Ireland to co-chair major UN summit on refugees

World leaders’ event in September aims to sign off on new global policy principles

Ireland has been selected to co-chair a major United Nations summit of world leaders on refugees and migration later this year.

The summit of 193 heads of state and government, scheduled for September, will take place against the backdrop of one of the biggest refugee crises in the postwar era, with the flow of more than a million people into the European Union last year alone having left the bloc riven and scrambling for a response.

The aim of the summit will be to agree on a new set of global policy principles – the first of their kind – on refugees and migration.

Ireland was asked to co-facilitate the negotiations alongside Jordan, which has taken in more than 630,000 refugees from neighbouring Syria since the war in that country began four years ago.


The process will be led by Ireland's Ambassador to the United Nations, David Donoghue, and his Jordanian counterpart, Dina Kawar. Hugh obstacles stand in the way of a deal, with the flow of people into Europe, in particular, having exposed acute tensions between host and sender countries and between European states themselves.

Sustained support

Among the issues that may be up for discussion are increased and sustained support for UN humanitarian appeals, greater provision of resettlement places and expanded opportunities for refugees to take up education and legal employment.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said the appointment highlighted Ireland's strong role and reputation at the UN and followed Dublin's successful co-chairing of negotiations last year leading to the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, a blueprint for global development up to 2030.

“We recognise the challenge and complexity of the task ahead, in the face of an unprecedented level of humanitarian crisis, which has driven more than 60 million people globally from their homes,” he said.

Standing at UN

Mr Flanagan and Taoiseach Enda Kenny discussed the appointment with King Abdullah of Jordan and foreign minister

Nasser Judeh

during their visit to Ireland earlier this month.

While Ireland’s standing at the UN and its close involvement in the development goals process partly explain the approach, it also worked in its favour that so many other European states are facing domestic political problems linked to the refugee issue.

The approach came through the president of the UN General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, but the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has a lot riding on the outcome as the summit will be the last major UN event before he steps down at the end of the year.

“This is the greatest challenge we’re facing, and the feeling is that the UN should attempt to produce a global framework, however difficult and challenging that will be,” one official said.

Preparatory work on the negotiations will begin immediately, with a number of staging posts on the road to the September event.

The World Humanitarian Summit, which will take place in Istanbul in May, will feed into the process, while a report due to be published by Mr Ban around the same time will set out his own recommendations.

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is an Assistant Editor of The Irish Times