Can the G-20 ignite a 'new deal' for Syria's refugees?

Syrian refugees rest on the floor of Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary. Humanitarian organizations hope world leaders will address the refugee crisis at the G-20 summit in Antalya, Turkey on Nov. 15-16. Photo by: Mstyslav Chernov / CC BY-SA

International relief organizations hope the G-20 meeting in Antalya, Turkey, on Nov. 15-16 will provide the “spark of political leadership” necessary to deal with a Syrian refugee crisis that is fast spiraling out of control.

Syria’s war has driven 7 million people to flee their homes and another 4 million to leave the country altogether. Of the more than 11 million people displaced inside and outside the Middle Eastern country, over half are children. Initiatives with names like “No Lost Generation” underscore the severity of the crisis.

Neighboring countries — Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey — have seen their refugee populations balloon, while conditions in settlements offer Syrians little reason to hope for a brighter future. Many of them have moved on to other uncertain options — via dangerous water routes and unyielding bureaucracies — in Europe and the United States. But Western states’ resettlement commitments haven’t kept pace with the number of people in need of housing, basic services and new livelihood options.

“What we’re talking about is sort of a ‘new deal’ for refugees and for the communities in the neighboring countries that are hosting them,” said Michael Klosson, vice president for policy and humanitarian response at Save the Children, in a recent press call hosted by InterAction.

What exactly the G-20 will do about the problem at the meeting in Turkey is not clear, but InterAction’s member NGOs are hopeful world leaders gathering “next door to the Syria crisis” will be unable to avoid voicing some kind of commitment to resolving it. That could be enough to drive concrete action by other groups in the near future.

Humanitarian organizations hope world leaders will seek to address both the root causes of the refugee crisis — the protracted conflict in Syria — and find ways to ease the consequences of conflict for people caught up in it. Apart from a pathway to peace, responders are looking for Western powers to provide more pathways to refugee resettlement.

InterAction has produced a policy paper with five recommendations for the G-20: First, to work towards a political solution; second, to support the timely creation of a multistakeholder regional growth and stabilization plan; third, to recognize displacement as a development challenge; fourth, to issue a G-20 call for action on the refugee crisis; and fifth, to accept additional refugees by increasing current resettlement quotas.

The United Nations refugee agency has called on the international community to resettle 4 percent, about 200,000, of the total number of Syrian refugees now living outside Syria, said Kristele Younes, director of U.N. humanitarian affairs at the International Rescue Committee.

“We believe that in line with the historical role of the U.S. as a leader in resettlement, [it] should resettle half of this number, with 100,000 resettled in fiscal year 2016,” Younes said.

So far in fiscal year 2015, which began on Oct. 1, the U.S. has resettled only 1,800 Syrian refugees.

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About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.