On 20 September 2016, President Barack Obama hosted the Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis in New York. The purpose of the summit was to
galvanize significant new global commitments to: 1) increase funding to humanitarian appeals and international organizations, 2) admit more refugees through resettlement or other legal pathways, and 3) increase refugees’ self-reliance and inclusion through opportunities for education and legal work.
Over the course of the summit, many Heads of State spoke about the efforts of their countries in trying to fulfill these 3 goals, and emphasized a common message about compassion, humanity, the importance of working as a global team and saying “no to indifference” (President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto).
From their various messages, it is apparent that the main theme of the summit is compassion. Compassion for our fellow human beings, in the form of refusing to be bystanders, and refusing to be indifferent. Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel famously said, “The opposite of love is not hate, its indifference”. This message was echoed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who called for compassion to help these people, “if not us, then who will do it?” King Abdullah II of Jordan reiterated this sentiment by stating that the refugee crisis is the collective responsibility of nation-states, who must raise their level of global engagement and base their decisions on the reality of the situation.
For too long the world has inadequately dealt with the millions of displaced people and by bringing these world leaders together, hopefully President Obama’s legacy (and the legacy of this generation of world leaders) will include the actions of the international community in bringing an end to the current refugee crisis.
It will be interesting in the next few years to see the global impact of the resolutions adopted at the summit this week. By bringing world leaders together, President Obama has not only captured their attention, but has also forced the issue to the world stage and to the minds of the public. This means that these country leaders will now be held accountable by the international community – and hopefully praised in the years to come, for their decisive and compassionate actions that enabled 65 million displaced people to find a new home.