UN urges 'reboot' of refugee response as millions are uprooted globally

The United Nations urged governments, businesses and others on Tuesday to "reboot" the world's response to refugees as the number of people fleeing their homes rises along with hostility to migrants.

At Global Refugee Forum, leaders Khan, Erdogan use platform to take shots at others

In this May 6, 2018, file photo, refugees and migrants wait to be rescued by members of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms after leaving Libya trying to reach European soil aboard a rubber boat, north of Libyan coast. The UN is now urging governments, businesses and others to 'reboot' the world's response to refugees as the number of people fleeing rises. (Felipe Dana/The Associated Press)

The United Nations urged governments, businesses and others on Tuesday to "reboot" the world's response to refugees as the number of people fleeing their homes rises along with hostility to migrants.

The first Global Refugee Forum, being hosted in Geneva by the UN and Switzerland on Tuesday and Wednesday, is meant to draw pledges to pave the way for a fairer and more co-ordinated approach to hosting and integrating millions of refugees worldwide.

"Our world is in turmoil and 25 million refugees are looking to us for solutions," Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, told the event. He said the number is far higher if adding people displaced within their own countries.

"As a new decade dawns with some 71 million people uprooted from their homes globally, inside and outside their countries, it's time to reboot our responses," Grandi said.

The forum also underscored international tensions, with Turkey's president complaining of a lack of support for his country's plans to resettle up to a million Syrian refugees in Turkey to Turkish-controlled regions of northern Syria. Pakistan's prime minister, Imran Khan, used his appearance to criticize neighbour and archrival India.

He called for a "broad alliance" of governments, business, development institutions, the aid community, sports organizations and others. Business executives and the head of the International Olympic Committee were among those attending the forum.

Canada pledges $50.4M

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said "developing and middle-income countries admirably host the vast majority of refugees and warrant greater support."

In addition, he said, "at a time when the right to asylum is under assault, when so many borders and doors are being closed to refugees, when even child refugees can be divided from their families, we need to reaffirm the human rights of refugees."

At the forum Tuesday, Canadian Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced $50.4 million over the next four years to help the United Nations Refugee Agency respond to the humanitarian and protection needs of refugees around the world.

"Canada has a proud and long-standing tradition of responding to the needs of vulnerable people," Mendicino said. "We are at the forefront of working with partners to advance innovative solutions for those who've been forced to flee their homes."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country's invasion of northern Syria to drive U.S.-allied Kurdish forces out of a "safe zone" along the border has drawn widespread criticism, said Syrian oil revenues could be used to help relocate Syrians in Turkey. He complained, in a veiled swipe at the U.S., that no one wants to spend the money on the refugees.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends the Global Refugee Forum at the European headquarters of the UN in Geneva on Tuesday. Turkey has taken in millions of Syrian refugees, and wants to repatriate many of them as soon as possible. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

"I say: 'Come let's take out the oil in the wells together and let's implement projects in these areas … so that these people can be settled in the houses, schools, hospitals that we build,'" Erdogan said. "But they don't support it because they need the oil more [than refugees]."

Erdogan, whose country hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees, the largest refugee population worldwide, said more than 600,000 should voluntarily join around 371,000 already in what's called the safe zone in northern Syria.

Erdogan also criticized the European Union, which had earmarked nearly 6 billion euros ($8.8 billion Cdn), for failing to deliver it all.

"We are still waiting at the threshold of receiving the other 3 billion euros that was pledged."

The forum was co-convened by Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Germany, Pakistan and Turkey, most of them among the world's major refugee hosts. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted nine of the top 10 — all but his own country — have low or medium incomes.

Canada has a delegation at the forum, including Marco Mendicio, the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship.

With files from Reuters and CBC News