara on the Syria refugee issue.

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