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A proposal for the UN General Assembly: To achieve the SDGs, focus on the refugees

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NYT Sept. 6, 2015

Syrian refugees in Greece. Courtesy of the New York Times.

Last month, the World Food Programme reported that it can only afford $13.50/month for food rations for Syrian refugee families in Lebanon, down from $27/month. This month, September, 200,000 Syrians in Jordan will stop receiving food aid, joining hundreds of thousands of other Syrian refugees in the region who have stopped receiving food vouchers because of insufficient funds. And the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 750,000 Syrian refugee girls are not in school because of lack of money.
We have all seen how the refugee crisis in Europe continues to deepen. Elsewhere, refugees, such as the 600,000 refugees in Kenya from South Sudan and Somalia, suffer away from the world’s cameras.
Meanwhile, the United Nations General Assembly will formally adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an ambitious set of goals for the next fifteen years, later this month. If at the same time the world agrees to the SDGs the global community cannot muster the will and finances to respond to the worst refugee and internally displaced persons crisis of our time, can we have any confidence that the SDGs will prove more than empty promises? The SDGs are effectively agreed upon already. None of the goals or their targets focus on refugees and internally displaced persons.
So here’s a proposal: What if instead of convening in two weeks to give speeches on the SDGs, world leaders instead meet to devise a plan to ensure a decent life for the world’s 60 million refugees and internally displaced persons, and even to end the conflicts producing them? That would bode far better for the future of the SDGs than the most soaring rhetoric on ending poverty and saving the planet that may come out of New York this month. Ending poverty and saving the planet and its people begins with what we do now, not what we say we will achieve 15 years from now.

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