Accept Syrian refugees, Ban urges nations

GENEVA • United Nations chief Ban Ki Moon yesterday urged countries to show solidarity and accept nearly half a million Syrian refugees for resettlement by 2018. He made the call at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ministerial conference in Geneva on the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

"We are here to address the biggest refugee and displacement crisis of our time. This demands an exponential increase in global solidarity," said Mr Ban.

Referring to UN-led efforts to end the five-year conflict that has killed at least 250,000 and driven nearly five million refugees abroad, mostly in the region, he said: "We have a cessation of hostilities, by and large holding for over a month, but the parties must consolidate and expand it into a ceasefire, and ultimately to a political solution through dialogue."

The Geneva meeting follows a conference in London last month where nations pledged US$11 billion (S$15 billion) to help manage one of the largest displacements of people since World War II. The UNHCR estimates 4.8 million Syrians have been forced to flee the country during its five-year civil war, while another 6.6 million have been internally displaced. The aim of the Geneva meeting is to secure relocation pledges for 10 per cent of Syria's refugees, or 480,000 people, within three years. The UN wants them moved outside of Syria's neighbours, which are now absorbing nearly the entire refugee burden.

The conference comes as the UN continues to blast a deal agreed between Turkey and the European Union earlier this month that calls for migrants who cross the Mediterranean seeking a life in Europe to be returned to Turkey, denying some migrants their legal right to asylum.

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said a draft agreement for a new Syrian Constitution could be ready in a few weeks, Russia's RIA news agency reported yesterday. He also said that the transitional government of his country should include the regime, opposition and independent forces.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2016, with the headline 'Accept Syrian refugees, Ban urges nations'. Print Edition | Subscribe