United Nations, Sep 15 (IANS) UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday highlighted the global plight of 65 million refugees and the need to help them, his push for entry into force of the Paris climate change accord and the “worsening war in Syria” during a rare full, formal news conference at UN headquarters in New York.
“The international community must come together in a spirit of shared responsibility for the world’s refugees and migrants,” he said, recalling the figure of 65 million refugees as the highest since World War II.
“More countries must re-settle more people who have been forced from their homes,” the UN chief said. “More countries must recognize the benefits of migration. And everyone, everywhere, must stand up against the animosity that so many refugees, migrants and minority communities face.”
He said a major gathering next Monday, preceding the annual General Debate of the UN General Assembly opening Tuesday — where world leaders descend on New York for a week every year — “marks a major step forward” in the fight against xenophobia, discrimination and racism, subjects he repeatedly deplored during the 45-minute meeting with reporters.
Ban said Monday’s special session is called the Summit on Refugees and Migrants. He took the occasion to welcome the International Organization of Migration into the UN family to join the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN refugee agency, in fighting xenophobia, another topic he returned to several times.
“The refugee and migration challenge is one we can, and must, tackle together,” Ban said.
The majority of those refugees are fleeing the civil war in Syria, which broke out in March 2011.
On climate change, the secretary-general said he was using “every opportunity to push for the early entry into force of the Paris Agreement before the end of this year,” which coincides with the end of his term as UN chief.
He praised China and the US, “the world’s two largest emitters,” for acceding to the Paris climate accord last week. “This was a major step forward,” he said.
“Now we need just 28 (more) countries, representing 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, to cross the necessary threshold,” Ban said, adding that next Wednesday he will “host a special summit event at which countries can deposit their ratification instruments with me, as required by the Paris Agreement.”
“I urge all countries to show the world their commitment without delay,” Ban said.
The third major concern voiced was the Syria conflict.
Despite all other fighting, “none is causing so much death, destruction and widespread instability as the worsening war in Syria,” he said.
However, he welcomed the .reinstatement of the cessation of hostilities accord reached between Russia and the United States for a seven-day window to provide humanitarian access. But he said UN personnel on the ground were forced to hold up the first 20-truck convoy from heading into contested areas for lack of safety assurances from warring parties.
“The United Nations is positioned to utilize this crucial opportunity to immediately deliver vital humanitarian assistance to Aleppo and other besieged and hard-to-reach locations throughout Syria,” Ban said. “It is essential that intra-Syrian negotiations resume so that Syria’s long-suffering people feel a real change in their daily lives.”
“Major countries with influence have a duty to use their influence and seize this latest opportunity to pursue a political solution to end this catastrophic conflict,” he said.
Ban noted that this year’s week of high-level meetings will be his last as secretary-general. His replacement has not yet been chosen.
“It has been a decade of progress and setback alike,” he said, calling adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and the establishment of UN Women, “among the high points.”
At the same time, he said the inability to resolve several protracted conflicts “has been a source of tremendous pain.”
While Syria’s plight — and that of its refugees — was the most frequent topic brought up in the session, concern was also voiced on situations involving Colombia, Cyprus, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, and the Middle East’s most persistent problem, between Israelis and the Palestinians, with no new developments.
However, the secretary-general did announce he was going this Saturday to Montreal to join Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and others at the fifth Replenishment Conference for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and that on Sept. 26 he would visit Cartagena, Colombia, for the signing of the peace agreement between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army to end the decades-long conflict.
“The United Nations will be there to help implement the agreement, and will give the people of Colombia our full support as they chart a new path for the country,” he said. “This achievement shows what is possible through patient and painstaking diplomacy.”