Peter Thomson, President of the UN General Assembly, addresses the opening segment of the UN high-level summit on large movements of refugees and migrants

Education International attended the United Nations’ General Assembly's first-ever Summit for Refugees and Migrants, which reasserted the need to protect refugees and migrants’ rights, including their right to education.

With more people forced to flee their homes than at any time since World War II, world leaders came together at the United Nations (UN) on 19 September to adopt the New York Declaration. The Declaration expresses their political will to protect the rights of refugees and migrants, to save lives, and share responsibility for large movements of people on a global scale. Education International (EI) was represented at the Summit by EI Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst, Dennis Sinyolo, Ingrid Convery and Steffen Handall (Union of Education Norway), Jill Christianson and Princess Moss (National Education Association, USA), and Wilson Sossion (Kenya National Union of Teachers).

Commitments and needs

The landmark Declaration contains bold commitments to address current issues and to prepare the world for future challenges in relation to migration. The need to start negotiations leading to an international conference and the adoption of a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration in 2018 was highlighted. The Declaration includes commitments to:

  • Protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of status. This includes the rights of women and girls and promoting their full, equal and meaningful participation in finding solutions
  • Ensure that all refugee and migrant children receive an education within a few months of arrival
  • Prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence
  • Support those countries rescuing, receiving and hosting large numbers of refugees and migrants
  • Work towards ending the practice of detaining children in order to determine their migration status
  • Find new homes for all refugees identified by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as needing resettlement; and expand the opportunities for refugees to relocate to other countries through, for example, labour mobility or education schemes
  • Strengthen the global governance of migration by bringing the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) into the UN system.

UN: Importance of collective action

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, congratulated member states saying, “Today's Summit represents a breakthrough in our collective efforts to address the challenges of human mobility.” The adoption of the New York Declaration will mean that “more children can attend school; more workers can securely seek jobs abroad, instead of being at the mercy of criminal smugglers; and more people will have real choices about whether to move once we end conflict, sustain peace and increase opportunities at home”, he said.

The UN Secretary-General launched a campaign, included in the Declaration, called 'Together – Respect, Safety and Dignity for All'. This will “respond to rising xenophobia and turn fear into hope”, he said, urging “world leaders to join this campaign and commit together to upholding the rights and dignity of everyone forced by circumstance to flee their homes in search of a better life”.

The UN Secretary General and IOM Director-General William Lacy Swing co-signed a new agreement whereby the IOM officially becomes a related organisation of the UN system.

EI: Quality teachers for refugees and migrants

The EI Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst stressed that “governments must ensure the right to education for all refugee and migrant children and youth”.

Teachers must be adequately and professionally trained, so that they are better able to respond to the refugees’ and migrants’ learning needs, she said, adding that qualifications of refugee and migrant teachers must be recognised.

Holst also spoke at the Speak out for Dignity and Decent Work for Migrants and Refugees event organised by the Global Unions, highlighting the importance of the education of refugee and migrant children and youth, and the need to focus on teachers and other educators.

Global Unions’ concerns

The statement of the Council of Global Unions, of which EI is a member, said the outcome document for the UN high-level meeting addressing large movements of refugees and migrants contain “many positive elements”.

The outcome document “captures the urgency of dealing with the challenge and the need for mobilisation, cooperation and global governance on refugees and migrants”, the statement notes. And it stresses the importance of addressing the particular problems of women and children and of the endemic problems of discrimination, racism, and xenophobia.

Global Unions also acknowledges that the outcome document underlines the importance of education, health care and other public services, as well as the need for full access to social security and other social protections.

The outcome document also highlights the necessity for considerable efforts by governments to act together on the ground, as well as devoting resources to migration, which is an act of political will, the Global Unions statement says.

While Global Unions welcomes the commitment in the outcome document to strengthening global governance of migration and refugees, it highlights that, unlike the UN system, the IOM, while playing an important role in migration, lacks a human rights mandate, authority and legitimacy. It proposes that, as a minimum, at least one UN agency, in particular, the International Labour Organisation, should share that responsibility with the IOM.

On “circular migration”, essentially temporary migration, Global Unions says that “there is often a contradiction between promoting workers’ rights and promoting circular migration”. It insists on the fact that promotion of circular migration should not be part of the Global Compact of 2018. Instead, it should be subject to a realistic and comprehensive examination of its impact on the conditions and rights of temporary migrant workers.